If you’re considering veganism or are already committed to a plant-powered diet, you may be overwhelmed by the thought of missing out on the little indulgences that make so many holidays and special events sweet. After all, what does veganism mean when it comes to candy? Lucky for those of us walking through life with a hankering for treats, there are a number of vegan candies on the market. And while most of it isn’t intentionally plant-based, there are tons of options that are “accidentally vegan.” This means the manufacturers simply left out any animal-based ingredients by happenstance. And that’s good news if you’re already committed to eating vegan or are considering going vegan this fall: Who doesn’t love sitting back with a glass of red wine and a few pieces of dark chocolate? Well, we’re in luck: Most dark chocolate fits the vegan bill. The key difference is the absence of milk-derived products that are unavoidable in true milk and white chocolates. For extra benefits, grab a bar that boasts at least 70 percent cacao. Or if you prefer treats that are sour, chewy, or nutty, read on!
Why Veganism Is Sweet
If you’re eager to tackle the world of vegan candy and feeling intrigued, perhaps you’re also interested in a taste of what other goodness vegan diets and lifestyles entail. With plant-based diets on the rise (a whopping 74 percent of those embracing the change are female), it’s no wonder conversations are buzzing. Recent data confirm that vegetarianism and veganism are dramatically increasing in popularity, with the American vegan population making a noteworthy jump from just 1 percent up to 6 percent in the last three years. Yep, that’s approximately a 500 percent increase. Many herbivores are motivated by the information that’s surfacing regarding ethical, environmental, and health concerns of eating animal products. In fact, the harmful effects of animal agriculture are not limited to the violation of animal rights alone. They expand to include indiscriminate water consumption and deforestation, species extinction, and even food toxicity. Given all of the purported benefits of veganism, it’s hard not to consider making the switch. Activists, environmentalists, and media gurus are working together to tackle this issue and raise awareness. And as more information about the adverse impact of animal agriculture is released, the percentage of individuals who are plant powered is expected to rise.
Vegan vs. Vegetarian (and What It Means When You Reach for a Treat)
You may be familiar with the terms vegetarian and vegan, but even as you reach for a vegan candy, you may not be 100 percent certain where one dietary practice ends and the other begins. A vegetarian is someone who doesn’t eat meat, poultry, or fish. There are far more vegetarians living in the U.S. than there are vegans. To break vegetarianism down further, there are a few common subtypes of vegetarians, including lacto–ovo vegetarians, lacto vegetarians, and ovo vegetarians. Lacto–ovo vegetarians avoid all animal flesh but still consume dairy and egg products. Lacto vegetarians avoid animal flesh and eggs but still consume dairy products. Ovo vegetarians avoid animal flesh and dairy but still consume eggs. Taking these approaches a step further, vegans eliminate all animal and animal-derived products from their diets and most eliminate animal products from their lifestyles, too. The Vegan Society defines veganism as a way of living that aims to eliminate all forms of animal exploitation and cruelty for any purpose. Something that all vegans have in common is their plant-based nutritional approach and the desire to avoid all animal foods, animal byproducts, and products tested on animals. So, in addition to the foods listed above, vegans tend to be cautious about their clothing, shoe, and beauty purchases. If you’ve heard a vegan friend refusing honey in her tea, the latest leather clutch, or a go-to drugstore shampoo brand, this might be why. Transitioning to a vegan lifestyle requires comprehensive change, but it has the potential to be incredibly rewarding. Talk about good karma!
It might be sweet, but is it safe?
Whether you’re considering vegetarianism or veganism, one of the most common questions to arise when someone decides to make the switch to a more plant-based diet is simply, “How?” As a certified fitness nutrition specialist and vegan, I’ve found a few things to be helpful when transitioning from the typical American diet to a largely plant-based one. Most of us benefit from easy, gradual changes. Achieving a plant-based life requires extensive shifts in habits, behaviors, and attitudes. The end goal of the shift for many is a compassionate lifestyle, but it’s crucial not to lose your compassion for yourself in the midst of the process. As I’ve told others: It’s okay to slip up along the way. We are not perfectionists here, right? Love yourself into this new approach. It isn’t meant to be a punishment. Just as you might not kick a sweet tooth or caffeine habit cold turkey (maybe you’re reaching for healthier candies—like some vegan ones!—or trying half-caff instead of a double shot), you have to start with a sense of curiosity. Play around in the kitchen and explore some popular vegan blogs and cookbooks for inspiration. I guarantee there’s a way to make your favorite comfort foods and sweet treats vegan friendly.
Changes Inside and Out
As you start introducing new foods and more plant-based ones into your diet, chances are you’ll notice some changes evidenced by your digestive system. Rest assured, this is typically due to the boosted fiber intake inherent to plant-based lifestyles. For an average person, doubling or even tripling your fiber intake can result in significant bloat. Your body will adjust, but it does take time. Be patient, try calming your tummy by incorporating peppermint and ginger tea into your daily routine, and think about adding in digestive enzymes to support the effective breakdown of food and reduce bloating. After a few weeks, you’ll be more regular than ever! You may begin noticing changes like weight loss, lowered blood pressure, improved digestive health, clearer skin, and enhanced energy. Suffice it to say, a plant-based lifestyle has the potential to help your body achieve its greatest state if done correctly. What all of these tips boil down to is this: Make compassion your main objective, set yourself up for success, and trust that you can give your body what it needs to flourish while still enjoying tasty treats as much as—or maybe even more than—before.
