Is Gelatin Vegan? Overview, Ethics, and Alternatives

While gelatin is not vegan, alternatives are available and sustainable.

Fruit jelly with candied cherries
Blanchi Costela / Getty Images

Gelatin offers a textbook case of why it is important to know what exactly goes into some of the most common foods that may seem vegan. Many people have grown up eating fruit-flavored candy and desserts made with gelatin and loved the resulting fun texture and shapes. How it's made and where its raw materials are sourced, however, makes it non-vegan because of its animal-based content.

The good news is that there are several cruelty-free and plant-based alternatives to gelatin.

Why Is Gelatin Not Vegan?

Simply stated, gelatin is made by first grinding down animal parts (such as boiled skin, tendons, cartilage, ligaments, and bones) to extract collagen, and then boiled and sometimes treated with a strong acid or base. From there, the substance is finally filtered until the collagen is fully extracted. The collagen is then dried, ground into a powder, and sifted to make gelatin before any flavors and colors or added, or it is boxed for baking and cooking purposes.

During the Upper Paleolithic period (40,000 years ago), it was believed that some hunter-gatherer tribes boiled down the skin and bones of animals to create fat- and protein-rich broths. While some of the first references to gelatin could be found in cookbooks dating to the 1300s, during the 19th century, different inventors and cooks in France, the United Kingdom, and the United States found ways to further process it into sheets and powders so average housewives could create desserts and savory dishes at home.

However, plant-based gelatin alternatives are becoming increasingly commonplace, as the public now knows that they provide a similar texture and nutritional benefits to animal-based counterparts.

Vegan Alternatives to Gelatin

As our knowledge of plant-based raw ingredients from the land and water expand, so do our options for different products that will have the same or similar nutritional benefits and uses to gelatin. Get to know the most readily-available alternatives and their uses.

Agar

Agar is cooked and pressed algae and is often used for desserts because of its firmer, less jiggly texture than gelatin. Agar needs to be heated to dissolve properly before working it into a recipe, so for new users, a powdered form of agar is recommended because it is easy to measure. Bar and flake formats, meanwhile, should be dissolved in water first or broken down into a powder using a coffee or spice grinder. It sets in about an hour at room temperature. 

Carrageenan

Carrageenan, often used in kosher foods in place of gelatin (Lieber’s Unflavored Jel is one such brand) is made from dried seaweed and can be used for recipes for soft jellies-type candy, puddings, mousses, soups, ice cream to provide body and texture. It is flavorless and sets more softly than regular gelatin providing a melt-in-the-mouth feel that works well in desserts.

Use "iota"-style carrageenan for foods with a desired soft consistency such as puddings, and "kappa" carrageenan in cake recipes and others when a firmer result is preferred.

Tapioca

Tapioca can and has been used as a substitute for gelatin in a few products, but in comparison to agar, more of it is needed to create the right consistency. Annie's Homegrown Berry Patch Bunny Fruit Snacks uses a tapioca syrup to achieve the candy's unique texture.

There are other vegan substitutes for gelatin that can be used based on whatever a recipe calls for, and many can be found online and in some supermarkets.

  • Pectin
  • Cornstarch
  • Xanthan Gum
  • Guar Gum
  • Arrowroot

Did You Know?

While the chemicals used in producing commercial gelatin are not environmentally hazardous (usually slaked lime), the process generates a large amount of wastewater that must be treated to reduce the solids content. While gelatin production has a relatively small environmental impact, it is worth consideration with wastewater treatment being a major concern on a bigger scale. Gelatin production waste is also linked to ocean dead zones and habitat destruction.

Types of Vegan Gelatin

Texture is a key factor in the successful execution of both sweet and savory recipes, so you'll want to stock up on various plant-based gelatin alternatives. Many of them can be found in the Kosher sections of major supermarkets, as dietary laws prohibit pork-based products.

  • Lieber Unflavored Gel
  • Carmel Unsweetened Gel
  • KoJel Unflavored Gel
  • Gefen Clear Unflavored Jello
  • Druid's Grove Vegan Gelatin
  • Kate Naturals Agar Powder
  • Foods Alive Agar Powder
  • FitLane Agar Powder

Vegan Products Made With Gelatin Alternatives

There are plenty of household-name and boutique brands whose most popular confections are made with agar and other plant-based gelatin alternatives. You get the fun textures and colors, without harming animals or the environment.

  • Trader Joe’s Vegan Marshmallows (available seasonally, and flavors may change), Natural Gel Cups, and Scandinavian Swimmers Gummy Candy
  • Surf Sweets' Fruity Bears, Sour Berry Bears, Sour Worms, Fruity Hearts, Peach Rings, and Watermelon Rings
  • Tasty Brand
  • Dandies' Vegan Marshmallows 
  • Deva Vegan Vitamins' Gelatin-Free Capsules
  • J. Luehders' Vegan Soft Gummy Candy
  • Simply Delish: Natural Jel Dessert
  • Jelly Belly Gummies (sweet and sour variations, both in variety bags of five flavors)
  • Sour Patch Kids Gummies
  • Black Forest Gummy Bear Candies
  • Annie's Homegrown Berry Patch Bunny Fruit Snacks
Frequently Asked Questions
  • Are there brands of gelatin that are vegan?

    No. However, there are several brands of gelatin alternatives, such as agar and carrageenan on the market.

  • Is clear gelatin vegan?

    No. Gelatin is naturally colorless, meaning that both clear and colored gelatin are made with the same animal-based components.

  • Do animals get killed for gelatin?

    Sometimes. In some cases, gelatin processing plants get their raw materials from nearby slaughterhouses. In others, there will be producers with their own slaughterhouses to source skin and bones directly.