Are Lemonheads Vegan?

A sour, tangy treat that may be popular in the buckets of treats around Halloween, but are Lemonheads vegan? The answer is that by some standards, they are, but not by all.

This is a familiar story, so we should look into it a little closer.


Confectioner’s Glaze

The main ingredient that causes concern as a vegan is confectioner’s glaze, or ‘shellac’. This is made when female lac bugs consume tree sap, then secrete it. Part of what is left behind is shellac, and it is commonly used in foods to provide a shiny, glossy coating.

Because this isn’t directly made from animals, some may be able to turn a blind eye, but other plant-based diets will say it is a no-go.

The substance is found on trees as the bugs secrete as they move up and down the trunks and branches. This is where the controversy begins. Some will argue that it is ok to cut down trees with the sap on them, so shellac should be ok to consume. Others will immediately link it to a living entity and stay clear as it is not plant-based. 

Since shellac can only be animal-derived, we would argue that Lemonheads are not vegan.

Back to Lemonheads, and the ingredients are as follows:

Sugar, Corn Syrup, Citric Acid, Lemon Juice from Concentrate, Confectioner’s Glaze (Shellac), Natural and Artificial Flavor, Acacia (Gum Arabic), Modified Food Starch (Corn), Carnauba Wax, Yellow 5, White Mineral Oil.


The sugar content can also be controversial, but it is difficult to prove. Some confectionary brands use bone char ( to decolorize their sugar and make it a more desirable shade of white. This means importing cattle bones and 

To stay on the safe side, look for beet sugar, and coconut sugar, even organic sugar will be made without bone char. 

PETA recommends contacting companies directly to find out more about the source of their sugar. A lot of the time, the answer will be that the brand uses multiple companies to source their sugar, but some are more open.

Food Coloring

Although Lemonheads contain Red 40, this is a vegan-friendly ingredient that can be made from Strawberries. Some people confuse it with Red 4, which is made from beetles and is otherwise known as Carmine. 

There is also Yellow 5 and Yellow 6 included, and although there is often controversy over the cruel testing of food coloring on animals, these can be considered safe by some. 

In some parts, Yellow 5 is still being tested on animals as recently as 2020 which means this is another reason why many vegans will avoid such a product.

How They’re Made

Back to confectioners glaze and to make shellac, the branch has to be scraped and cleaned to remove bugs and bark. Some bugs will already be dead, but we guess that many are killed as part of the process. 

According to the manufacturer Ferrara, “the candy is made using a cold panned process where sugar and flavors are added layer after layer until the candy is the perfect size.”

What About Lemonhead Twists?

Some argue that Lemonhead Twists are a good option, but the inclusion of Yellow 5 will still be problematic for some. Despite this, it does get rid of the confectioner’s glaze and is closer to being vegan:

Corn Syrup, Sugar, Modified Food Starch ( Corn ), Cornstarch, Tartaric Acid, Lactic Acid, Sodium Lactate, Natural Flavor, Artificial Flavors, Yellow 5, Red 40, Blue 1.

The sugar content might be problematic once again as bone char could be used as a decolorizing filter. Still, only someone who can get past the inclusion of Yellow 5 will find them vegan-friendly.

Vegan Substitutes

Dr. Johns Healthy Sweets Sugar-Free Lemon Hard Candy

A vegan-friendly option, made with nothing artificial that is a concoction of the following ingredients:

Dextrin (dietary fiber), Erythritol, Xylitol, Citric Acid, Ascorbic Acid, Natural Flavors, Fruit and Vegetable Juice for Color, Spirulina Extract (Color), Turmeric (Color), Stevia Leaf Extract.

YumEarth Organic Cheeky Lemon Hard Candy

Another tempting option is vegan-friendly and is made from a handful of ingredients. Organic, and colored by turmeric, it is clear that there is nothing controversial about these lemon-flavored hard candies:

Organic Cane Sugar, Organic Brown Rice Syrup, Citric Acid, Natural Flavors (Lemon Oils), Turmeric (Color)

Lovely Co. Organic Chewy Candies

This is a chewy alternative with lemon-flavored candies among the strawberry and cherry chews.  

Many people will be surprised to find a vegan-friendly chew as they do not contain gelatin. The ingredients are organic and read as follows:

Organic brown rice syrup, organic cane sugar, organic palm oil, citric acid, organic rice extract, color with beet juice color extract, natural flavors, organic strawberry flavor, and organic curcumin.

Final Thoughts

There are plenty of plant-based alternatives, but Lemonheads are not organic in our eyes. Thankfully, you don’t have to look too long before you find a lemon candy that isn’t made from animal-derived ingredients.

Featured Image: Creative Commons CC BY-SA 3.0. Photo by kiliweb per Open Food Facts.

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