Tips for Success, Cruelty Free
According to Angela Liddon, popular blogger and author of the delicious Oh She Glows cookbook series, there are a few additional key tips to keep in mind when diving into plant-based life. She recommends stocking the pantry, focusing on the exciting new things you’re adding to your diet rather than what’s being eliminated, rallying support from your tribe, and packing food when you’re leaving the house for extended periods of time. Keeping your kitchen prepped with “safe” items is definitely one of the secrets to staying meat and animal-product free, and maintaining a level of appreciation for the change will breathe longevity into your success. By remembering that this change is giving you an opportunity to try new foods and supply your body with both dense nutrients and occasional indulgences, you can turn your mentality from one of deprivation to one of gratitude for abundance and options. Whether you’re handing out vegan candy to trick-or-treaters on Halloween or hosting a meatless potluck at your place for your weekly girls’ night, you’re going to experience changes both inside and out.
Vegan Candy Time
So you’re ready for a vegan treat. When checking to see if a candy is truly vegan, milk is one of the number one things to avoid. Dark chocolate and wine, right, friends? There are a few other key ingredients to watch out for, namely carmine, gelatin, shellac, and bone char. Carmine is what gives many candies their bright red pigment, but it’s neither vegetarian nor vegan because it’s made from crushing and boiling the shells of female cochineal insects. Carmine goes by other names too, so watch out for ingredient lists that contain cochineal, K carmine, crimson lake, red 4, or natural red 40. Gelatin, like carmine, is neither vegetarian or vegan. It’s the product of boiling down the skin, tendons, ligaments, and bones of cows and pigs. It has a long list of uses, but it’s most commonly added as a binding agent and thickener in candy-making. Shellac is vegetarian but not vegan. The widely popular confectioner’s glaze is created using the resinous excretions of certain types of insects. It gives many candies their hard, shiny shells. Bone char is quite literally the product of charring cattle bones, meaning it’s not vegetarian or vegan friendly. Bone char is often used to help refine and whiten sugar particles. In addition to its description of bone char, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) provides a list of companies that do not use bone char in their sugar processing practices, which is helpful for vegetarians and vegans alike. So with all that on your mind, you might be wondering which candies you can eat! Here are a few of our favorite accidentally and intentionally vegan candies to savor and share. Many of these are approved by PETA, but be sure to check the ingredients before you buy, because some companies tweak their mixes often.
- Sour Patch Kids
- Cry Babies
- Jolly Ranchers
- Charms Blow Pops
- Brach’s Root Beer Barrels
- Brach’s Lemon Drops
- Swedish Fish
- Now and Later HARD Taffies
- UnReal candy including dark chocolate peanut butter cups, dark chocolate almond butter cups, dark chocolate crispy peanut butter cups, dark chocolate peanut gems, and dark chocolate crispy gems
- Wholesome sweets including lollipops, DelishFish, fruit chews, fruity bears, watermelon rings, and sweet and sour worms
All in all, deciding to go plant-based shouldn’t be a torturous life sentence. The right mixture of education, compassion, and fun (with a piece of candy or two here and there) can make this lifestyle a breeze. In all honesty, many vegetarians and vegans wonder why we didn’t make the switch sooner. If you feel your values, beliefs, and desires align with a meat-free lifestyle, why not give it a go? You could join the likes of Venus Williams, Tia Blanco, Steph Davis, Olivia Wilde, and Ellen DeGeneres in adhering to vegan wining, dining, and beyond. And if you like to play around in the kitchen, try our homemade recipe on for size!
Vegan-Friendly Almond Joys
Here’s a vegan, gluten-free, low-glycemic treat that can stand in for one of your family’s favorite candy bars.
1 ½ cups unsweetened, shredded coconut ¼ cup organic, extra virgin coconut oil (melted) 2 tablespoons coconut nectar
½ cup dark chocolate chips (remember to read the label!) 1 tsp organic, extra virgin coconut oil
¼ cup raw almonds 2 tablespoons dark chocolate chips ¼ teaspoon organic, extra virgin coconut oil
- Line a 9″ x 5″ loaf pan with parchment paper and set aside.
- In a blender or food processor, mix the ingredients for layer 1 until the mixture becomes noticeably wet and sticky. As a good rule of thumb, the shredded coconut should start to resemble small flecks.
- Pour this mixture into the loaf pan. Place a second piece of parchment paper on top of the mixture and press down until it’s smoothed into an even and tightly packed layer. Remove the top piece of parchment paper and place the pan in the freezer for about 20 minutes.
- Remove the pan from the freezer and lift the coconut layer out of the pan. Cut it into 12 to 16 rectangular bars. Then line a baking sheet with parchment paper and place the bars on the sheet. Place them back in the freezer while you prepare the second layer.
- Put the ingredients for layer 2 in a medium, microwave-safe bowl. Heat the mixture in increments of 20 seconds until it’s slightly melted. Whisk until smooth.
- Remove the bars from the freezer. Dip the bottom of each coconut bar in the bowl of melted dark chocolate, creating a thin coating. Place the bars back on the baking sheet.
- Next, dip one side of an almond in the melted dark chocolate. Press the almond on the surface of one of the coconut bars. Repeat with another almond until each bar has two almonds on top. Place the sheet with the almond-studded bars back into the freezer.
- Use the remaining topping ingredients (2 tablespoons dark chocolate chips + ¼ teaspoon organic extra virgin coconut oil) to create a chocolate sauce to drizzle on the bars. Add the ingredients to the same mixing bowl that contains the remaining melted chocolate and heat in the microwave in increments of 20 seconds until slightly melted. Again, whisk until smooth.
- Use a rubber or silicone spatula to scrape the mixture into a plastic Ziploc bag. Cut a small tip off one of the corners. Squeeze the bag of melted chocolate in a zigzag pattern across one of the bars from top to bottom. Repeat for each of the other bars.
- Place the baking sheet back in the freezer for an additional 15 minutes, and voila!
- Before serving, allow the bars to thaw for about 10 minutes. To store, place the bars in an airtight container. They’ll keep for 1 to 2 weeks in the refrigerator.