Cotton candy is a spun-sugar treat that looks like cotton wool. You’ll often find it being made fresh at carnivals, festivals and fairs, either on a stick or in a plastic bag. You can also sometimes find it pre-made in small plastic tubs.
Other names for cotton candy:
- Candy floss: UK, Ireland, Canada, New Zealand, Egypt, South Africa and India
- Fairy floss: Australia
- Spun sugar: US
- Suikerspin (sugar spider): Netherlands
- Barbe à papa (papa’s beard): France
These are all essentially the same thing.
Is cotton candy, candy floss and fairy floss vegan?
Whether cotton candy is vegan or not depends on how strict of a vegan you are. It’s made from sugar (which may contain bone char in the US), natural colours (which may contain crushed beetles) and artificial colours (which may have been tested on animals).
The problem with cotton candy is that only way to know if the ingredients are 100% vegan would be to contact the manufacturer, and even then they may not know. For this reason, while some vegans would eat cotton candy, others would avoid it as they can’t be sure that it is in fact vegan.
Before we continue, a point that I really want to stress is that everyone has their own definition of veganism, and that’s okay. Purist vegans will avoid animal products at all costs. But for most, veganism involves taking reasonable steps to avoid animal products where its practical to do so.
So, if you want to eat cotton candy as a vegan, don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t.
Cotton candy ingredients
Cotton candy is typically made of just three ingredients:
- Natural or artificial colours
- Artificial flavours
Each of these ingredients may or may not be strictly vegan. And you’ll have no way of knowing whether they are. It’s not like you can go up to the guy at the fair and ask how the sugar was manufactured and expect him to know.
Sometimes, in North America, sugar is processed with bone char, which is made from animal bones and therefore not vegan. Bone char use in sugar is extremely rare in the rest of the world, but in the United States, it is used by some sugar manufacturers.
The only way to find out if the sugar in any particular product is made from bone char or not is to reach out to the manufacturer. For this reason, some strict US vegans choose to avoid sugar altogether.
Natural and artificial colours
Most natural food colouring is vegan. The exception to this is the red colour carmine (aka cochineal) which is made from crushed beetles.
Artificial colours, on the other hand, are made from chemicals derived from petroleum. Whilst they don’t contain animal ingredients, most artificial colours have been tested on animal. Unfortunately, this animal testing continues. As people report allergic reaction or issues with hyperactivity in children as arising from artificial colours, animal testing continues on these ingredients.
As with sugar, when you buy something at an event, you don’t know exactly what the ingredients are and whether the pink colour to the cotton candy may have come from crushed beetles or artificial colours which may or may not have been tested on animals.
Artificial flavours are vegan. Although you won’t know exactly what an artificial flavour is, you do know that as it’s artificial – it’s not made from plants or animals. Artificial flavours are created in a laboratory and are likely derived from petroleum.
Do you consider cotton candy to be vegan?
Whether or not cotton candy, fairy floss and candy floss are vegan is a matter of debate. As you never know the exact ingredients, you can only make assumptions and base your decisions on that.
Personally, I would consider cotton candy to be suitable for most vegans. If the ‘vegan’ label could only be applied to those who avoid all sugar, colours and flavours then there wouldn’t be many vegans left at all.
Cotton candy is probably one of the most unhealthy foods there is and it’s also incredibly bad for your teeth. So is cotton candy vegan? Probably. Would I eat it regularly? Absolutely not!
Is cotton candy vegetarian?
Cotton candy (or candy floss) is most likely vegetarian. It contains natural red colouring which may be made either from crushed insects or from plants such as beetroot. If it doesn’t say on the label, the only way to know for sure would be to contact the manufacturer.