Sour Patch Kids are a popular “sour then sweet” soft candy first introduced in the US back in 1985. The soft candy was already commercially available since the 1970s but under a different name: Mars Men. While Sour Patch Kids have been passed on to various manufacturers and owners throughout the years, the soft candy is currently produced by multinational Mondelez International, Inc – the same food conglomerate that also produces Chips Ahoy!, Oreo, Ritz, and various chocolate brands.
Sour Patch Kids do not contain any obvious animal products that would immediately turn away vegan consumers. However, the soft candy does contain some substances that many in the vegan community consider to be gray area ingredients. These include sugar, natural flavors, and artificial coloring agents. These substances may not be blatantly non-vegan, but there are some vegans that would rather avoid these ingredients altogether.
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Are Sour Patch Kids Vegan?
To many vegans, especially dietary vegans, Sour Patch Kids are perfectly fine for their diets since their ingredients list does not contain any obvious or blatant animal product or derivative.
However, there are some ingredients that some vegans would prefer to avoid. These are ingredients that are difficult to determine if they are truly vegan. These so-called gray area ingredients are also the kinds of ingredients that some vegans would allow while some would not. Such ingredients include sugar, natural flavors, and artificial coloring agents.
Sour Patch Kids Ingredients List
The list of ingredients of the Original Soft and Chewy Sour Patch Kids includes (1): sugar, invert sugar, corn syrup, modified corn starch, contains less than 2% of tartaric acid, citric acid, natural and artificial flavor, yellow 6, red 40, yellow 5, blue 1.
Understandably, other flavors and varieties of Sour Patch Kids might contain different sets of ingredients. The official website (2) for the snack includes several other flavors such as Mystery, Blue Raspberry, Strawberry, Watermelon, Berries, Tropical, Extreme, and many more.
Although Sour Patch Kids are known for their sourness, it should come as no surprise that a sweet candy such as Sour Patch Kids would contain sugar. Sugar is a highly common additive and sweetener in the food and beverage industry. Although sugar is conventionally produced from plant sources such as sugarcane or sugar beets, the product can still become non-vegan depending on the manufacturing processes used.
One way to make sugar more appealing to the consumer market is by subjecting it to further refinement processes after the sugar has been extracted from its plant source. There are several refinement methods that are utilized, and one particular method is filtration. Different companies use different filtration methods and most of them are vegan-friendly. Unfortunately, there is one filtration method that would render sugar non-vegan: filtration using bone char (3).
Bone char is the ground and charred skeletal remains of various animals, typically from livestock. Since it is an animal product, sugar produced using bone char can no longer be considered vegan. It is especially difficult to determine if the sugar used for a food product such as Sour Patch Kids is vegan or not because the company producing it could possibly have multiple sources of sugar to feed their output.
This is why sugar is often considered a gray area ingredient because of the uncertainty of whether it is truly vegan or not. Fortunately, vegans in other parts of the world are less concerned with sugar because the use of bone char in sugar production is more prevalent in the US.
Natural flavors are common additives used in the food and beverage industry. Functionally, natural flavors act as flavoring agents which means they primarily serve to impart flavor to the products they are in. This is also a way for companies to keep some proprietary information regarding how they make their products taste the way they do.
While natural flavors are specifically made of natural substances, as opposed to artificial flavors, the problem with natural flavors is their definition. Specifically, the FDA defines natural flavors as (4):
The essential oil, oleoresin, essence or extractive, protein hydrolysate, distillate, or any product of roasting, heating or enzymolysis, which contains the flavoring constituents derived from a spice, fruit or fruit juice, vegetable or vegetable juice, edible yeast, herb, bark, bud, root, leaf or similar plant material, meat, seafood, poultry, eggs, dairy products, or fermentation products thereof, whose significant function in food is flavoring rather than nutritional.FDA.gov
Based on the definition given by the FDA to describe natural flavors, it is apparent that natural flavors are indeed made of substances and materials derived from nature. Unfortunately, the definition of the ingredient encompasses both plant- and animal-derived products. This is the main reason why natural flavors are often considered as a gray area ingredient because unless it is specifically stated on the label, there is no way to confirm if a product with natural flavors is truly vegan or not.
Food Coloring Agents
While smell and taste are typically the senses considered when discussing consumer experience for food and beverage, the visual appearance of the product also plays a major role. Some food or beverage products already come with an appealing appearance due to their ingredients. However, some products have to be actively manipulated with food coloring agents to make them more appealing. This is especially prevalent for products such as cereals and candies where children are the primary demographic.
There are different types of food coloring agents. However, one group of food coloring agents that concerns many vegans is artificial coloring agents.
As the name suggests, artificial coloring agents are completely synthesized in laboratories using various base materials. Due to the nature of the production of these artificial coloring agents, these substances are technically devoid of animal products and should be perfectly fine for dietary vegans. Unfortunately, the problem with artificial coloring agents leans more towards the ethics of it.
As a way to get the approval for human consumption, various food safety authorities require these artificial coloring agents to undergo numerous safety tests to ensure that they are fit for human consumption. The problem with these safety tests is that they include the use of animal models. This practice is considered to be highly unethical, especially in the modern world where alternative methods such as the use of cell models and in silico studies (i.e., the use of computer modeling and algorithms) can already effectively replace the use of animal models.
Specifically, the Original Sour Patch Kids contain yellow 6, red 40, yellow 5, and blue 1. Collectively, these artificial coloring agents have been documented to be used on various animals including mice, rats, rabbits, dogs, pigs, guinea pigs, hamsters, and cats (5, 6, 7, 8).
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