7 Scary Ingredients Hiding In Your Halloween Treats

October 19, 2022


Halloween is my favorite holiday. I love the traditions that started when my son Noah was little and continue today. We carve pumpkins, roast pumpkin seeds, and decorate our home for the spooky season. Even our rescue kitties get in on the Halloween action and put on a costume - at least for 20 seconds!

Halloween is also an excuse to indulge in delicious treats, but that shouldn’t be at the expense of other creatures. You might be surprised but there are some scary ingredients hiding in Halloween candy disguised by confusing names. Of course if brands called these ingredients what they actually are and wrote bugs on their labels instead of carmine, or pigs instead of gelatin, they would lose sales and customers. Many organic items contain these ingredients too.

If you are just starting out on your vegan journey don’t be discouraged by all the hidden animal ingredients in foods and household items because it’s progress not perfection.  Until all the cages are empty and we are living in a vegan world it is impossible to avoid every single trace amount of animal ingredients all the time. Being vegan is about kindness, compassion and helping animals and if we use that as a starting point we are on the right path.

Sky and Holly, the author's kitties, getting into the Halloween spirit". Photo Credit: Miriam Porter

1. Gelatin

Gelatin is still a common hidden ingredient in many dessert foods, despite alternatives being readily available such agar-agar from seaweed, kelp, or pectin from fruits, just to name a few. Gelatin is usually made from decaying cows or pigs and obtained by boiling their skin, tendons, ligaments, and bones in water. These animal parts are taken from the slaughterhouse and therefore gelatin supports the meat and dairy industry. Yup, pretty gross and horribly sad. So where is gelatin hiding? Marshmallows, candies, gummies, puddings, jell-o, cakes, cookies, and other baked goods. It can get confusing since some Kosher marshmallow packages say they don’t use pig gelatin, however they use gelatin from fish. Best to be on the safe side and stick to marshmallows made entirely from plants such as Dandies.  Also be on the lookout for tallow, made from beef fat.

Gelatin is also used in some household items. Learn more about gelatin here.

2. Lard

Growing up vegetarian I never ate Oreos because they used to be made with Lard. Back then, lard, taken from the fat of pig abdomens, was much more common in baked goods and used regularly to cook French fries at fast food restaurants. I remember when Nabisco removed the lard and I tried my first Oreo – not going to lie, I was pretty excited and devoured a whole row. This was years before I learned how palm oil is obtained, an ingredient in these famous cookies. Now I do my best to avoid palm oil (even though it’s technically from a plant), because palm oil plantations are destroying the lives of orangutans and are responsible for massive forest destruction in Indonesia and Malaysia.

“After palm oil plantations are established, displaced starving orangutans are frequently killed in the most brutal ways as agricultural pests when they try to obtain food in the plantation areas.Orangutan Foundation International

Learn more about palm oil here.

I often see pies in the grocery store still made with lard, so if you are planning a Halloween pie party, perhaps try making your own delicious cruelty-free version.

3. Carmine

You might be eating bugs and not even know it. That’s right, carmine, also known as cochineal, is the red pigment taken from a crushed female cochineal insect and used as red dye or food coloring in many desserts. This is a type of beetle and if you can believe it, it takes 70,000 beetles to produce only one pound of red dye. Especially during the Halloween season when red dye is used as fake blood or other scary themed food decorations, it’s important to watch out for foods containing these bugs. Carmine is commonly used in red gummies, candies, jams, jellies, and other types of sweet foods as well as soft drinks.

Looking for a bug free alternative to decorate your scary looking cookies with red dye? Try beet juice – it’s healthier, cruelty free, and made entirely from plants. If you are a fan of plant-based Beyond Meat Burgers you may already know that beet juice is one of their ingredients.

4. Shellac

Another hidden buggy ingredient is shellac. This resinous excretion of certain insects such as the lac bug is used as a candy glaze in some brands. The food industry refers to shellac as confectioners glaze because it gives candies and jellybeans a gloss coating.

“Nearly 100,000 bugs die to produce about 1 pound of shellac flakes, which are combined with alcohol to make a confectioner's glaze.” - PETA

5. Dairy

Dairy is hiding in many unsuspecting foods you may come across this Halloween. When Noah and I switched from vegetarian to vegan and I read even more food labels, I was shocked to learn some of my favorite chip brands added dairy to their salt and vinegar chips (I am looking at you Miss Vickie’s!) It’s labeled as buttermilk (a fermented dairy product) and lactose (a carbohydrate from milk). This is especially frightening to people with dairy allergies that may assume chips are okay to eat. Other salty snack foods, granola bars, and cereal bars, may also contain hidden dairy. And be on the lookout for casein, a milk protein.

The dairy industry is among the cruelest in the world and cows suffer terribly on dairy farms from the moment they are forcefully inseminated. They must deal with the heartbreak of having their babies stolen from them while they are hooked up to painful milking machines all day on abrasive concrete floors. When mamma cows can no longer produce milk they are shipped off in a transport truck to the slaughterhouse and face a violent death.

Read more about the horrors of the dairy industry here.

6. Albumen

This eggy ingredient called albumen is typically derived from egg whites and taken from animals such as birds and reptiles. In sweet treats it can be found in cakes, cookies, and candies, but it’s also used for cosmetics and in some wines. The egg industry tries to cover up their despicable secrets so you may not know that male and female chicks are separated shortly after birth. The male chicks are deemed useless by the egg industry because they don’t provide a profit since they will not grow up to lay eggs, so they are killed. Killing methods include being gassed, ground up alive while fully conscious, sucked through pipes and electrocuted and tossed directly in trash bags to be suffocated and die a slow death. Chickens living on factory farms are some of the most abused animals on the planet. Luckily there are hundreds of yummy Halloween desserts without eggs.

Learn more about the egg industry here.

7. Honey

There is a common misconception about honey and often foods are incorrectly labeled as vegan, but still contain honey. However, bees are not plants, so honey is not vegan. Honey is made by bees for bees, not humans. Honey is commonly found in sweet foods like cookies, muffins, cakes, candies and snacks like granola bars and a huge assortment of other foods like breads.

I researched honey extensively for a previous blog.

“Bees are exploited on factory farms and treated inhumanely. Like other abused creatures on factory farms, bees are victim to stressful transportation, genetic manipulation and living in conditions that are not natural to them in the wild such as nests or their own hives that have not been tampered with. It is common practice for beekeepers to clip the wings of Queen Bees so she can’t fly free or escape. This is done to prevent swarming and then she is killed after a year or two.

Read more about the honey industry here and be on the lookout for products made with beeswax or honeycomb.

Here are a few honey alternatives to satisfy your sweet tooth this holiday: agave nectar, maple syrup, date syrup, molasses, brown rice syrup and barley malt.

Now all you need to do is get a Jack O Lantern and start carving.

Wishing everyone a very Happy Halloween!

How you can help:

  1. Download your free vegan starter kit to get started with a plant-based diet.

  2. Sign the Plant Based Treaty. Your signature will help put pressure on national governments to negotiate an international Plant Based Treaty as a companion to the UNFCCC/Paris Agreement. The treaty calls for system changes such as an end to the expansion of animal agriculture, the redirection of subsidies and public information campaigns,  and restoration and reforestation on land and sea.

  3. Make a donation to help us launch and maintain impactful campaigns that demand a plant-based food system for the benefit of animals, climate, and health.

Written by Miriam Porter:

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