Most mini marshmallows contain gelatin, which is made from collagen extracted from animal bones and tissue. Gelatin acts as a stabilizer and thickener to give marshmallows their soft, spongy texture. However, there are some gelatin-free mini marshmallow options made with vegetable gums or aquafaba that can be used as substitutes in recipes.
Ingredients in Mini Marshmallows
The primary ingredients in traditional mini marshmallows include:
- Sugar – Gives marshmallows their sweetness.
- Corn syrup – Helps control crystalization of the sugars.
- Gelatin – Extracted from collagen in animal bones and tissues. It provides structure and stabilization.
- Water – Hydrates and dissolves the gelatin and sugar.
- Flavorings – Usually vanilla extract. Other flavors are sometimes added as well.
- Colors – Food dyes to achieve white coloring or other colors.
Gelatin is the key ingredient that gives marshmallows their fluffiness. It forms long protein strands when hydrated that trap air bubbles, leading to the soft, spongy texture characteristic of marshmallows.
Role of Gelatin in Marshmallows
Gelatin performs several important functions in marshmallows:
- Stabilization – Gelatin gives marshmallows their structure and helps maintain their shape.
- Aeration – Gelatin strands stretch and fold to trap and hold air bubbles, leading to fluffiness.
- Texture – Gelatin provides the soft, spongy, elastic texture of marshmallows.
- Binding – Gelatin binds and thickens the sugar syrup, corn syrup, flavors, and colors.
- Shelf life – The gelatin network preserves the marshmallow’s consistency and prevents weeping.
Without gelatin, marshmallows would essentially be sweetened syrup. The gelatin protein is essential for creating the characteristic texture of marshmallows.
Gelatin can be derived from two main sources:
- Bovine hides
- Pork skins
- Fish Skin
- Agar Agar (seaweed extract)
- Carrageenan (red seaweed extract)
- Pectin (citrus fruits)
- Locust bean gum
- Guar gum
Animal sources are more commonly used in traditional gelatin production because they contain abundant collagen. Plant sources lack collagen, but can form gel-like textures through their polysaccharide content.
Animal vs. Plant-based Gelatin
|Derived from collagen in animal parts
|Derived from plant gums, starches, or seaweed extracts
|Sets at room temperature
|Requires refrigeration to set
|Gives distinctive gelatin texture
|Mimics gelatin texture
|More stable at high temperatures
|Can break down with extended high heat
Animal gelatin provides the classic, distinctive texture and stability, while plant-based gelatin can serve as a vegetarian/vegan alternative with some differences in setting and heat stability.
Are Mini Marshmallows Vegetarian?
Traditional mini marshmallows are not vegetarian because they contain animal-derived gelatin. However, there are some brands that make vegetarian mini marshmallows using plant-based gelatin alternatives:
- Dandies – Uses beet extract, sunflower oil, and natural gums
- Sweet & Sara – Uses agar agar
- Trader Joe’s – Uses carrageenan
- Dr. Oetker – Uses pectin
- Kroger – Uses pectin and tapioca syrup
Always check the label for ingredients like gelatin, confectioner’s glaze, or natural flavors, which may indicate animal products. Look for vegetarian mini marshmallows made with agar, carrageenan, gums, or fruit pectin instead.
Are Mini Marshmallows Vegan?
Most mini marshmallows contain gelatin derived from animals, so they are not vegan. Confectioner’s glaze used as an ingredient may also contain shellac from insect secretions.
Some options for vegan mini marshmallows include:
- Sweet & Sara – Uses agar agar, no confectioner’s glaze
- Trader Joe’s – Uses carrageenan, no confectioner’s glaze
- Dr. Oetker – Uses vegan ingredients if marked vegan
- Freedom – Gelatin-free and no confectioner’s glaze
Vegan marshmallows use alternative thickeners and emulsifiers like gums, starches, agar, and carrageenan. Always check the label to ensure no animal-based ingredients are included.
Homemade Gelatin-Free Mini Marshmallows
It is possible to make homemade mini marshmallows without gelatin using the following gelatin substitutes:
Agar Agar Powder
Agar agar powder, derived from seaweed, can mimic the stabilizing and gelling ability of gelatin. Use 1 teaspoon of agar powder per 1 tablespoon of gelatin specified in a recipe.
Pectin, found naturally in fruits, can provide a similar thickening effect. Add 1 tablespoon of pectin for every 1 teaspoon of gelatin.
Gum arabic is an emulsifying and stabilizing agent. Add 1/2 to 1 teaspoon per tablespoon of gelatin.
This provides stability and structure. Use 1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon xanthan gum per 1 tablespoon gelatin.
Glycerin helps retain moisture. Replace up to half the water in a recipe with glycerin.
Experiment to get the perfect consistency with gelatin-free options. Refrigeration can help homemade marshmallows set up properly.
Nutrition Facts: Gelatin vs. Gelatin-Free Marshmallows
|Gelatin Marshmallows (100g)
|Gelatin-Free Marshmallows (100g)
While the protein content drops without gelatin, gelatin-free marshmallows have a very similar calorie, carb, sugar, and fat profile. The texture and binding differs, but they can serve as a suitable substitute in recipes.
Finding Gelatin-Free Marshmallows
Here are some tips for finding gelatin-free mini marshmallows:
- Check natural food stores like Whole Foods, Sprouts, or Earth Fare.
- Look for kosher marshmallows which avoid non-kosher gelatin.
- Search for vegan or vegetarian marshmallows online if stores near you don’t carry them.
- Call manufacturers to ask about gelatin in their regular mini marshmallows.
- Compare ingredient lists and look for vegetable gums instead of gelatin.
Popular gelatin-free brands to look for include Sweet & Sara, Dandies, Lieber, Freedom Marshmallows, and Trader Joe’s. Making them at home is also an option.
Substituting Gelatin-Free Marshmallows in Recipes
For recipes calling for regular mini marshmallows, gelatin-free substitutes can work in most cases with some adjustments:
- Add 1-2 tablespoons more thickener like corn starch or flour to account for less gel-forming ability.
- Use vegetable glycerin or extra corn syrup for added moisture.
- Reduce cooking time by 1-2 minutes to prevent too much browning.
- Use powdered sugar instead of oil/butter to coat to prevent melting.
- Chill thoroughly before serving to help marshmallows set up.
Expect a slightly different texture, but gelatin-free marshmallows can achieve delicious results in Rocky Road fudge, sweet potato casserole, s’mores, rice krispie treats, and other recipes.
Traditional mini marshmallows contain gelatin from animal sources to achieve their characteristic soft, spongy texture. However, there are more plant-based options available today using gums, starches, and seaweed extracts as stabilizers instead of gelatin. With some recipe adjustments, these vegetarian/vegan mini marshmallows can work well as substitutes in desserts, snacks, and other treats so that anyone can enjoy marshmallow goodness. Checking labels and ingredients carefully makes it possible for people with dietary restrictions to find mini marshmallows that meet their needs.