“I Gave Out Vegan Halloween Candy. Here’s What Happened”
I've always been a classicist when it comes to Halloween candy: Mini versions of Snickers, Milky Way, and Kit Kats are my jam. But with more and more kids showing up at my door with allergies to nuts and even potentially fatal dairy allergies, I decided to go the vegan route and ordered only vegan Halloween candy to give out this year. Here is what happened.
This year, my town was having a Halloween Parade and pumpkin carving party before Halloween, so it was a perfect chance to test passing out vegan candy to kids. I expected scrunched-up noses and rolled eyes and even some "No, thank you's" especially from the bigger kids. After all, they had plenty of treats to choose from, so why spend precious space in their plastic pumpkins filling up on plant-based or dairy-free, or allergen-free candy?
In fact, I was pleasantly surprised that the vegan candy was met with the same enthusiasm, and more, as the old traditional ones I used to buy. I also discovered that no fewer than 20 candy brands that kids already know and love are vegan, made without any dairy, whey protein, animal byproducts, or other ingredients that are disturbingly derived from animals.
I Gave Out Allergen-Friendly Vegan Halloween Candy
The first mom I approached, who has two boys ages 4 and 7 (who were thrilled to be dressing as a Mignon and Gru, and made their mom go as a Mignon too), happened to be the wife of a doctor. Since his specialty is pediatrics, this mom-in-the-know immediately saw the value of giving out vegan, dairy-free candy at Halloween to kids who might not even know they were allergic to certain things.
"You mean they are allergen-free and not made with gelatin?" she asked. I was blown back! "Why yes!" I said, somewhat stunned at her knowledge about what is not vegan in many types of candy.
So much familiar Halloween candy has additives you'd probably rather have your kids avoid, like gelatin. Gelatin is a beef byproduct and is used to add texture and as a binding agent in most candy that is not vegan, like Starbursts. Dairy is added in the form of milk, whey, and cream, so check all labels if your child is allergic.
Because this woman's pediatrician husband has treated kids who have had violent and life-threatening allergic reactions to dairy, she was fully on board with the idea of vegan candy. She added that another idea was to skip all the nuts and nut butter like Almond Joy, Reese's, and M&M's, for good measure.
More than just looking at the labels and avoiding dairy, parents should know that candy can contain ross-contamination when made in manufacturing plants that use those ingredients. There are also hidden animal products that vegans and plant-based people want to stay away from. Vegan candy companies avoid all of these (except nuts and nut butter so parents must be vigilant when out trick or treating.)
Why is Candy Not Vegan?
Candy such as gummies and sour worms or fish can include many non-vegan ingredients, including gelatin, a protein derived from the collagen in cow or pig bones, skin, and connective tissues, informs Tree Hugger, which adds: It's often used as a thickening or stabilizing agent in a variety of candies, including Altoids, gummy candies and Starburst, among others.
Other non-vegan ingredients can include honey, carmine, and shellac, according to the site OutrageousBaking.com. "Most of these ingredients should sound familiar," according to the blog. "Shellac is a “confectioner’s glaze” and a varnish, the same as used on floors. It comes from the exudate of the female Indian “lac” bug. Shellac resin sometimes has the color extracted for use in dyes due to its red color," it informs us. To which I say: Gross!
Another source we trust on the subject, PETA, tells us that Carmine (often listed as cochineal extract or Natural Red 4), is a red coloring made from crushed insects.
PETA's List of Surprisingly Vegan Candy
- Atomic Fireballs
- Big League Chew
- Bottle Caps
- Brach's Lemon Drops
- Brach's Root Beer Barrels
- Charms Blow Pops
- Cry Baby
- Dum Dums
- Fun Dip
- Hubba Bubba
- Jolly Rancher Hard Candy
- Mary Jane and Mary Jane Peter Butter Kisses
- Now & Later
- Pixy Stix
- Red Vines
- Sour Patch Kids
- Super Bubble
- Surf Sweet Gummies
- Sweet TARTS
Another list from The Food Network has many of the above vegan candies and includes:
- Fruit By The Foot
- Swedish Fish
- Enjoy Life
So other than dairy allergies that can be fatal –– not to be confused with lactose intolerance which causes gastro distress –– I was nervous about giving out candy to kids who might have nut allergies or any other aversions to animal products (they are more aware than ever of what happens to cows on factory farms), so I figured: go with vegan candy to be safe.
What Does Vegan Candy Taste Like?
