What Are Pill Capsules Made Of?

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capsule image

There are 2 main materials made to make pill capsules.

The cheapest, and most common, are capsules made of gelatin. Gelatin is not vegan since it’s derived from collagen in an animal’s skin or bone.

But for products made for vegetarians or vegans, there are also capsules made from a vegetable polymers. For example, hypromellose is a cellulose-based polymer, and pullulan is a tapioca starch-based polymer.

If a package doesn’t specify which type of capsule material is used, it’s a safe bet that it’s made from gelatin.

Other Materials Added to Capsules

Capsules aren’t always pure gelatin or vegetable polymer.

Instead, other ingredients can be added to them:

  • Plasticizers (e.g. glycerin, sorbitol) – Makes the capsule softer
  • Coloring agents
  • Lubricants
  • Disintegrants – To make it dissolve faster
  • Preservatives

Some of those ingredients can also be made from animals, glycerin for example, so it’s another thing for vegetarians to look out for.

Soft Shelled vs Hard Shelled Capsules

You’ve probably noticed that some supplements and medicines come in soft shelled capsules, while others have the standard hard shell.

Either type of shell can be made from either material (gelatin or plant), so you can’t guess based on the hardness of the shell.

Soft shell capsules are typically made to house oil, sometimes with other ingredients added to the oil.

The hard capsules on the other hand are filled with dry ingredients.

About the author

Dale Cudmore

Your friendly neighborhood vegan from Toronto. Chemical engineer turned semi-professional soccer player and freelance nutrition writer. I've been vegan for years and try to make life easier for others by sharing what I've learned.

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