Traditional Jello is not vegan because it is made using gelatin: an ingredient derived from animal by-products. Fortunately, there are vegan-friendly alternatives to Jell-O.
We all love Jello, it’s a childhood favorite, jiggly, and colorful dessert that has been around for decades and comes in many different flavors. But is it vegan friendly? This is a question that has plagued vegan culture and vegans since the beginning of time. Sort of. And here is the final answer: yes, and no. Jello in itself, like most other packaged foods, can either be vegan or not, it all depends on the ingredients.
Unfortunately, most Jello (jelly) that you find in the supermarket is not vegan-friendly because it contains an ingredient called gelatin. This excludes popular brands, like Jell-O, from vegan menus, and most off-brand Jello contains gelatin too.
However, as vegan culture has become more popular, and consumers have become more aware of their eating habits, demand for vegan alternatives has increased. Companies have caught on to this trend and released vegan options to meet the increasing demand for vegan products.
But before we explore some vegan alternatives to Jello, let’s try and understand what gelatin is, how it’s made, and what makes it non-vegan.
What is Gelatin?
Gelatin is the main ingredient in Jello that binds it together and makes it jiggly. While jiggly things are always fun, gelatin is made out of slaughterhouse leftovers, including skin, cartilage, bones, and ligaments from pigs, cows, and even fish, which is the opposite of fun. So, gelatin is basically boiled animal leftovers, which is hundred-percent gross and cruel.
The process to make gelatin is quite complicated and starts with separating the leftover animal parts from the rotten ones. Yeah—you read that right—rotten. After the rotten parts are separated, meat and muscle are cleaned off the animal parts. The animal parts are then power washed in extremely hot water, roasted in high temperature, soaked in a hydrochloric acid solution, and boiled to make sure it’s clean enough for human consumption. Needless to say, the entire process could be straight out of a horror movie and it’s disgusting.
The final product is used in several everyday food items, some more surprising than others. We all know that regular Jell-O and other off-brand Jellos are made with gelatin, but it can also be found in marshmallows, gummy bears, Pop-Tarts and peanuts. Most devastating of all, gelatin is sometimes used as a refining agent for beer and wine.
Sadly, gelatin can also be found in beauty products like face masks, creams, hair sprays, shampoos and lotions; pretty much anything containing hydrolyzed collagen, which is gelatin, is made with animal by-products. I feel like the cardinal rule of being vegan is always checking the ingredients. Make sure to read the ingredients list in all your products. It’s easy to expect food products to contain animal additives and it’s a reflex to check the ingredients, and the same is true for non-food items.
Vegan Jello Alternatives
I felt excluded from BBQs and family get-togethers because there were no meat replacements available. Luckily since then, food consciousness and animal-cruelty awareness have been in the spotlight, creating a market for plant-based food alternatives. Now vegans everywhere can choose from a variety of vegan-friendly products to bring to the family BBQ. The same is true for Jello or its main ingredient gelatin.
Gelatin functions as a thickening and binding agent. Fortunately, there are plant-based alternatives that have a similar texture and provide the same function.
Here are a few substitutes:
Agar-agar is by far the most popular gelatin alternative out there. It comes from red-algae and can be found in most stores in powder form or as white, semi-translucid, dried strips. It’s completely vegan-friendly as it comes from red-algae, and can be used to make Jello, soups or even ice-cream.
This plant-based alternative to gelatin has been around for centuries in Asia, it’s been used in Japanese, Philippine, Burmese and Russian kitchens to make all kinds of popular desserts. Agar-agar is also used to make bubble tea.
Agar-agar is not only cruelty-free, but its consumption can also be beneficial for your health. Due to its high-fiber content (agar-agar is nearly 80% fiber), agar-agar can be used as an intestinal regulator. Studies have also shown that agar-agar could promote weight loss, as it triples in size once ingested. This can create a feeling of fulness for consumers that can result in weight loss.
If you want to make Jello using agar-agar, boil the white, semi-translucent strips or the powder in water. Then add the flavor of your choice, you can use fruits or veggies, food coloring, sweetener, etc. The possibilities are endless. Pour the liquid into molds, refrigerate, and enjoy a delicious cruelty-free dessert.
