Is gelatin vegetarian?

The rumors are true. Marshmallows, Jell-O, gummy bears ….while they are free of meat, fish, dairy and eggs, these foods usually aren’t vegetarian. That’s because they contain gelatin, a substance used to create the “fun,” gooey, chewy textures we expect from these foods. It’s also used as a thickening agent in some gravies, cake icings, cream cheeses, soups, and sauces. Some chewing gum brands include gelatin, and it’s also occasionally present in drinks.  

But the truth is, the process of making gelatin is far from fun. Instead, it’s rife with animal suffering. After learning what gelatin is made of, you’ll likely want to leave it off your plate.   Gelatin is a translucent, colorless, flavorless food ingredient, commonly derived from collagen taken from animal body parts.  Bones are often used in its production, as well as skin, ligaments, and tendons. The majority of gelatin that humans eat stems from farmed animals, mostly cows and pigs. The animal parts used in gelatin production will often be obtained from slaughterhouses.  

A word about gelatin capsules. Most supplements and herbal remedies can nowadays be found with V-caps. However, some prescription medications are inside gelatin capsules. You can ask your doctor or pharmacist if a tablet or liquid alternative is available. In some cases gelatin capsules can be opened but be sure to check with the pharmacist first.    

Now for the good news. There are an increasing number of plant-based alternatives to gelatin, meaning it’s now easier than ever to enjoy our favorite foods without worrying about this particular ingredient. One popular gelatin alternative is agar-agar, which is derived from seaweed. This ingredient can be used in a variety of desserts in gelatin’s place. Xantham gum is also a widely used alternative thickening agent, while carrageenan is used in vegan marshmallows and jello.

Read the ingredients, or look for “vegan” on the packaging, and you can select from the many brands that avoid gelatin. That way you can enjoy these yummy treats while also caring for the animals.