Are Starburst Candies Vegan? The Vegan's Guide to Starburst

The chewy candies may be unexpectedly juicy, but are they also cruelty-free?

Illustration with colorful Starburst candies, words "Are Starburst Candies Vegan?"

Treehugger / Starburst

Starburst’s fruit chew candies have long been off-limits for vegans because they contain animal-based gelatin. A perennial Halloween treat, Starburst continues to release new varieties, leaving vegans to wonder if someday a plant-based formulation of their colorful square chews will hit supermarket shelves. 

Discover which ingredients turn this unexpectedly juicy treat into a non-vegan candy in our guide to vegan Starburst. 

Why Most Starburst Candies Are Not Vegan 

Like many chewy candies, Starburst chews, gummies, and airs rely on animal-based gelatin to provide that familiar, toothy texture. But other, less familiar animal products also lurk in these seemingly sweet ingredients generally made from small animals.

Starburst also contains sugar—a plant-based food often refined using animal bone char. For many vegans, that takes nearly every variety of Starburst off the table.

Fortunately, not all chewy candies need gelatin to provide a proper bite. Lucky for vegans who eat sugar, Starburst Swirlers contain no gelatin or other animal products. Starburst gum is likewise vegan and—a bonus for strict vegans—contains no sugar.

Starburst Candy Ingredients

What else is in your favorite Starburst varieties? Here are some key ingredients, both plant- and animal-based.


Beet sugar is always a vegan food. It transforms from the root vegetable into table sugar in a single-step process. That contrasts with cane sugar, which goes through a two-step process, the second of which refines the sugar using animal bones to whiten the crystals. 

Unfortunately, most processed foods—including Starburst candies—don’t distinguish between these sources on the label. Processed foods labeled simply as “sugar” often contain a mix of both beet and cane sugar, giving strict vegans a reason to abstain from sugar altogether. 

Palm Oil

Although it’s completely free of animal products, some environmental vegans avoid palm oil because of its association with destroying the most biodiverse forests on the planet. Mars, the parent company of Starburst, has addressed this concern by reducing the number of suppliers and creating a deforestation-free palm supply chain

Tapioca Dextrin

Tapioca dextrin is a hydrolyzed starch made from cassava, a root vegetable also known as yuca or yucca. Also called tapioca flour or starch, tapioca dextrin is used as a food thickener or top coat.


Gelatin is an animal byproduct of the pork and beef industries. Its gummy texture is created by boiling and extracting collagen from animal bones, connective tissues, and skin. Gelatin frequently appears in candies and desserts because it helps maintain their shape and consistency.

Lactic Acid

The name of this naturally occurring vegan bacteria is misleading because it doesn’t actually contain lactose (a sugar found in dairy products). However, lactic acid can be grown on lactose, although it’s mainly cultivated on corn and beets.

Calcium Lactate

A derivative of lactic acid, calcium lactate is a vegan-friendly additive used to thicken or stabilize processed foods.

Mineral Oil

Mineral oil is a highly refined byproduct of the petroleum industry. Because of this, many environmental vegans steer clear of it.


One of the more controversial ingredients in the vegan community, beeswax comes from small animals. Female worker bees shed waxy scales and then chew the wax with saliva to create beeswax. Beeswax is harvested with its co-product, honey

However, some vegans eat bee products because the honey cultivation process is part of the global food chain. In fact, without bees to pollinate crops, it’s estimated that up to 30% of the world’s food supply would be affected.

Confectioner’s Glaze

Non-vegan confectioners’ glaze comes from the lac insect. These tiny scale animals excrete a resin that, when mixed with alcohol, becomes edible shellac (a glossy coating).

Carnauba Wax

Although carnauba wax is a vegan product, it suffers from sustainability issues. Extracting this hard wax from Brazilian palm trees can cause the destruction of wildlife habitats as well as deforestation.

Natural and Artificial Flavors

At a molecular level, these two types of flavors are indistinguishable. But by federal law, only extracts derived from plants, fungi, or animal products can be called natural flavors. Flavors created in a laboratory are considered artificial. Because Starburst is fruity, any natural flavors were likely derived from plant sources.


"Colors" generally denotes artificial coloring made from synthetic, petroleum-derived sources. People who choose a vegan lifestyle for the planet often avoid products that contain unsustainable fossil fuel byproducts because petroleum combustion is a major force behind global warming.

Did You Know?

Starbursts’ commitment to sustainability aligns with the most ambitious goals of the Paris Agreement. By 2050, its parent company Mars pledged to achieve net zero greenhouse gas emissions across the supply chain. 

Non-Vegan Starburst Varieties

Unfortunately for vegans, gelatin and other less obvious non-vegan ingredients do find their way into many types of Starburst candies and frozen desserts.

  • Chews (Original, Fave Reds, Duos, All Pink)
  • Gummies (Original, Sours)
  • Airs (Original, Sour Tropical)
  • Minis (Original, Fave Reds, Sours)
  • Jelly Beans (all flavors)
  • Strawberry Sorbet Bar (contains dairy)

Vegan Starburst Varieties

Vegans of all stripes can enjoy a few Starburst candies. If you eat sugar, Starburst Swirlers will get you as close to the classic chew as a vegan can get. Starburst gum is also suitable for all vegans, and it’s sugar-free.

  • Swirlers (Original)
  • Gum (Original)
Frequently Asked Questions
  • Does Starburst have gelatin?

    Yes, most of the Starburst candies contain animal-derived gelatin. The only varieties that do not are the Starburst Swirlers and gum.

  • Are Starburst vegan in the U.K.?

    Yes. Fortunately for vegans in the U.K., Starburst candies don’t contain any animal products. Americans, however, are not so lucky.

View Article Sources
  1. Greenleaf, Sarah S., and Claire Kremen. "Wild bees enhance honey bees' pollination of hybrid sunflower." PNAS, 2006., doi:10.1073/pnas.0600929103