While marshmallows are almost always dairy-free, many grocery store brand marshmallows and products containing marshmallows include animal-based gelatin. This makes many marshmallows decidedly non-vegan.
Still, vegans have a growing number of options to satisfy their marshmallow cravings. Paired with vegan graham crackers and some regular or dark plant-based chocolate, vegan marshmallows make the perfect fireside treat. Find out which brands can top your next cup of cocoa in our vegan guide to marshmallows.
Why Most Marshmallows Are Not Vegan
Marshmallows trace their origins back to the Egyptians who feasted on the sap of Althaea officinalis, a pink, marsh-growing mallow plant that gives this sweet treat its name.
By the 20th century, however, the gooey mallow plant had been replaced with animal-based products like egg whites and gelatin, making most commercially available marshmallows distinctly non-vegan. This holds for both individual marshmallows and whipped marshmallow creams popular in desserts like fudge.
Beyond the prominent non-vegan ingredients, marshmallows also contain sugar, an ingredient that raises the ire of strict vegans because it is often processed with animal bone char.
Gelatin is an animal product made from the collagen of boiled skin, bones, and connective tissues of cows, pigs, chickens, and fish. A byproduct of the beef, poultry, and fishing industries, gelatin is the primary ingredient of vegan concern in most store-bought marshmallows and other processed foods containing marshmallows.
Gelatin often provides gummy candies and desserts with a proper mouthfeel and texture. By binding water into the confection itself, gelatin helps keep marshmallows fresher for longer than other spongy ingredients, including actual marshmallow root or even egg whites.
An obvious non-vegan ingredient, some varieties of jarred marshmallow fluff include egg whites. Thanks to their unique folded protein structure, the bubbles in whipped egg whites allow the confection to bake around the bubbles, giving sweets like marshmallow fluff an airy texture.
Vegans object to the animal welfare of chickens in the poultry industry at large. Chickens by far are the most slaughtered land animals—around 50 billion each year, according to the World Economic Forum. That doesn’t include the male chicks born on egg farms who are killed almost immediately (they serve no economic purpose), nor do they reflect the hens sent to slaughter after they no longer produce eggs.
The vast majority of sugar in the United States comes from either sugar beets or sugarcane. Always vegan beet sugar transforms from root veggie to white sugar at a single refinery in one process. Non-organic cane sugar is secondarily processed with animal bone char to whiten the crystals. For this reason, strict vegans avoid products containing cane sugar.
If your packet of marshmallows or jar of marshmallow fluff lists this ingredient as “sugar,” it’s very likely a mix of vegan and non-vegan sugars. For some vegans, that’s enough to pass on any processed food that doesn’t elucidate the plant-based status of its sugar.
Why Some Marshmallows Are Vegan
Instead of using animal products to give marshmallows their texture, some specialty brands and grocery store giants use plant-based starches to provide the bounce.
If you’re feeling ambitious, you could even try making your own plant-based marshmallows at home.
Common plant-based thickeners include tapioca and corn starches and less familiar ingredients like carrageenan, cellulose gum, and xanthan gum. These substances provide the bite density marshmallow enthusiasts have come to enjoy.
Natural and Artificial Flavors
The federal government defines natural flavors as extracts derived from plants, fungi, or animals. Artificial flavors generally refer to products synthesized from existing chemicals rather than natural sources.
Marshmallows don’t typically contain any flavors that might come from animal sources, so it’s safe to assume none of these flavors have animal products.
Did You Know?
Types of Vegan Marshmallow
Lucky for vegans, plenty of readily available vegan marshmallow brands are available at grocery retailers. Vegans can choose from classic marshmallows (both big and small, regular and flavored) as well as jarred vegan marshmallow fluff that works great in desserts like puffed rice treats.
Yummallo Vegan Marshmallows
This confectioner offers regular and tiny vegan marshmallows (along with several other non-vegan specialty marshmallows). You can easily find Yummallo at grocery store chains across the country.
Dandies Vegan Marshmallows
With four vegan marshmallow options (regular vanilla and mini vanilla, maple, pumpkin, and peppermint), Dandies contain no artificial flavors or colors, corn syrup, gelatin, or gluten—perfect for plant-based eaters with food sensitivities.
Trader Joe’s Vegan Marshmallows
Vegan bakers, rejoice: Trader Joe’s offers three vegan marshmallow options. Choose from vegan marshmallows, mini marshmallows, and mini peppermint marshmallows (a shoo-in for your holiday sweets).
Goodland Farms Large Vegan Marshmallows
Like the name says, these large marshmallows make the perfect topping for sweet potato casserole. Goodland Farms’ marshmallows are 100% vegan, gluten-free, and fat-free.
Smucker’s Vegan Marshmallow Topping
Top your vegan ice cream with this readily available national brand of vegan marshmallow fluff. Smucker’s Vegan Marshmallow Topping also works great to make softer puffed rice treats.
Frequently Asked Questions
Are Kraft marshmallows vegan?
No. Kraft’s Jet-Puffed Marshmallows in all their variations contain gelatin, a byproduct of the beef and pork industries.
Do all marshmallows contain gelatin?
Not all marshmallows have gelatin, but many common store brands do, including processed foods that contain marshmallows like cereal and other sweets.
Are Trader Joe’s marshmallows vegan?
Trader Joe’s carries both vegan and non-vegan marshmallows, so be sure to check the package. All three vegan varieties will clearly state so both on the front and back.