Gum, also known as chewing gum, is the modern option that satisfies the sensation of chewing non-food items that have served pleasure for mankind throughout the years (1). Different civilizations such as the ancient Egyptians, Mayan Indians, and native Americans have been found to have chewed on various tree resins for such reasons. Currently, the chewing gum market represents approximately US $5 billion by selling about 400 billion pieces worldwide every year.
The primary ingredients that makeup gum are usually non-vegan, and many brands are completely appropriate for vegan consumers. However, there are some chewing gum brands that contain questionable ingredients – ingredients that some vegans would rather avoid. To avoid accidentally consuming products that are not vegan, it is always advised to check the ingredients list and understand the common ingredients found in these products.
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Is Gum Vegan?
While there are many brands of gum that are perfectly appropriate for vegans, there are others that might be avoided by some vegans. This is because of the presence of ingredients that many vegans would classify as gray areas. These gray area ingredients are substances that are vegan for some vegans and not for some due to certain differences in beliefs or restrictions.
It would be best recommended that vegan consumers would always check the ingredients list to make sure they are getting products that are completely appropriate for them. In that regard, there are common ingredients found in chewing gum brands that some vegans would like to know. The following are common ingredients that are typically considered gray areas in chewing gum.
Glycerin is a simple polyol that is the basic backbone for glycerides that can be found to naturally occur in living organisms (2). Being a polyol, or a substance made up of multiple hydroxyl groups, glycerin specifically has three hydroxyl groups, making it a triol. Due to its unique chemical properties, glycerin can be found in many industries such as food, medication, personal care, electronic cigarette liquids, antifreeze, and more.
Although glycerin is primarily extracted from plant sources such as plant oils, glycerin can still be commercially produced from animal fats as well. This makes glycerin a gray area ingredient because companies do not typically inform consumers if these ingredients are truly vegan or not. Although glycerin can be found to be listed in product labels, vegans would be additionally comforted if the product listed the ingredient as “vegetable glycerin.” That way, consumers can definitely know that it is a plant-derived product.
Stearic acid, also known as octadecanoic acid and stearophanic acid, is a saturated long-chain fatty acid commonly found in both animal and plant fats (3). Due to its convenient availability and its properties, stearic acid can be found used in various industries such as food, cosmetics, detergents, and lubricants. In food, stearic acid is typically used as a surfactant, emulsifier, or lubricant that can help affect the overall quality of the product.
Unfortunately, stearic acid is considered a gray area ingredient because it can easily be obtained from either plant or animal sources. Industrially, stearic acid can be produced from the saponification of triglycerides from fats and oils in boiling water.
Although stearic acid can be obtained from plant sources, many vegans would believe that commercial stearic acid would probably come from animal sources because stearic acid is more abundant in animal sources.
Sugar is a common ingredient found in many food and beverage products. Although it is primarily used as a sweetener, some products can use sugar as a preservative such as jam and jellies. It may be understandable to assume that sugar is vegan since it is obtained from plant sources such as sugarcane and sugar beets. However, sugar can potentially become non-vegan depending on how it was produced.
Sugar is first extracted from a certain plant source. As a crude material, the sugar is already edible and fit for human consumption. In fact, many people opt for sugar that has undergone fewer processes. However, many sugar companies would subject the sugar to additional refinement processes to make the sugar more appealing to consumers. These additional refinement processes make the sugar whiter and finer.
One such process done in the sugar industry is filtration. By passing the sugar solution through a filter, non-sugar components can be removed. Thus, filtration increases the purity of the product. Different companies can utilize different filtration methods. However, the problem is that some companies use bone char – the charred and skeletal remains of animals (4). Although bone char is a cheap and effective material for filtration, sugar processed with bone char cannot be considered vegan since it is an animal product.
The problem with bone char is that some companies use it and some companies do not. It is difficult to determine which kinds of sugar have been processed with bone char since that information is not conveniently found in product labels. It is especially difficult to determine if the sugar used in a certain product is vegan or not because the manufacturer can possibly have multiple sources of sugar to meet its demands. Thus, many vegans would rather tend to avoid sugar in general.
Fortunately, vegans around the world are less worried about their local sugar companies using bone char because the practice of using bone char is more prevalent in the US.
Food Coloring Agents
Color is an incredibly important part of the consumer experience which is why many food and beverage companies would take an active part in manipulating how their products look. While some products naturally have appealing aesthetics thanks to their ingredients, some products have to be manipulated using food coloring agents – substances that can change the colors of a product. There are many types of food coloring agents and plenty of them are appropriate for vegans. However, a certain type of food coloring agent is somewhat problematic for vegans: artificial coloring agents.
Compared to other food coloring agents that can be obtained from natural sources, artificial coloring agents are purely synthetic – made from rudimentary materials in the laboratory. From a dietary vegan standpoint, artificial coloring agents are perfectly vegan since they are completely devoid of animal products. However, ethical vegans would argue that artificial coloring agents are not vegan at all.
Safety will always be a priority and before synthetic materials such as artificial coloring agents can be used in food and drinks, they have to get approval from various food safety authorities. The approval will depend on the results of numerous safety tests. Undeniably, safety should be prioritized. However, it is already established that these safety tests include animal testing or the use of animal models for safety testing. Animal testing is considered to be highly unethical due to the inhumane treatment of the animals involved. Most animals involved are also killed in the process.
While animal testing may have been required back in the past, animal testing can already be effectively replaced with modern methods such as the use of cell models and in silico studies (i.e., the use of computer models and algorithms).
Many gum brands today can be found using these artificial coloring agents to give the products different colors to represent their flavors. However, not all vegans believe that artificial coloring agents go against vegan beliefs. Thus, artificial coloring agents tend to be placed in gray areas within the vegan community because some vegans are okay with them while some vegans are not.