Which Nerds Are Actually Vegan?

If you look at the ingredients on a pack of Nerds or any other candy for that matter, you will come across a whole list of chemicals and artificial flavors. 

One assumes that since the flavoring is a fruit or some kind of non-meat item, the product itself will be vegan-friendly. 

Moreover, the chemicals listed in the ingredients also look like regular items that a vegan wouldn’t mind eating such as Vitamin D3, artificial sweeteners, or artificial colors.

If you are asking yourself if Nerds are vegan, you are in for a surprise. Unfortunately, there is more to these ingredients than meets the eye. According to recent research some of the flavors in the popular candy Nerds, are not vegan friendly. Let’s look at exactly which ones those are and why they aren’t safe for vegans.

Non-Vegan Ingredients

Just asking, are Nerds vegan? is not enough. We also need to ask which specific ingredients in Nerds are vegan and which aren’t. Many of these ingredients that vegans claim are questionable are used across many different products. 

Similarly, there are different varieties of Nerds, and not all types use the same ingredients. So it will help to have a basic understanding of them to make a more informed decision.

The two main things to look out for when selecting a pack of Nerds are carmine and gelatin.

Carmine is an ingredient used in artificial coloring and it is made by drying and crushing the cochineal insect. This insect is most commonly found in South America where it thrives on the cacti plant. 

When crushed, these insects secrete a red liquid, and when dried and crushed, a red powder is created, which is then used in many other products, such as cosmetics like lipsticks and edibles, such as Nerds. Not all kinds of Nerds use this coloring agent because it creates a red color, which is only useful for a few specific flavors of Nerds.

Some of the Nerds’ flavors that use carmine include:

  •      Strawberry and grape
  •      Rainbow rope
  •      Rainbow
  •     Tropical rope
  •     Very berry rope
  •    Gummy clusters

The other thing that we need to watch out for is gelatin. This is commonly used in candy products such as marshmallows, jelly, bubblegum, toffee, and others. 

The main purpose of this ingredient is to create that jelly-like structure and it is used as a thickening agent. 

Gelatin is derived from animal sources. Specifically, the skin, tendons, bones, and ligaments of animals and humans alike, contain gelatin. These are all boiled and the gelatin is extracted. 

These animal parts are commonly procured as waste items from the food industry so this is a very inexpensive way of making gelatin.

Some of the main Nerd products that use gelatin include:

  •         All the rope varieties of Nerds
  •         Nerds clusters

At this point, we are left with very few types of Nerds that do not use these ingredients. However, there are still a couple of things that need to be considered before you can finalize the list of Nerds that are safe for vegans.

White Sugar

Sugar is universally derived from plants whether that is the sugarcane plant in the case of real white sugar or any other plant in the case of artificial sweeteners.

The problem arises when the sugar goes for processing to become white sugar. Initially, the sugarcane juice is extracted and boiled to reduce it down into a semi-solid state. At this point, the sugar is quite dark in color and doesn’t resemble the refined table sugar that we are used to. It is then sent through a bleaching process where it is refined, polished, cut, and re-shaped, and comes out looking like standard white sugar.

There are two kinds of sugar. One is known as beet sugar. The other is known as cane sugar.

In the case of beet sugar, the raw sugar is processed using a diffuser, which cleanses it, then additives are added to give it its final shape.

In the case of cane sugar, things are a bit different because the filtering and bleaching processes use bone char. Bone char is made by cremating the bones of different animals. This char is then used as a cleaning agent.

However, not all sugar manufacturers use bone char. Some use activated charcoal or ion exchangers to get the job done but a large number still use bone char because it’s far more cost-effective.

Artificial Colors

Vegans are against animal cruelty and one of the reasons that they don’t eat a lot of things like honey, for instance, is that the animals have to go through difficulties just for us humans to be able to eat that product.

Not only are artificial colors made by crushing insects, as is the case with carmine, but animals are also the subject of artificial color testing. 

Contrary to popular belief, animal testing is a regular activity. Just because a product has been tested once doesn’t mean it is qualified to be used. The artificial colors that are used for food need to be tested repeatedly to ensure that each batch produced is safe.

Animal testing is considered cruelty against animals by many organizations and groups of people, including vegans. Even as recently as 2017 and 2018 testing was being carried out on mice. Therefore, artificial colors might not be a good choice for vegans altogether. 

While artificial colors don’t use animal derivatives directly, they are not vegan because they do compromise the safety of the animals used for tests.


Even if you wanted to consume the Nerds that didn’t have carmine and didn’t use gelatin, you’d have limited options. 

But you would be hard-pressed to find a flavor that did not use sugar or any kind of artificial color. These last two things can be applied to all the flavors and all the products that Nerd offers, so it can be safe to say that, for vegans, no Nerd product is safe for consumption.

In fact, it would also be a good idea to look into the ingredients of other products such as Oreos. Oreos also don’t clearly define what kind of sugar they are using so it’s hard to tell whether that sugar will really be safe for vegans.

Brett White
Latest posts by Brett White (see all)