Are Airheads Candies Vegan? The Guide to Vegan Airheads

Is this chewy candy a sweet treat for plant-based eaters, or is it just hot air?

are airheads candies vegan illustration

Treehugger / Perfetti Van Melle

Airheads may not turn your noggin into a human-shaped balloon, but they can make a sweet treat, even for vegans. Unfortunately, not all varieties of Airheads meet cruelty-free standards: Animal-based ingredients, including gelatin and shellac, appear in some of these chewy candies.

Learn which varieties of Airheads make great plant-based junk food and which will pop your vegan bubble in this guide to vegan Airheads. 

Why Some Airheads Are Vegan 

Not all candy chews are made equal: Many—including some varieties of Airheads—use gelatin to provide that signature toothy texture. Luckily for vegans, Airheads' classic taffy-textured bars and a couple of other varieties use plant-based ingredients like starches and oil.

Still, every variety of Airheads except the gum contains sugar. Although sugar itself comes from plants, it is often refined using animal byproducts. For that reason, strict vegans may abstain from eating Airheads (and anything containing standard white sugar) altogether. 

Here are some details about the vegan Airheads ingredients.

Sugar

Processed foods simply labeled as “sugar” almost always contain a mix of both cane sugar and beet sugar. Cane sugar comes from sugarcane that, in its second step of refining, is tumbled with animal bone char to whiten the crystals. Beets, on the other hand, become beet sugar in a single-step process, making beet sugar a vegan-friendly sweetener. 

Carnauba Wax

Carnauba wax comes from Brazilian palm trees. While it is vegan, carnauba wax faces sustainability concerns similar to palm oil. It's present in products like Airheads Bites and Gummies.

Palm Oil

Folks who’ve chosen the vegan lifestyle for environmental reasons may avoid palm oil because it plays a major role in deforestation and wildlife habitat destruction. Airheads’ parent company Perfetti Van Melle notes on its website that the company is in the process of switching over to responsibly sourced and certified palm oil.

Food Coloring

Food coloring like Red 40, Blue 1, and Yellow 6 are generally derived from synthetic (and unsustainable) petroleum-based sources. For this reason, environmental vegans may steer clear of these additives.

Soybean Oil

Although it’s completely vegan, soybean oil faces criticism for its role in deforestation and increasing carbon emissions. Human consumption of soy, however, is not generally to blame as 95% of all soy is cultivated for animal feed.

When Airheads Are Not Vegan 

Several varieties of Airheads use gelatin to enhance chewiness, making these candies a no-go for vegans. Additional animal-based ingredients—mostly from insects—also find their way into Airheads and other confections. 

Gelatin

A byproduct of the pork, beef, and fish industries, gelatin is made by boiling and extracting collagen from the bones, connective tissues, and skin of animals. Airheads uses non-specific gelatin, meaning that it could be sourced from any of these animals or a mixture of them.

Carmine

Carmine is a non-vegan red food coloring made by crushing the covers of female cochineal scale insects. Between 22 and 89 billion cochineals are killed yearly to meet carmine demands. Because of laws about allergy labeling, manufacturers are now required to disclose whether or not food and cosmetics contain this animal product.

Beeswax

Like carmine, beeswax comes from small animals and is harvested alongside its co-product, honey. Some vegans eat and use beeswax because they recognize that without bees and other pollinators, up to 30% of the world’s food supply could come to a screeching halt.

Shellac

Also known as confectioner’s glaze, shellac comes from small animals known as lac insects. They excrete a resin that attaches to the trees in which they live. Harvesting requires the resin to be scraped off, resulting in the death of the insects.

Did You Know?

In 2021, Airheads’ parent company Perfetti Van Melle signed the Science Based Targets Organization pledge to reduce its carbon emissions and water footprint across the supply chain by 2030.

Vegan Airheads Varieties

For vegans unconcerned with sugar processing, these Airheads can meet all your sweet, tangy, chewy needs. Sugar-free vegans can even enjoy the White Mystery gum, which is entirely free of animal products.

  • Bars (Blue Raspberry, Watermelon, White Mystery, Cherry, Grape, Orange, Strawberry, Green Apple)
  • Xtremes (Rainbow Berry)
  • Gum (White Mystery)
  • Pops (Grape, Cherry, Blue Raspberry, Watermelon, Strawberry, Apple)

Non-Vegan Airheads Varieties

Watch out for both obvious and less obvious non-vegan ingredients in these candy chews. Although three flavors of Airheads’ gum don’t contain non-vegan sugar, they do contain carmine.

  • Xtremes Bites (Rainbow Berry)
  • Bites (Original Fruit, White Mystery)
  • Soft Filled Bites (Original Fruit)
  • Xtremes Sourfuls (Rainbow Berry)
  • Gum (Blue Raspberry, Cherry, Watermelon)
  • Gummies (Original Fruit)
Frequently Asked Questions
  • Do Airheads have gelatin in them?

    Yes, three varieties of Airheads do contain animal-based gelatin: Soft Filled Bites, Xtremes Sourfuls, and Gummies. Other varieties include other animal products, while others are generally considered vegan-friendly.

  • Are white Airheads vegan?

    Airheads' White Mystery bars and gum both meet the basic definition of vegan candies, but the bars do contain sugar could have been at least in part processed with animal byproducts.

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