This is a common question for vegans, and the answer is it depends.
Some jelly is vegan, and some isn’t.
First of all, it depends on what you mean by “jelly”. You might be referring to:
- Jelly – As I know it, jelly is only made from fruit juice. It’s boiled down to thicken it, and then some sugar and pectin is added. The end result is a thick, smooth topping that you can spread.
- Jam – Almost identical to jelly, but the fruit isn’t strained, leaving in some chunks. It’s still thick, but not quite as smooth as jelly.
- Jell-O – The brand name and product that most people are familiar with.
- Jelly candy – The type of jelly substance used to make candies like gummy bears and ju-jubes.
I’ll be using those definitions for the rest of this answer, and go through them one-by-one.
Before I do that, there are 2 main ingredients that you might see that make these foods not suitable for vegans:
- Gelatin – A thickening agent consisting of collagen from animals (typically cows.)
- Certain types of sugar – Honey is the big non-vegan sweetener to look out for. But many vegans try to avoid plain, white sugar added to foods since it is usually produced using animal bone char.
Now let’s go through the individual types of “jelly” you might have in mind.
Verdict: NOT vegan.
Jell-O is made of 4 main ingredients:
The big issue is with gelatin, which makes Jell-O 100% not vegan.
Jelly candy (gummy bears, ju-jubes, etc.)
Verdict: Most are not vegan.
Your typical gummy bears and ju-jubes contain gelatin, and therefore are not vegan.
However, many companies produce “jelly” candies that are vegan friendly. You can find a wide variety of them at stores like Whole Foods or Amazon that were specifically made for vegans.
The availability of them should only increase over time.
Jam and Jelly
Verdict: Many are vegan, some are not. You’ll have to read the label.
For the most part, these have very similar (if not identical) ingredients.
Jams and jelly consist of the following main ingredients:
- Fruit flavor – Usually a mix of fruit juice.
- Pectin – Extracted from fruit during the ripening process.
- Acid – If fruit juice is not acidic enough, an acid like lemon juice is usually added.
- Sugar – Most commonly corn syrup, honey, cane sugar, or beet sugar.
- Gelling agents (not always added) – Can be beef gelatin, but also can be other agents like agar-agar (from seaweed)
For example, let’s look at the ingredients of probably the most well-known jam/jelly brand, Smuckers.
In Smuckers Strawberry, there is:
- Strawberries, sugar, glucose, glucose-fructose, pectin, citric acid
If you live in the U.S., they switch out some of the sugar with high fructose corn syrup.
So no gelatin, which is great!
I highlighted the sugar, because it’s something that’s not very consistent across vegans. I’ll leave it up to you to decide if you consider it vegan or not.
There are plenty of other, lesser-known jams and jellies that either don’t add sweetener, or use cane/beet sugar. However, they’ll typically be more expensive.
Bottom line, you’ll have to read the label carefully before buying any jam or jelly. I’d also avoid ordering it when eating out to be on the safe side.
What if you can’t afford expensive organic vegan jams?
It’s very possible to make your own if you’re willing to invest a bit of time. It’s a great thing to include in vegan care packages as well.
3 Vegan Jam/Jelly Recipes
Most of these involve chia seeds because they really thicken up the jelly, no need for something like gelatin.
A more traditional “chunky” jam spread.
It’s made of strawberries, maple syrup, chia seeds, and water.
A very simple grape jelly recipe that has only 3 ingredients: agar agar powder, grape juice, and grapes.
One of the healthier recipes that you’ll find.
Made from agar agar, juice, water, and sugar. This is a simple recipe that replicates Jell-O.