Gelatin Awareness: Have yourself a Peepless Little Easter

Kathleen Stachowski Other Nations

Easter baskets and candy bowls of yore once held some of this Baby Boomer’s fondest Easter and Halloween memories: Marshmallow Peeps. Candy corn. Jelly beans. Chocolate covered marshmallow rabbits. I continued eating these sweet treats after going vegetarian some 27 years ago. Ignorance was bliss. Then G.A. (Gelatin Awareness) struck and changed the world forever. As the then-vegetarian daughter of a now-departed candy salesman, this was no insignificant revelation. Really? Gelatin? All these years? Gaaaaaaa!

For what is gelatin but “a mixture of peptides and proteins produced by partial hydrolysis of collagen extracted from the skin, boiled crushed bones, connective tissues, organs and some intestines of animals such as domesticated cattle, chicken, and pigs”? (Wikipedia). An industry site doesn’t mention chickens, but does mention fish skins. Gag me.

Remember Jell-o with a can of fruit cocktail stirred into it? That was a staple at our house. Lime Jell-o cabbage salad, orange Jell-o carrot salad–there was a whole lotta gelatinous shakin’ goin’ on in my Midwestern childhood. Later on, as an adult vegetarian, the store brand yogurt I ate also contained gelatin–unbeknownst to me (“It’s yogurt! Why read the ingredients?”) Vegetarians more savvy than I probably knew to look for pectin instead– “a carbohydrate found naturally in plant cell walls. Pectin’s gelatin-like properties make it ideal for use as a thickener or stabilizer in food products such as jams, jellies, yogurts, and ice cream” (from Safeway’s Open Nature glossary).

But candy corn! No, nothing is sacred. (It contains honey, too, for a vegan double whammy.) Difficult as it was to wrap my mind around the idea of carcass-tainted candy corn (perhaps even more difficult: Frosted Mini-wheats!), the idea of human-derived gelatin poses a greater mental challenge. First impulse? Revulsion. I know what you’re thinking–shades of Soylent Green. But it’s not like that.

This startling news comes from Beijing University of Chemical Technology, where

 “…a new technique for making gelatin from human DNA is attracting “increasing interest from research and industrial circle (sic). The researchers revealed that successful experiments had been carried out in which human genes were inserted into a strain of yeast to “grow” large amounts of recombinant human gelatin.

Gelatin has a history of use as a gelling agent by the food industry and human-derived gelatin “could become a substitute for some of the 300,000 tons of animal-based gelatin produced annually for desserts, marshmallows, candy and innumerable other products,” according to the researchers. (

It’s enough for most vegans (I’ve joined those ranks) to know that gelatin comes from animals who were raised to suffer and die. It doesn’t really matter which animals, but here’s the rundown in the gelatin world market for 2003: 42+% of raw materials came from pigskin; 29+% came from bovine hides; and 27+% came from bones. Less than 1% came from “other.” (Source: industry site referenced above.)

Now here’s a novel proposition for the ethical vegan: If you could get past the ick factor, would you eat foods made with human-derived gelatin?

In response to this development, one U.S. bioethics researcher raised the specter of cannibalism, but went on to add that, “The gelatin is not derived from human tissue in the same way that animal gelatin is. It’s really derived from yeast – yeast that have been modified with genetic sequences found in human beings” (emphasis is mine).

Well, that’s certainly comforting. Cuz when you’re just chillin’ with your peeps, you’d hate to think that the marshallow candy you passed around might have contained your buddy JimBob, rest his soul.
Look for vegan Easter (and other) treats at Pangea. “How to avoid gelatin” at LiveStrong.

11 Responses

  1. Jeepers creepers no more peepers!

    I already knew about gelatin in jello and ‘mellows.

    I didn’t know it applied to candy corn or Frosted Mini-Wheats, though. Bummer.

    Last year I called Planter’s and told them I had just discovered that their salted dry roasted peanuts contained gelatin. “Why?” I asked. “It adheres the salt to the oil-free nuts.” They sent me a refund check and asked me politely to read the label BEFORE I buy the product next time. Will do, m’am. You better believe it.

    A candy salesman, huh? My family used to invite a friend over for holiday dinners. We kids liked her a lot, and we loved the gift she always brought from the store she worked at: See’s Candies.

    You know, Kathleen, I just realized that it’s possible to revel in happy memories without reliving them — in the form of eating the foods we grew up with, now that we know they compromise our animal friends. Yay for the vegan options.

    Oh, yes, we had molded salads of all stripes. My fave was lime-with-pineapple-chunks-and-cottage-cheese. Sorry, cows and pigs and fishes. I didn’t know I was eating you.

    As for human gelatin, I’ll pass. There must be a way to make smooth, shaky jello from plants. It’s just waiting to be discovered.

  2. Ethical questions aside, my personal feeling is that Peeps are gross. 😦

  3. I ordered my kiddo lots of delicious vegan treats for Easter from Vegan Essentials. We jumpstarted our celebration this weekend with an Easter egg hunt — kids searched for plastic eggs filled with coins, dried fruit, and Sour Mambas (vegan).

    A great resource for info on what’s vegan (and what’s not) is It’s a user-driven database, so be sure to sign up and add your knowledge!

  4. So glad that I never ate Peeps–I don’t think I ever had one, much less an addiction. But other candies, sure. And Jello salads! I loved Jello as a child. I know about Frosted Mini Wheats — that is sick. Anyway, your point is well made and appropriate for vegans and nonvegans alike: read the label and never make an assumption, even a reasonable one–about what is in a food product.

    Gelatin is grotesque in any form, and thank you for writing this.

  5. Wow. Had no idea about Frosted Mini Wheats and planter’s peanuts! There are so many surprises in this world, even after 13 years of vegetarianism. Recently a religious Muslim friend of mine, who doesn’t eat gelatin for religious reasons, told me that skittles stopped using gelatin. I hadn’t had skittles since I was 12! It was very exciting, we had a little skittles party.

  6. Gummy Bears, snakes, spiders any shape or animal fall in the same category. Should find an animal friendly alternative.

  7. Human or other animal – No getting past the ick factor for me. Give me plant dna any time!

  8. Annie’s gummy bunnies are vegan-friendly (made with pectin). It’s disturbing what they’ll (they being the food industry) will just throw gelatin into without a moment’s thought–you really have to check just about EVERY label. I almost bought some cherry-lime flavored gum one time when my so-not-a-vegetarian-boyfriend (he’s trying, though, guys) reminded me, “Aren’t you going to check that?” I gave him the crazy face and checked; it’s a good thing I did–gelatin! It’s also amazing to me how many meat-eaters don’t even know where gelatin comes from; oh I LOVE letting them in on that little secret, as I eat my gummy bunnies. Om nom nom.

  9. We sell the seasonal treat from Sweet & Sara based in NYC. They also sell online and have a 2 pack called Skippers & Sunnies. It’s an all vegan marshmallow company. There is also Dandies out of Chicago and they are available at a lot of Whole Foods, but this year their Dandies Tweets were missing. Hope that helps some folks satisfy their cravings.

  10. […] lac beetle. Aside from exploitation of a life form, this is just downright repulsive, IMO. (No, gelatin isn’t the only thing you have to worry about in your candy!) Check your Reese’s […]

  11. Well, however they fix them dern Peeps, they sure taste wonderful!

    If the writer were actually aware of the manner in which gelatin was made, perhaps he/she would realize how far overboard he/she has ventured…

    It’s all about education and PERSPECTIVE.


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