Ask anyone on this planet what a Starburst fruit chews, and they’ll tell you which one is their favorite! They’ve been around for longer than most soft candy fans can recall. However, in recent years it’s becoming more common that candy producers are modifying their recipes to become Vegan and Vegetarian-friendly. But are Starburst vegan?
Starburst in the US is not vegan, it contains gelatin and articifical colors. The UK version of Starburst might be vegan, but the sugar is most likely cane sugar. It does not contain gelatin or articifial colors but contains palm fat instead. However the palm oil is RSPO certified and is considered vegan-friendly.
But before you get your credit card number ready, you need to find out what the UK recipe contains.
Although their recipe doesn’t include gelatin, they only mention their product is Vegetarian.
Though, that is only a single clue that is part of this review.
The final secrets will be revealed to let you know what else the Starburst candies have been hiding.
Continue to read further so learn more about the Starburst ingredients.
What is Starburst Candy?
Starburst is a flat square-shaped fruit chew roughly the size of a Scrabble tile. They are fruit-flavored and have a satisfying chewiness that’s more like taffy. For the most part, is not the variety of flavors, but the very conflicting and bizarre story behind their creation.
Starburst is currently produced by the Wrigley Company, which is of course a subsidiary of Mars Inc. Yet back in the early 60s, it was a very different story.
It all begins with a man named Peter Pfeffer who is credited as being the inventor of Starburst. Normally this would be cut and dry, and for all the obvious reasons should be easy to understand.
But for the Starburst candy story, it just doesn’t add-up with a history that follows a typical narrative. Some stories report that Peter entered a competition with his newly created candy chew that won a contest.
The problem with this story is often about the contest itself and has changed over the years depending on which source you check.
One official source says that Peter won a contest for just a few dollars, yet was immediately approached by a candy producing company.
This company would eventually produce a candy called Opal Fruits, which later would be renamed Starburst.
Another version of the story mentions that Peter Pfeffer had won a contest that paid him thousands of dollars. Following this notoriety, he then sold the rights to his candy to a factory so it could be produced commercially.
Then there’s a third version that credits Peter as being the inventor of this candy and introduced it to the Mars Company, having them produce it commercially in the US.
The exact year that it all began is also a big question mark since each story includes 1959, 1960, and 1961, as when Peter supposedly won this candy contest.
While the original name was Opal Fruits and was sold only in the UK, this story doesn’t see Starburst introduced to the US for the next 7 years.
As the story suggests, Peter is said to have brought Opal Fruits in 1967 and aptly renamed it to Starburst Fruit Chews.
To narrow down the sheer number of Starburst variants and cross-over products, I’ll only be focusing on their current line-up produced by Mars Inc and the Wrigley Company.
Original Starburst (US version)
Corn syrup, Sugar, Partially Hydrogenated Soybean Oil, Fruit Juice From Concentrate (Cherry, Orange, Strawberry, and Lemon), Citric Acid, Dextrin, Gelatin, Food Starch (modified), Artificial and Natural Flavors, Ascorbic Acid (Vitamin c), Coloring (Red #40, Yellow #5, Blue #1).
Original Starburst (UK version)
Glucose Syrup, Sugar, Palm Fat, Concentrated Fruit Juices 1.4%* (Apple, Orange, Blackcurrant, Strawberry, Lime, Lemon), Acid Citric Acid, Modified Starch, Acid Malic Acid, Dextrin, Flavourings, Maltodextrin, Antioxidant Ascorbic Acid, Emulsifier Lecithin, Colours Anthocyanins, Beta – Carotene; Spirulina Extract
Starburst Minis (US/UK)
Same ingredients as original.
Starburst Gummies (US)
Corn syrup, sugar, water, modified corn starch, gelatin, citric acid, natural and artificial flavors, mineral oil, colors (red #40, yellow #5, Blue #1), and carnauba wax
Starburst Sour Gummies (US)
Corn syrup, sugar, water, modified corn starch, gelatin, fumaric acid, citric acid, lactic acid, natural and artificial flavors, calcium lactate, colors (red #40, yellow #5, Blue #1), and carnauba wax
Starburst GummiBursts (US)
Corn syrup, sugar, apple juice from concentrate, gelatin, modified food starch, citric acid, pectin, natural and artificial flavors, coloring (red #40, yellow #5, Blue #1)
Starburst Jellybeans (US)
Sugar, corn syrup, modified corn starch, Apple juice from concentrate, citric acid, acacia, coloring (red #40, yellow #5&6, Blue #1, and titanium dioxide), natural and artificial flavors, sodium citrate, carnauba wax, confectioners glaze
In this chapter you can find ingredients that obviously are not vegan. There also ingredients that might look vegan because they are plant-based, but the production of the ingredient still exploit animals or humans making it non-vegan.
