Welcome back to my series, “Is It Vegan?”. When it comes to being vegan, not everything is straightforward. Some foods, especially processed foods, have simply too many ingredients to know, even for the most veteran of vegans. So I do the research for you! I break down the simple, the difficult, and everything in between so that you can be sure you are choosing foods that fit your ethics and ideals.
Swedish fish are a popular type of candy often enjoyed by people of all ages. But are they vegan? In this blog post, we’ll explore whether or not Swedish Fish are vegan and how to know for sure. I’ll also provide an alternative to this classic candy.
What Vegans Should Know About Swedish Fish
Especially if you’re newly plant-based, searching for vegan candy can be all kinds of fun. Animal products make their way into seemingly plant-based foods all the time. That was one of the hardest parts about starting out on my vegan journey.
Luckily for me, I have a degree in Food Science and Human Nutrition, and I know my way around a nutrition label. I also know the fancy little names that show up on packages and what they actually are.
But if you’re new to this whole vegan thing, and you’re not a major nutrition geek (guilty!), constantly checking labels can get real old real fast.
Are Swedish Fish Vegan?
Yes…and No. It depends on your brand of veganism and which package of Swedish Fish candy you buy. I’ll explain in detail, but if you are only looking for whether or not Swedish Fish has any animal-derived ingredients in the actual food itself, Swedish Fish are vegan as long as you don’t buy the Peg Hole Pouches. Again, more explanation coming.
What Are the Ingredients in Swedish Fish?
Swedish Fish comes in two different packages: their Assorted Swedish Fish and their Peg Hold package. Here are the ingredients for both.
Assorted Swedish Fish Ingredients Breakdown
Invert sugar – this is made by boiling sucrose with water to get fructose and glucose
Modified corn starch
White mineral oil
Natural and artificial flavors
Yellows 5 and 6
Peg Bag Edition Swedish Fish Ingredients:
Modified corn starch
Palm kernel oil
Natural and artificial flavors
Carnauba wax – this is from a plant and is vegan friendly
Problematic Ingredients for Vegans
Let’s break down all of the ingredients that are controversial in the vegan community. I’ll give you all the information you need and then you can decide for yourself if Swedish Fish fits your brand of veganism.
Why Sugar May Not Be Vegan
In the United States, sugar comes from either sugar beets or sugarcane. Both are processed, resulting in fine crystals that can be used to sweeten foods. The processing of sugar beets is always a vegan endeavor. No worries there.
Sugarcane, however, can go through one of three different processes to get refined white sugar. It can be processed with activated carbon, ion-exchange resins, or animal bone char. Ion-exchange resins and activated carbon are both vegan-friendly. Bone char filters are the result of burning cattle bones at extremely high temperatures, carbonizing them, and creating a porous, filter-like substance. This is the process used to make white sugar in many parts of the world.
Organic sugar is always vegan because bone char was removed from the USDA’s National List of Allowable and Prohibited Substances for use in organic production. If it’s not listed as Organic then the sugar could be beet sugar, or it could be sugarcane processed in any one of the three methods listed above.
To learn more about sugar and how to tell if it’s vegan read my article Is Sugar Vegan. I go in-depth and list some healthier, always-vegan alternatives.
If you are a strict vegan and you definitely want to avoid bone char, only buy products that are Certified Vegan or USDA Organic. Otherwise, there just is no way to know for sure.
This is not an ingredient I worry about. Chances are the sugar is vegan, even if it’s not Organic. And focusing too heavily on these minute details can distract from the amazing good that you’re already doing by following a vegan lifestyle.
Is Invert Sugar Vegan?
This depends completely on the sugar chosen and how it was filtered. So, just follow the advice above.
Swedish Fish Have Both Natural and Artificial Flavors.
The FDA has specified on several occasions that natural flavors may be animal-derived or plant-based.
The good news, though, the natural flavors in Swedish Fish are plant-based!
Artificial colors can be problematic for strict vegans. Many vegans chose the lifestyle out of concern for animal welfare. Living a cruelty-free lifestyle is the mission.
Artificial colors and dyes are often tested on animals before reaching the market. Or they were in the past. Typically these are tested on mice, rats, rabbits, and other small animals.
Kind of like sugar, if you are baking at home and choosing all your ingredients from scratch, there are certified vegan food coloring options you can get. But you’ll just never know what artificial dyes end up in prepackaged foods.
This is why many strict or ethical vegans may choose to avoid foods that have artificial colors.
