What Is Gelatin Made of and Is It Vegan?

Vegan gelatin alternative agar-agar
Spheres from agar-agar, a vegan gelatin alternative

If you read the ingredients of your favorite candy, we bet you’ll find the word “gelatin.” But what is gelatin made of, exactly, and is it vegan?

Candy is probably the last place you would expect to find animal products. But they are more common than you realize. And, one of the most common is gelatin and, unfortunately, it’s not vegan.

Gelatin is a frequently-used ingredient because it’s tasteless, versatile, and cheap. It’s also a great thickener. It gives Jell-O its wobble, the jelly-like texture to gummies, and the puff to marshmallows. It’s also responsible for the foamy texture of traditional mousse desserts like chocolate mousse.

If you love chocolate mousse, try our Vegan Aquafaba Chocolate Mousse Recipe

Vegan aquafaba chocolate mousse in ramekins
Our Vegan Aquafaba Chocolate Mousse is gelatin-free

What is gelatin?

Gelatin is a glue-like substance that is a protein. It’s obtained by boiling the skin, tendons, horns, ligaments or bones of animals with water (usually cows or pigs). This creates a glue-like substance that consists mostly of collagen.

What is gelatin used for?

It is commonly found in all sorts of candy, as well as being the key thickener in fruit desserts such as Jell-O. It is incredibly pervasive in the food industry, and it can be found cakes, marshmallows, ice cream, and yogurt too!

Strawberry cheesecake could contain gelatin
Gelatin can be found in many desserts but vegan-friendly options are available

Some examples of popular candy containing gelatin are:

  • Gummy bears
  • Candy corn
  • Gummy worms
  • Starburst
  • Nerds

If you are trying to go vegan or veggie, you should keep these candies, plus all Haribo candy, out of your Halloween basket.

To find our best vegan candy brands, read The Definitive List of Vegan Candy

Still, the list doesn’t just end with food.

It’s also used in shampoos, face masks, makeup, photographic film, and as a coating in vitamins and medication. Sometimes it’s also used to assist in the process of “clearing” wines.

If you enjoy a glass of wine, read: Why You Should Drink Vegan Wine

Is there vegan gelatin?

Now that you know what it’s made of, you might want to eliminate products containing gelatin from your diet. So, what alternatives are out there for vegans and veggies to enjoy a sweet treat?

When it comes to similar gel substances, ideal for baking or making your own, delicious cruelty-free gummy candies, there are a few options available.


The closest substance to gelatin is an ingenious product called “agar-agar” (although it can sometimes be marketed as gelatin), which is 100% vegan. It’s derived from a type of seaweed, red algae, and just like gelatin, it is tasteless and versatile. If you are familiar with Asian desserts and bubble tea, you might actually have encountered this jelly before! It’s also used in molecular gastronomy as a gelling agent and to stabilize foams.

Try our Vegan Marshmallow Recipe that uses agar-agar powder.

Carrageenan or Irish Moss

Another popular thickening agent is carrageenan, or Irish Moss, another product made from seaweed. Carrageenan tends to set more softly than gelatin, giving it a unique, melt-in-your-mouth characteristic.

Vegetable gums

Finally, we have different vegetable gums such as xantham gum and guar gum, which are common ingredients in all types of ice cream and chewing gum. Interestingly, they’re also used to bake gluten-free bread because of their binding properties.

Experimentation is the name of the game, so don’t be afraid to try out all vegan-friendly options to find out which alternative suits your recipes the best!