Is jelly vegan? Yes and no, it depends what you’re buying

Read Time:   |  20th July 2022

Jelly is a classic dessert at children's parties, but is jelly vegan? The answer might surprise you as we explore what ingredients are used to make jelly and what options there are for vegans.

Jelly, the wobbly fruit dessert that is a staple at birthday parties, has traditionally not been suitable for vegans as it contains gelatine.

However, these days there are plenty of vegan alternatives to gelatine which means it’s now easy to find vegan jelly.

In this article, we’ll show you the ingredients you need to watch out for when looking for vegan jellies, and show you our favourite vegan jelly brands.

When is jelly vegan?

Jelly cubes are hardly ever vegan because they tend to contain pork gelatine. And look out for carmine as a colouring too as this can be derived from insects.

However, most types of jelly pots are vegan. In the UK, Hartley’s, supermarket’s own brands, Naturelly, Wibble and FruityPot are usually vegan. 

Jelly’s that are not vegan include the brand Dole because its jelly pots contain carmine. However, when you’re out shopping for jelly, always check the ingredients as manufacturers often like to change their recipes.

If you want to make your own vegan jelly, there are vegan jelly crystals you can buy. All you need to do is combine them with boiling water, give the mixture a good stir and throw in some fruit chunks before the jelly sets.

You can buy Just Wholefoods vegan strawberry or raspberry jelly crystals in sachets in health food shops if you want to make your own vegetarian jelly.

If you feel more adventurous and want to go a step further in your jelly-making, use agar agar instead of gelatine. Agar agar is a seaweed extract made from red algae that is the perfect gelling agent for vegan jelly.

It’s quite easy to work with and you can add as few or as many ingredients as you like to fine-tune it to your liking. You can also fine-tune the amount of sugar you use if you want to cut down on your sugar consumption.

What ingredients are found in jelly pots?

Water – before jelly sets, it’s a sweet liquid and most of it is water.

Fruit juice and fruit – jelly is a long-life type of food so it usually contains fruit juice from concentrate and cooked fruit (that lasts longer than fresh).

Sugar or sweeteners – most jelly has sugar in it or glucose-fructose syrup for sweetness; the “no sugar added” jellies contain artificial sweeteners – all of these are vegan although not very healthy.

Thickeners:

  • Locust bean gum or carob gum or E410 – Locust bean gum is extracted from the seeds of the carob tree so it’s always vegan and safe to eat.
  • Xanthan gum or E415 – Xanthan gum is a thickener produced from simple sugars by bacterial fermentation so it’s also always vegan and food safe.
  • Carrageenan or E407 – Carrageenan is a thickener extracted from edible seaweeds. It is always vegan and considered safe, but some people report digestive issues such as bloating after eating it. Reports warning about carrageenan causing cancer are based on animal studies, not human data.
  • Gellan gum or E418 – Gellan gum is another bacterial product made from fermented simple sugars that’s always vegan and used as a thickener.
  • Pectin – Pectin is a polysaccharide extracted from fruit and used as a gelling agent that’s also always vegan.

Acidity regulators:

  • Citric acid – Extracted from citrus fruits, citric acid is a weak acid used as a flavouring and acidifier to give the jelly a tangy flavour.
  • Potassium citrate – A potassium salt of citric acid, potassium citrate regulates acidity and is always vegan.
  • Sodium citrate – A sodium salt of citric acid, sodium citrate reduces acidity and is always vegan.

Ascorbic acid or E300 or vitamin C – Ascorbic acid is an antioxidant that helps to prolong shelf-life of the product. Again, it’s always vegan and safe.

Calcium chloride – Calcium chloride is a type of salt used as a firming agent that’s inorganic and so always vegan.

Colourants:

  • Anthocyanins are natural pigments extracted from fruit and vegetables giving red, pink and purple hues and are always vegan.
  • Lutein is a vegan pigment made only by plants, used to give foods yellow, orange and red hues.
  • Carmine – also called cochineal, cochineal extract, crimson lake, carmine lake or E120 is a bright red pigment that’s never vegan because it’s made of crushed up insect bodies. It gives bright red and purple hues. Not many jellies contain it but it’s always best to check.
  • Beta-carotene is a natural pigment extracted from fruit and vegetables, gives orange and red hues and is always vegan and safe.
  • Paprika extract – As the name suggests, it is an extract from peppers and used to give foods red hues, always vegan and safe.
  • Beetroot red or E162 is a natural extract from beets, used for its purple and violet colour, always vegan and safe.
  • Annatto or E160b is an orange-red pigment derived from the seeds of the achiote tree, it’s always vegan and safe.

Flavourings – this is a somewhat mysterious ingredient but when it comes to fruit jellies, these tend to be vegan and not animal-derived.

Many brands of jelly pots you can find in UK supermarkets are vegan as they use vegan-friendly thickeners such as carrageenan or pectin. Image by Blanchi Costela via Getty.

Many brands of jelly pots you can find in UK supermarkets are vegan as they use vegan-friendly thickeners such as carrageenan or pectin. Image by Blanchi Costela via Getty.

Is Hartley’s jelly vegan?

Hartley’s jelly pots are vegan because none of them contain gelatine or animal-derived colourings, making them perfect for school lunchboxes.

On the other hand, Hartley’s jelly cubes aren’t vegan or even vegetarian because they contain pork gelatine.

Jam or jelly?

Thanks to the differences between British and American English, things can get a little confusing.

In the UK, jelly means the wobbly fruit dessert that you eat with a spoon, while jam is a fruit spread made from whole fruits.

In the US, jelly is a clear fruit spread made from fruit juice, while jam is a fruit spread made from whole fruits.

So jam means the same thing wherever you are but jelly is a dessert in the UK and a type of fruit spread in the US.

In the UK, jelly is the name given to wobbly desserts. In the UK, jelly is a fruit spread made from fruit juice. Image via Getty.

In the UK, jelly is the name given to wobbly desserts. In the UK, jelly is a fruit spread made from fruit juice. Image via Getty.

When you first go vegan, discovering what foods are suitable for vegans can be a minefield! Here’s what you need to know:

Are jelly sweets vegan?

When it comes to jelly sweets, it’s a vegan minefield – many fruit jellies are vegan but you have to read the ingredients. If you find gelatine (E428), shellac (E904), beeswax (E901) or carmine/cochineal (E120), the product is not vegan as all these are animal-derived.

The good news is that many brands are now labelling their products as vegan or vegetarian. But even that can be confusing as some brands would label their product as vegetarian even though it’s vegan but they simply don’t differentiate.

Many jelly sweets are now suitable for vegans, but there are many that still contain gelatine too. Image via Getty.

Many jelly sweets are now suitable for vegans, but there are many that still contain gelatine too. Image via Getty.

So if you find a bag of jelly sweets labelled vegetarian and nothing in the ingredients seems suspicious, you can be pretty sure it’s vegan.

Of course, you can also make your own vegan jelly. All you need is fresh fruit juice, sugar or sweetener and agar agar.

There are many moulds on the market so you can get fancy with different shapes and sizes. If you have the time and patience for a jelly adventure, homemade jelly sweets are healthier than shop-bought, so go and experiment!

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Written by

Veronika Charvatova

Veronika Charvátová MSc is a biologist and Viva! Health researcher. She studied MSc Biology and Teaching of Biology at the University of South Bohemia and is a Human Biology lecturer at the University of New York in Prague. Veronika has spent years uncovering the links between nutrition and good health and is an expert on plant-based diets.

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