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Whether you’re vegan, vegetarian, or just a regular health-conscious gym enthusiast, the lure of candy is always likely to be lingering over your head.
I’ve often struggled to suppress my inner kid—the 6-year old boy who stares longingly at the brightly-colored packets of sugary delights stacked in checkout aisles. Christmas trees and fireworks have the same effect on me. Some of us never grow out of it, I guess.
One of the world’s most popular candies is Nerds. They fit the above description perfectly.
But are Nerds vegan? Can you indulge in their sugary goodness with a clear conscience?
There’s something about candy that’s been packaged specifically to appeal to someone with a sweet tooth. Nerds have nailed this tactic.
Packets are colorful, there are cute characters on the covers, and the flavors have adorably catchy names.
On top of that, you get more than one flavor per box! Vegan or not, there’s something innately appealing about getting two different flavors of anything in a single package, especially if they’re different colors!
Let’s also not forget that they’re absolutely delicious. Sugary snacks are hard to resist, especially Nerds.
Right, so are Nerds vegan or not? Well, the answer depends on what type of vegan you are. It also depends on what flavor of Nerds you’re snacking on.
Nerds do not use confectioner’s glaze - of one of the vegan activist’s biggest bugbears.
Confectioner’s glaze is a popular ingredient used to give candy that special “sheen” and an astonishing number of insects are killed to make this happen.
Malic acid is another ingredient that may seem problematic, given that animals do produce it. Even our own bodies create malic acid.
However, the malic acid that’s used in candies is synthetically manufactured and vegan friendly. Most of the time that you see malic acid on an ingredients list, you should be fine.
These ingredients aside, Nerds still pose a bit of a problem for the conscientious vegan. If you’re super strict about animals not being involved in their diet in any way, Nerds pose some ethical concerns.
Four main ingredients are immediate red flags for a strict vegan. Let’s take a quick look at them.
Candy manufacturers aren’t mandated to give consumers too much info in the filtering process they use with their sugar.
Most companies that produce candy on a very large scale - like Nerds - use bone char for this purpose. And yup, you guess right: bone char is an animal product.
Whether or not the sugar in Nerds falls into this category is unclear, but it’s a safe assumption since bone char filtering is such a common process.
This, in itself, should be enough reason for a vegan to give Nerds a skip. Do you want to take that risk?
A strict vegan is extremely mindful of what they put into their body. If an ingredient is poorly defined but likely to involve an animal, they tend to avoid that product entirely.
Some more ambiguous news, as far as sweetening agents are concerned, involves corn syrup. Nerds also rely on it for additional sweetening that doesn’t overwhelm the candy’s flavor.
While corn syrup is naturally vegan, certain manufacturers do make use of genetic modifications to keep up with the massive demand for it.
Oftentimes, these GMOs will contain the genes of animals (jellyfish, oddly, are a common source) to help the plant’s resilience.
So, again, corn syrup is an ingredient that you should be skeptical about.
The names of some ingredients just don’t sit right with me. In fact anything with a number in it, makes me uncomfortable. Blue 1, Red 40 Lake, Yellow 5. What are these?
Essentially, they’re artificial colorings, and you’re right to consider them a red flag. All those magical colors you see when you open a box of Nerds are the product of synthetically produced ingredients that are often tested on animals.
So when you take a peek at the ingredients of a box of Nerds, and you see “Blue 1”, “yellow 5”, or “Red 40 lake”, you’ll know that some living creature was subjected to tests to ensure your safety.
Again, this comes down to what type of vegan you are. You won’t be ingesting any part of that animal - it’s more a case of knowing that one was involved in its production.
It’s also worth mentioning that Red 40 lake contains benzidine and 4-aminobiphenyl, two ingredients that have been flagged as being carcinogenic . So where you see “Red 40” beware, vegan or not.
There are two flavors of Nerds that contain an ingredient known as Carmine color. Both grape and strawberry flavors contain carmine - trace ingredients of this insect-based dye. Also referred to as “cochineal extract,” candies that contain Carmine color is something that every vegan should avoid.
This coloring agent is extracted using a complex process that’ll make any vegan’s skin crawl. Essentially, it’s obtained by boiling the bodies of cochineal insects in ammonia, which is not only deplorable but also kinda gross.
When a vegan eats either of these two Nerds flavors, they consume an animal product, rendering grape and strawberry totally off-limits
Now that we’ve (sort of) answered the question: “are nerds vegan?” let’s cast our net a little wider. To do this, we’ll need to define “candy.”
Let’s say that it’s any sugary snack that’s eaten purely for the sake of eating.
Your body never NEEDS Nerds or any other candy. Candy exists mostly to fill some urge humans have to eat frivolously. It also doesn’t help that sugar is super addictive .
As a vegan, one of your main challenges is to overcome this impulse and re-engineer your attitude towards food.
It’s possible to seek out and find certain products that answer yes to the question: “Is candy vegan?” If you are that dedicated to finding candies that are vegan, I’m sure you’ll be successful. You should ask yourself if the quest is worth the reward, though.
I’m not here to preach or judge. I’d be lying if I said I never snack on something purely because I have nothing better to do.
I sometimes struggle to deal with a vegan who judges another vegan purely because they occasionally bend the rules.
But I also see where that “judgemental” vegan is coming from.
A vegan holds themselves to a particular standard - not only for their diet but also their lifestyle. A vegan genuinely wants what’s best for their bodies and the planet as a whole.
With this ethos in mind, do you think it’s worth pouring your energy into finding a mass-produced candy that is vegan-friendly? This is a question only you can answer. I struggle with it, too. Every vegan does, at some point.
Fortunately, there’s a multitude of amazing vegan candies that we can indulge in when the mood strikes us. They may not have the immediate sugar-blast or visual wow-factor that draws us to candy like Nerds, but they’re still incredibly delicious, and there are no health or moral concerns.
Browse around your local food shops, and you might be surprised to find some amazing “candies” that you can eat without needing to read articles on the internet to justify your choices.
For those looking for other top vegan friendly treats, read these:
Like with so many of these articles, the answer to this question is complex and subjective.
Firstly, if you’re a vegan who is only concerned with not ingesting animal products, then the grape and strawberry flavors are fine.
However, if you’re a vegan who takes a wider view of what it means to be a vegan, it gets more complicated.
So complicated, in fact, that the easiest option is simply to avoid Nerds altogether and find a genuine vegan treat to snack on.