Is cotton candy vegan? Yes, as long as it’s made with vegan sugar. Much of the sugar used in confectionery manufacture is made using animal bone char and is not vegan. Some colors and flavorings are also derived from animals. Cotton candy made using vegan-appropriate ingredients is completely vegan, however.
You’ve landed on this page because you have questions about vegan foods and the vegan lifestyle. Maybe you’ve recently become vegan or are currently a vegan and looking for new foods to try. Either way, you’re looking for answers.
Luckily, we have the information you’re looking for. Read on to learn more about cotton candy and other confectionery in the vegan diet.
Is cotton candy vegan?
Cotton candy, fairy floss, candy floss — call it what you like, this spun-sugar treat is a staple of carnivals, fairgrounds, and sporting events. You might be tempted to assume that, because it’s made from sugar and sugar is a vegetable derivative, cotton candy is safe for vegans to eat.
Unfortunately, this may not be the case. Why? Because sugar itself isn’t always vegan.
It often comes as a nasty surprise for people starting on a vegan lifestyle that refined cane sugar isn’t technically vegan food. Sugar cane is a vegetable, of course — so how come the sugar produced from it isn’t vegan?
The answer lies in the process used to turn raw sugar cane into the sweet, crystalline substance that eventually gets spun into cotton candy. All cane sugar starts vegan: sugar cane is crushed and pulped, with the juice being extracted and filtered so it can be turned into refined sugar. It’s only the process used to refine some sugars that makes them unsuitable for a vegan diet.
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The non-vegan element here is bone char. Bone char is produced from animal bones, which are heated to extreme temperatures to create a dense black material. This carbonized bone tissue is a very effective filter, which is why it’s found favor in the sugar industry. It can be hard to produce pure white cane sugar without the use of animal bone char.
Unfortunately, the use of bone char means that most refined cane sugar is non-vegan. Even though it doesn’t contain any animal ingredients per se, the process by which it is made intimately involves animal bones.
The good news is that not all sugar is produced using bone char. First of all, sugar made from sugar beets is never exposed to bone char. That kind of filtration is simply not required for beet sugar. Secondly, not all cane sugar is filtered through bone char either. It’s perfectly possible to refine sugar from sugar cane without resorting to bone char.
Advancements in technology are gradually making bone char obsolete; many producers are moving away from bone char because other alternatives are better, or because they want to make their product animal-friendly and cruelty-free.
Of course, if you’re a vegan purely for health reasons then the bone char issue may not bother you very much, because you don’t use sugar anyway. There are no actual animal ingredients in sugar purified with bone char — the substance comes into contact with the sugar but does not contaminate it physically.
If there’s an ethical component to your veganism, however, you will probably want to switch away from cane sugar that uses this method of purification. You will also want to avoid any foods made using bone char refined cane sugar, or sugar from sources where you don’t know what purification method was used.
Unfortunately, this is probably going to include cotton candy from funfairs and similar events, unless the stall-holder specifies beet sugar or vegan cane sugar in their ingredients.
Other non-vegan ingredients in cotton candy
You may also stumble over other ingredients in cotton candy that aren’t appropriate for vegans, especially food dyes. Carmine or cochineal is perhaps the most notorious. This is a red food dye used to produce red and pink shades; it is made from a substance derived from crushed beetles.
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Even dyes that aren’t derived from animal sources may be off-limits for vegans. Many widely used food dyes are tested on animals, making them non-vegan for those on ethically motivated vegan diets. Some of the most common food dyes with a history of animal testing include tartrazine, an orange-yellow dye; erythrosine, a bright red dye; and Allura red. These were all tested on rats and mice.
If you’re a vegan for ethical reasons, you’ll want to steer clear of all these colorants. Even if your concern is largely health-related, you may still want to avoid them anyway. Some of the tests indicated that the substances may have undesirable effects on mammalian subjects, including the development of tumors.
These colorings are very common in the confectionery industry as they are stable at a range of temperatures and produce very bright, enticing colors. Before you bite into that pink or blue cotton candy, however, you may want to consider whether the fun shades have a very dark source.
Luckily, there are plenty of natural, healthy colorants that can be used in sweet-making without any concern over cruelty. These include substances derived from turmeric, beetroots, and spinach (yellow-orange, red and green respectively). With a little searching, you can find sweet treats that use these colors instead of animal-tested chemicals.
You should also make the same ingredient checks when buying other types of confectionery — undesirable food dyes turn up in all kinds of sweets.
Where can you get vegan cotton candy?
As with some other less common foods, you may have to hunt around a little for vegan cotton candy. Persevere, though — it is out there. Companies like Fluffpop and Squish Candies make vegan cotton candy in a range of colors and flavors. Another place to look is your local vegan café or food store.
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They may have vegan cotton candy available to enjoy all year round, without having to wait for the summer fun-fair to come to town.
Many enterprising small-scale candy makers have got into the vegan cotton candy market. This means that you can often find vegan cotton candy available on sale via Etsy and similar online marketplaces. You will need to be quite diligent when buying from these smaller sellers, as they aren’t always held to the same standards as large commercial food producers.
Make sure you buy from a reputable seller with positive reviews and plenty of information about their food hygiene. This includes the equipment used, the food preparation area, and the candy maker’s hygiene practices. Don’t skimp on background research, and be sure to check the ingredients used to be certain that they are vegan.
Vegan cotton candy is rather a niche market at the moment, which means that you’ll probably pay a bit more than you would if you were buying standard non-vegan cotton candy. Still, it’s well worth the extra expenditure and leg-work to get a cruelty-free treat.
Can I make my own vegan cotton candy?
If you’re feeling ambitious (or you just really like cotton candy), you could invest in a home cotton candy machine, also known as a sugar spinner. These are surprisingly inexpensive and will let you make all the vegan cotton candy you want, with complete control over the ingredients you use.
A reasonably reliable sugar spinner should set you back around $60, although the exact price will depend on where you buy your device and on the brand you choose. They don’t take too much practice to use properly and can add an extra dimension to your desserts and sweet snacks.
As well as the familiar cotton-candy-on-a-stick that you’d buy at the funfair or carnival, you can use a sugar spinner to make elegant decorations for your cakes and sweets.
To use a cotton candy machine, you will need to follow a few simple safety rules. Most importantly, remember that the machine works by heating the sugar until it liquefies. Liquid sugar is very hot — certainly hot enough to burn you if you accidentally splash some on yourself.
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You’ll need a solid, stable surface where you can set the machine up (your kitchen counter is fine) so it can’t wobble or tip up. You’ll also need to ensure that inquisitive onlookers keep their distance while the machine is running.
Most cotton candy machine manufacturers recommend a specific sugar and may even supply flavored and colored sugar for use with their machines. For the most part, however, you will be fine if you simply use granulated vegan sugar. Don’t use superfine sugars such as icing sugar, or sugars advertised as “free-flowing”. These may not work properly with the machine.Last updated on September 7, 2021, and last reviewed by an expert on August 28, 2021.