If you say it with an Irish accent, carrageenan can be just as fun to pronounce as agar-agar. Also known as Irish moss, carrageenan is a thickening agent derived from seaweed. Like agar-agar, it is used to replace gelatin and can be found in vegan alternatives such as cheese, milk, ice cream, yogurt and many others.
Carrageenan’s use as food has become controversial in the past few years with studies suggesting it can be harmful to your health. Studies suggest that carrageenan consumption can cause bloating, inflammation, irritable bowel syndrome, and other gastrointestinal conditions. Other research suggests that carrageenan could be carcinogenic.
However, there is a lot of controversy surrounding these studies, especially because some studies used degraded carrageenan, a known carcinogenic substance that isn’t approved for consumption, instead of regular carrageenan. Studies were also conducted on animals and cells, not humans, so it’s clear that further research is needed to determine whether carrageenan is harmful or not. Animal testing is another vegan concern.
Meanwhile, you can choose to avoid it if you like and see if you notice any changes in your health once you stop using it. But again, keep in mind that most of these studies was limited and that we need more research to come to any conclusions.
Pectin is another alternative to gelatin that is plant-based. While gelatin is made using leftover animal parts, like bones, cartilage, and skin, pectin is a naturally occurring substance that is found in fruits’ and vegetables’ skin. It can be found in liquid or powder form and is most commonly used in jams and jellies.
Store-bought pectin has no real flavor, but some brands can be a little bitter. You can also make pectin at home, and then it will taste the same as the fruit you used to make it. Citrus fruits and apples are the most popular used fruits to make pectin.
Aside from being vegan, pectin is also calorie, fat, and sodium-free, which is a definite bonus.
Depending on where you live, finding alternatives to foods made from animals or animal by-products can be hard. But companies have heard vegan activists, and vegan aisles in supermarkets keep getting bigger and fuller. In most countries, it’s pretty easy to find meat alternatives made with soy or vegetables; nut milk, such as soy; almond or oat milk, yogurts, and Jello too.
Here are a few brands that offer delicious, colorful vegan Jello alternatives:
Simply Delish might be the most popular brand that offers a wide range of completely, guilt-free vegan desserts. Among those delicious treats, you can find Jel Desserts which are vegan, sugar-free, keto-friendly, non-GMO Jello. Available flavors include strawberry, peach, black cherry, orange, raspberry, and lime. They are also low-calorie and fat-free, so what more can we ask of this dessert?
Another popular vegan Jello brand is Jeannie Prebiotics Jelly Dessert. It also comes in multiple flavors and has the added bonus of promoting a balanced flora and helping curb appetite.
A number of dessert recipes require unflavored Jello, and Lieber’s Unflavored Jel has got your back. This gelatin alternative is completely vegan and cruelty-free but has the same texture as regular gelatin, making it the perfect alternative to regular Jello.
Jello shots are delicious, and pretty much the perfect combination between having fun in college and being an adult. Thanks to companies like Jel Shot, adults can enjoy that tasty, alcohol-infused treat without harming animals. Between blu-razz and candymelon, there are plenty of flavors to choose from.
So, is Jell-O vegan? Well, the final answer will have to be no, it’s not vegan. The main ingredient in Jell-O is gelatin, which is made with leftover bones, skin, cartilage and ligaments from several different animals, such as pigs, cows and fish. As a side note, the cleaning process to make gelatin fit for human consumption is quite extensive, so one can only imagine the state those poor animals were kept in to make such thorough cleaning necessary. Since there are plant-based alternatives, why is gelatin still used?
In this day and age, there’s an abundance of vegan-friendly food alternatives readily found in most supermarkets. While traditional jelly and popular brands like Jell-O are made using animal products, there are plenty of vegan-friendly alternatives that are cruelty-free. You can make your own vegan Jello from scratch using agar-agar, carrageenan or pectin, or you can buy vegan Jello or Jel as it’s usually called.
Grab your vegan agar-agar and get creative. What is your go-to vegan Jello recipe? Let us know in the comments!
Frequently Asked Questions
Is Jello Vegetarian?
Jello is not vegetarian because it contains an ingredient called gelatin, which is made from animal by-products such as bones, skin, cartilage and ligaments.