Candy Conundrum

Easter Bunny

Ah, Easter! That lovely springtime holiday/holy day that evokes images of bunnies and chicks and tulips! What kid doesn’t look forward to receiving a basket loaded up with candy or searching for eggs containing stickers and jelly beans? Or getting all sugared up so it’s impossible for Junior to sit down to Easter brunch or dinner without driving Aunt Martha insane with incessant chatter and a horrible case of the whiny fidgets?

Here I am at Phipp’s, piling high on shelves lots of goodies kids (and their parents) can’t wait to purchase. I’m stacking up neat rows of tempting treats. On my pallet I have all sorts of jelly beans, chocolate eggs, long-eared hollow chocolate bunnies, expensive designer-brand candies, plus a wide assortment of baskets and grass to place said candy within its hollow hold. And it seemed like the other day I’d been salvaging leftover Valentine’s day candy. How time flies…

I noticed one brand of candy, Project 7, is vegan. Hmm. What kind of candy brands itself after a governmental-sounding secret operative? Specifically, it’s Gourmet Chewies – Organic Chewy Candies. They resemble jelly beans and come in such flavors as Rainbow Ice, Front Porch Lemonade, Coconut Lime and Fairytale Fruit. Boy, don’t they sound great! So I flip over the package and check out the ingredients. After all, what makes them vegan?


The package lists the ingredient as: organic cane sugar, organic brown rice sugar, organic powdered sugar, organic palm oil, organic starch, citric acid, organic gum, unbleached shellac, sunflower lecithin, organic rice, natural flavors, colored with beet juice (beet juice, water, citric acid) organic curcumin, grape color extract, and organic carnauba wax.


Hmm. I though shellac was the stuff you used on wood for waterproofing. Curious, I look it up. To quote the Vegetarian Resource Group Bloc, in an article written by Jeannne Yacoubou, shellac is defined as a “a coating or glaze derived from the hardened, resinous material secreted by the lac insect, much like honey from a bee.”  The article goes on to say that “all forms of shellac, (even “orange shellac” or “lemon shellac” which may connote non-animal origins), are derived from lac resin.” Now, vegans won’t use honey because a living creature creates it, so why is use of this product considered to be vegan?And yes, according to the article, lac resin also is an ingredient in varnish.


Now I flip open a box of Peeps. They arrive encased in a neon yellow, polka-dotted box that makes my eyes crazy, sort of like glancing at the sun and seeing a blackish blur when you look away. These peeps aren’t chicks, they’re bunnies. They come in a splendid array of of blastoff blue, puckish purple, nuclear yellow and in-your-face pink. There’s nothing pretentious about these gobs of sugar – in fact, it’s the first ingredient!


Yellow Peeps contain sugar, corn syrup, gelatin, and less than .0% of yellow #5 (tartrazine), potassium sorbate (a preservative), natural flavors, carnauba wax.


Carnauba wax? What’s that? It’s mentioned in many products’ list of ingredients, even Gourmet Chewies. According to, it’s “also called Brazil wax or ceara wax, a vegetable wax obtained from the fronds of the carnauba tree (Copernicia cerifera) of Brazil. Valued among the natural waxes for its hardness and high melting temperature, carnauba wax is employed as a food-grade polish and as a hardening or gelling agent in a number of products.”

And tartrazine – what exactly is that ingredient? Simply put, it’s a chemically-derived yellow dye, but much more fascinating than that. It has a molecular structure  – C16H9N4Na3O9S2 to be exact. And if you visit PubChem’s site, you’ll discover a whole host of information about it. Also found on PubChem is potassium sorbate, the preservative. Its molecular structure is C6H7O2K or C6H7KO2. It’s a potassium salt and a mold and yeast inhibitor used as a fungistatic agent for foods, especially cheeses.

So while Peeps contain far fewer ingredients than Gourmet Chewies, they seem to have a whole bunch more of science behind them. I can’t honestly say I’ve sought out foods with a detailed molecular structure. Is that what makes these ersatz marshmallowy treats so appealing? I do know they disappear off the shelves as fast as I can place them.


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