Personally, I try and avoid them whenever possible, but I also know that I may not be able to avoid them 100 percent of the time.
Carnauba Wax and Beeswax
Carnauba was is used as a glazing agent that prevents water loss. It’s known as an edible film. It’s plant-based and completely vegan.
You may also see carnauba wax listed as Brazil wax or palm wax on ingredient labels, especially for vegan candies and treats.
Other vegan-friendly edible films include alginate (gum) and zein (corn).
You will find carnauba wax listed as an ingredient for the Assorted Swedish Fish variety.
Purified beeswax, on the other hand, is not vegan (at least not for most vegans). This is also an edible film that prevents water loss and adds surface protection, but it is derived from honey.
Bees are animals and honey is food for bees. It also keeps them warm and allows them to survive winters. Often colonies are lost after harvesting their honey. Most vegans feel that honey does not fit a cruelty-free lifestyle.
Other non-vegan edible films include chitosan (shellfish) and the dairy proteins whey and casein.
Palm Oil and Palm Kernel Oil
Palm oil and palm kernel oil come from the fruit or seeds of the oil palm. The trees are tropical and grow in rainforests.
The oils are a common ingredient in processed foods because they are both shelf-stable and solid at room temperature, which makes them perfect for candy! It’s also incredibly easy to grow, very inexpensive, and takes up less land than many other oil trees like soy or rapeseed.
The bad news is that oil palms are a major driver of deforestation, methane emissions, and animal cruelty.
Many vegans avoid palm oil because of its impact on the environment and the devastating impact it has had on numerous endangered species including the orangutan, Sumatran elephant, and Sumatran tiger.
I go in-depth on this issue with this article. It’s an interesting read, and you may just change your mind, whether you’re currently for or against palm oil.
The Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) and Rainforest Alliance are organizations that set global standards for sustainable palm oil production. Look for the RSPO or Rainforest Alliance certification seal to ensure your product was made with sustainably-sourced palm oil.
Some Packages of Swedish Fish Aren’t Vegan
I have no idea why Swedish Fish comes with two different packages, that have the same taste, same product, but slightly different ingredients. The only difference anyone will notice between the two is the package itself.
One is either a little package that can sit on a shelf or a box.
The other packaging system is the Peg Bag. These bags have a little circular hole in the top-enter of the bag so that they can hang from convenience store aisle hooks.
The peg bag packaging of Swedish Fish contains beeswax and palm oil as ingredients.
Most vegans should avoid these because of the beeswax.
Surf Sweets, a Swedish Fish Alternative
Some of you will read this post and decide that Swedish Fish are not vegan. The non-organic sugar, artificial flavors, beeswax, and palm oil might knock these out of the running for your next sweet tooth binge.
So I’ve got an alternative for you!
Surf Sweets Organic DelishFish!
My wife found these at the store. Not a fancy store. Just our local big-box. They look and taste exactly like Swedish Fish, but they are certified kosher, non-GMO, and USDA Organic.
They are colored without artificial dyes, and the natural flavors are likely plant-based given the fact that they are kosher and obvious steps were taken with other ingredients to ensure they were natural and from plants.
If you can find these, I recommend them, even if you’re ok with the questionable ingredients in Swedish Fish.
Surf Sweets also makes vegan Gummy Bears!
Are Swedish Fish Healthy?
As a Certified Holistic Nutritionist, I can’t write about Swedish Fish and not discuss health, at least for a second.
These are candy. They are not healthy. They have no vitamins, no minerals, no iron, no fiber…nothing your body needs.
And they’re loaded with refined sugar. Which is one of the worst things you can put in your body.
But they are tasty, and everyone gets to indulge from time to time. Everyone.
As a daily habit though? You’re best finding a treat that has more of what your body needs but still hits your sweet tooth.
Are Swedish Fish Vegan Conclusion
It’s completely up to you and your ethics. The Assorted Swedish Fish candy variety does not contain any animal-derived ingredients. But the sugar may have been processed using bone char and the artificial colors may have been tested on animals.
The Peg Bag Swedish Fish are not vegan due to the inclusion of beeswax in the recipe. The palm kernel oil may turn you off here as well.
The alternative that my wife found are vegan, non-GMO, and USDA organic. They look and taste just like the real deal Swedish Fish. If you are looking for a vegan certified option, these will do the trick!
These are controversial issues, even within the vegan community. I’ve given you all the information I can find. You make the decision.
What are your favorite vegan alternatives to popular candies?