Gelatin isn’t vegan (or vegetarian!), so you may be wondering what gelatin is made from. Why don't vegans products like Jello or marshmallows?
Let’s talk about what gelatin is and some veg-friendly alternatives to common gelatin products.
What is gelatin?
Gelatin is an ingredient used as a thickener and as the base for certain sweet treats, like gummy candy and marshmallows.
It’s why Jello is firm and jiggly, and it’s used in cakes, pies and even some low-fat dairy products to make creamy foods thicker.
So why don’t vegans eat gelatin? Because it’s made from ground up animal skin, bones, tendons and ligaments. Usually, that means pigs, but most kosher gelatin is made from fish parts.
To make gelatin, producers cut up animal parts into tiny pieces. Then, they use hot water to remove most of the fat and to cook the ground up bones, ligaments, skin and tendons.
The cooked meal sits in an acid or alkali bath for several days to release the collagen. Then, the bits of animal parts are boiled in superheated water, and the extra liquid is evaporated off, leaving solid chunks behind.
Those chunks get ground down to create the gelatin powder used to make Jello, gummy candy, marshmallows, etc.
Gelatin is a byproduct of the meat industry, like leather. Vegans and vegetarians don’t buy these products, because animals have to die to create them.
Luckily, you don’t need animal bones to enjoy a roasted marshmallow, thicken yogurt or even to make jello-like treats. Here are some vegan alternatives to gelatin and products that contain it.
Vegan Gelatin Alternatives
Most often, cooks use gelatin in desserts, so the vegan alternatives below are generally not health foods. Jello and marshmallows are sometimes foods, whether they’re made from animal bones or seaweed.
This seaweed-derived ingredient gels like gelatin, but no animals are harmed to make it. To replace gelatin with agar agar in a recipe, you need to dissolve it in hot water first. Here’s how to firm up two cups of liquid with agar agar:
- Combine 2 cups of your liquid with 3 tablespoons agar agar flakes or 2 tablespoons agar agar powder. Soak for 15 minutes.
- Transfer to a pot along with any other ingredients your recipe calls for, and simmer until the flakes or powder dissolves completely. Pour into your serving container.
When it cools, you’ll have jello.
If you’re using agar agar as a thickener, just dissolve the agar agar in a small amount of liquid, then add it to your recipe, just like gelatin. You can usually use the same amount of agar agar powder to replace gelatin in a recipe, so if it calls for a tablespoon of gelatin, use a tablespoon of agar agar dissolved in a little bit of hot liquid.
If you want to make a jello-style dessert, you can also just buy a box of vegan jello. If jello is what you’re going for, this is so easy. Just follow the package directions, and you’re good to go. We like making BaKol Jel Desserts in my house. They taste great, and you can often find them at regular grocery stores.
If you’re looking to make a jello salad, like the kind you ate at picnics as a kid, I’d recommend following a recipe. This one from Fried Dandelions and this from Spabettie (pictured above) are both great options for recreating those nostalgic desserts without the animal parts.
Marshmallows and Jelly Candies
There are a few companies making vegan marshmallows and jelly candies now! Here are my favorite plant-based alternatives to gelatin sweets:
- Dandies – These vegan marshmallows are easy to find. I’ve even seen them at my regular grocery store.
- Trader Joe’s – TJ’s vegan marshmallows are seasonal, and it’s unclear when the season begins and ends. Snatch these up when you see them, though, because they’re definitely your most budget-friendly vegan marshmallows!
- Surf Sweets – Not all Surf Sweet products are vegan, but the Fruity Bears, Sour Berry Bears, Sour Worms, Fruity Hearts, Peach Rings and Watermelon Rings are!
- Annie’s Homegrown – Annie’s uses tapioca syrup and pectin instead of gelatin to thicken their fruit gummies.
- Tasty Brand – These gummy treats say vegan right on the label. They use a mix of tapioca syrup and pectin to get that gummy texture without bones and ligaments.
Do you have a favorite gummy treat that’s made with plant-based ingredients instead of gelatin? Share your favorites in the comments!