I was also aware that the word vegan before candy could be a buzzkill. Are there delicious ones? It turns out that more and more vegan candy bars are hitting the market. For the best vegan chocolate bars, check out this taste test that ranks vegan chocolate for taste and health, called The Beet Meter. But it's a little ungainly to give out full-sized chocolate bars. For Halloween, I prefer the mini candy that is individually wrapped for sanitation and safety.
Why Buy a Vegan Candy Brand?
First I tried the best-known vegan candy company, Enjoy Life. But when those were all sold out, I went on a hunt. Not because I couldn't just go buy some other vegan candy but because I wanted to support a vegan candy brand.
So I went and found YumEarth Vegan Candy, in a prepackaged Halloween variety pack, which offers a selection of gummies in fruit flavors, a type of candy that most kids adore.
I also gave out Free2Be Halloween Treats, a bag of individually wrapped Sunflower Seed Butter cups in Dark Chocolate. These look just like regular chocolate peanut butter cups but made with allergen-friendly ingredients so kids can enjoy even if they have food allergies.
The very fact that many of these vegan candy items were selling out quickly told me that parents are more aware than ever of what's in their food, and watching out for allergens. They are also becoming more conscious about consuming foods that are terrible for the environment, and our food systems' impact on climate change (since animal agriculture is a major contributor to greenhouse gas emissions). Most parents just hope the kids have a fun, safe time and don't eat so much candy that it makes them sick. Staying away from dairy and additives is a bonus, but if your kids are not allergic, you start to look at the nuts in M&Ms and Reece's peanut butter cups as a relative health food when it comes to Halloween options!
Allergies are another story, however. If you have a kid with a nut or dairy allergy, these organic allergy-friendly candies are a must. Since even if your candy does not contain dairy and nuts on the label it could have been formulated with equipment and containers that did contain those allergens, so anyone allergic to nuts and dairy is better off buying a vegan candy from a vegan candy company.
Giving Out Vegan Halloween Candy
I showed up at the parade early, when the kids were walking to the starting spot at the fire station. They were about 4 to 8 in age and a little shy so I made sure to tell the moms and dads that I was giving out "healthier Halloween candy, that's organic, gluten-free, and allergen-free, as well as vegan." Because the packages didn't look like the usual brands they were so familiar with I showed the moms and dads the bags, to be reassuring that this wasn't some fentanyl substitute (which had been widely reported as a cautionary tale in the news this year).
Most of the kids and moms were into it. Reactions ranged from:" I didn't know candy wasn't vegan!" To "Candy is candy!" The kids shrugged, looked at the cheerful packaging, said thanks, and moved on to the next generous trick-or-treat giver. They were more concerned with their costumes, which were falling off or the masks had gotten hot and were worn perched on their heads, up above their faces, the way a major league baseball catcher pushes up his catcher's mask when he needs to see.
Juju, my favorite 4-year-old, in a low-key Minion outfit (essentially yellow hoodie and overalls) dug in first, and then his big brother Oliver, dressed as Gru, also enthusiastically dug into the bags. They both taste-tested the lollipops from YumEarth and the chocolate cups with sunflower seeds. "Delicious!" Juju announced when eating the pop. "Just like the other peanut butter cups," said Oliver. They were sold.
Moms were excited to hear I had "healthier Halloween candy" for the kids. One said: Oh, they're used to my keto candies, so they won't be picky."
Only one little princess was not a taker. "Are these peanut butter cups?" she asked. "Actually they are sunflower seed cups, which taste just like that," I answered. She had moved on by the time she heart the word sunflower seed ... "Just tell them YES! said another parent, a dad walking behind the picky princess who had watched her disdain at the idea of a sunflower seed chocolate cup. "Okay, but, I am trying to be honest here," I told the helpful dad making this suggestion. "To kids, candy is candy," he said and took a sample to try. Note taken!
I never thought about it before, either, the need for allergy-friendly, organic candy for kids and adults. But now that vegan candy is just "candy" without all the whey and dairy, beef byproducts like gelatin, and beetle bug juice, it makes me wonder why more companies don't just leave out all the stuff that makes kids sick or makes our planet heat up faster than it has to.
My head-scratching extended to Why can't Almond Joy be made without milk and whey (it's just dark chocolate and coconut, for the most part)? So note to candy companies: Make your formulations vegan. If companies like Lindt can do it, replacing dairy with oat milk in its vegan dairy-free milk chocolate bars, then anyone can. And you'll have a lot more takers come Halloween!
For more plant-based recommendations, visit The Beet's Product Reviews.