Anyone can guess that gelatin is certainly not Vegan or Vegetarian.
Among all of the US products that produce Starburst, they all contain gelatin.
Only the UK version is not using gelatin and instead will use palm fat and lecithin, and other food thickeners.
There is a question about what is the exact origin of where this shellac comes from. Some believe it’s the crushed shells of the female Lac beetle.
Other people believe that it’s actually the anal secretion that the Lac beetle deposits onto branches.
Either way, the confectioner’s glaze comes from an insect, and this makes it 100% non-vegan.
The controversy of deforestation and animal exploitation is what makes carnauba wax an easy target. This is why it’s listed as questionable since it becomes a moral question.
If you ask the Mars and Wrigley Company, they are committed to letting people know they aren’t exploiting the environment.
But depending on your point of view, this is always a touchy one.
Palm oil is under fire for animal exploitation and deforestation.
The Starburst company in the UK also knows this is a hot topic too, so they have covered their awareness letting people know they aren’t hurting orangutans.
They even have a full-page that talks about how they’re being careful.
They are also a member of RSPO, which is an organisation for sustainable palm oil.
This is considered vegan-friendly palm oil.
We also have some questionable ingredients that could be non-vegan.
Commonly, every confectionary and candy factory is using processed cane sugar. It’s the most common sugar that gives a particular aftertaste that is sweeter than beet sugar. But unfortunately, refined sugar cane goes through a process that includes bone char.
Bone char is often confused for being part of a filtering process. It is not.
Bone char is added to sugar to help lighten the natural amber color it has.
Charcoal filters used inside the sugar slurry help remove natural colors. When the sugar is near water clear, the bone char dries within the sugar crystal giving it a pure white appearance.
However, when it’s re-melted, it returns to a clear liquid that makes it ideal for making candies.
Animal testing is another decision that is an on-the-fence perspective on the issue of food coloring.
It’s just not easy to tell how often animal testing is cited, but the Vegan-friendly version of Starburst does include natural colors.
These are all based on plants, vegetables, and fruits.
Natural and artificial flavors
Even though Starburst fruit chews include real fruit juices, they openly let the consumer know there are added ingredients.
There’s nothing wrong with natural ingredients, but there are artificial items you want to be wary of.
These can be flavor additives that enhance a fruity effect.
As most of these are merely standard chemical formulations, some flavors have been known to come from animal extracts too.
It’s also a dilemma that has divided opinions.
Citric acid that is imported into the US or the UK is most likely purchased from Chinese sources.
This country produces most of the world’s supply of citric acid exports it more often to US and European markets.
The problem is merely the use of GMOs in the manufacturing process.
This is a moral issue for many who have doubts about what genetically modified ingredients will cause to your health.
Modified Corn Starch
Corn starch that is using GMOs is also another issue that has divided the vegan and vegetarian community.
For some, the issue is no more relevant than recycling Dos and Don’ts.
There is no scientific evidence behind the effects of GMOs just yet, so the answer is a heated topic on both sides.
Q & A
Are Starburst Vegetarian?
The only versions that can be considered vegetarian are the UK gelatin-free version. All other versions of the Starburst are not vegetarian at all.
Are Starburst Gluten-Free?
According to Starburst, these candies are gluten-free so that is one advantage that goes along with a gelatin-free Starburst.
Are Starburst GMO-Free?
Unfortunately, two ingredients include GMOs in Starburst. This is found in the citric acid and the modified corn starch.
Are Starburst Candies Healthy?
In general, Starburst is healthy within moderation. These candies contain large amounts of sugar that can cause weight gain.
Starburst recommends eating only 8 pieces at a time, but often that’s not how most people will eat them.
It’s so close for the UK version of Starburst to be vegan, but the sugar might still not be vegan-friendly.
I’ve contacted the company, but they haven’t answered yet.
There are a lot of questionable ingredients and non-vegan ingredients in Starburst, mostly in the US version.
I will post the answer about the sugar as soon as they reply my email.