What Are The Most Common Ingredients In Vegan Marshmallows?

From backyard barbecues and beachside s'mores to sweet potato casseroles and mugs of cocoa, marshmallows are a common part of many festivities. Each year, the craze around these fluffy morsels seemingly intensifies, and for good reason. While naturally delicious, once toasted, the textural dichotomy of the crunchy outer layer and soft, gooey inside is hard to beat. Luckily for those who avoid animal products, finding a vegan version is possible. This does, however, involve checking labels, as marshmallows are made with a unique combination of ingredients that are generally not vegan-friendly.

Linda Wright, director of food research and discovery at the Hershey Company, told Chemical & Engineering News in 2021 that marshmallows "[take] advantage of many unique food-science properties," which helps create their magic. While sugar and corn syrup comprise the base of most marshmallows, gelatin is often used as a stabilizer. Since gelatin is derived from the collagen in animal tissue, vegans must ensure their package of marshmallows doesn't list it as an ingredient.

Gelatin's elasticity can be somewhat replicated with a mixture of soy protein and carrageenan — a polysaccharide (essential macromolecule) derived from seaweed, which offers a bounce similar to marshmallows. Additionally, many vegan marshmallow brands eschew corn syrup or corn starch in favor of tapioca syrup plus starch. The starch helps thicken the batter while the syrup prevents crystallization. Sugar is typically added for sweetness, and natural flavoring like vanilla is classic (though maple, pumpkin, and peppermint flavors are available seasonally).

Many vegan marshmallow brands understand the consumer's desires

While some of the best vegan marshmallow brands may not be widely available, Trader Joe's exclusively sells the plant-based variety. This is a convenient option for those who want store-bought marshmallows but want to avoid gelatin. The grocery chain notes that its marshmallows are sourced from a company that prioritizes vegan ingredients without artificial flavors or preservatives. Since vegan marshmallows aren't exactly mainstream, many brands target consumers with specific preferences beyond veganism.

Notably, one of the most popular vegan marshmallow brands, Dandies, uses tapioca syrup (from the cassava root) rather than corn syrup since it's non-GMO. It also has a neutral taste and creates a smooth consistency. A little-known fact about marshmallows — specifically vegan ones — is that they almost always include carrageenan and soy protein as a gelatin alternative; however, some brands like Yummallo use rice protein instead, making the marshmallows soy-free, as well. 

Natural flavoring, as opposed to artificial flavoring, is also a common ingredient in plant-based marshmallows. Beyond tapioca or corn, there will inevitably be some form of glucose-fructose syrup, as well as starch to keep the marshmallow's structure. At the end of the day, marshmallows — vegan or otherwise — largely consist of sugar. Therefore, people in the mood for something sweet are unlikely to be disappointed with any of the vegan marshmallow options out there.