Whether or not a type of candy is vegan can be a bit of a vexed question. It’s true that some candy recipes manage to avoid using obviously non-vegan ingredients (dairy, animal fat or other animal-derived ingredients, such as confectioner’s glaze, beeswax or insect-derived dyes). Even so, those products may not be completely acceptable for a vegan lifestyle. A candy that is considered technically vegan by some members of the community may not be seen as a vegan at all by others. Why is this? Well, it comes down to your definition of “vegan”. Some confectionery is free from animal products but isn’t ethically vegan.
Are Mike and Ikes vegan? Some varieties may contain animal ingredients. Other varieties of Mike and Ike’s candies are free from animal ingredients, including by-products. That said, these may not be ethically vegan as they may contain ingredients that aren’t cruelty-free, such as sugar refined with bone char.
You’ve landed on this page because you have questions about vegan products generally and confectionery in particular. Maybe you’re a recent vegan and need to know which products to avoid. Maybe you want to get a treat for a vegan family member but you’re not sure which products are okay. Are Mike and Ikes vegan? Which flavours and varieties contain animal products? What ingredients might be problematic for vegans? How come non-animal products might not be safe for vegans? Are there vegan alternatives to Mike and Ikes? Whatever your questions, we have the answers. Just read on to find out.
Are Mike and Ikes vegan?
Yes — and no. Most flavours of Mike and Ikes candies are made without the use of any animal products, although some flavours do contain ingredients that are disputed.
The main point of contention for a lot of vegans is the use of “confectioner’s glaze”, a shiny coating that contains shellac resin produced by the lac beetle. Shellac has a mixed reputation in the vegan community. Some people reject it out of hand as an animal product. Others regard shellac as a vegan because its production doesn’t necessarily harm the beetles. The resin is left behind on tree branches and other surfaces as the bugs crawl around on them. It’s this residue that is scraped up and turned into shellac varnish, confectioner’s glaze, and other products. Whether or not shellac (and thus confectioner’s glaze) is a deal-breaker will depend greatly on your perspective. To vegans who see shellac as a natural substance, some products that use confectioner’s glaze will be fine. To vegans who see shellac as an animal by-product, no candies that use it will ever be acceptable. These vegans point out that beetles may be killed in the process of harvesting the resin and that therefore it is not a vegan substance.
The shellac issue aside, some vegans still eschew Mike and Ikes because they do contain ingredients that might not be acceptable to a lifestyle vegan.
The big concern for many is the fact that Mike and Ikes contain cane sugar. Sugar is, of course, a plant product. Unfortunately, refined sugar is often made using a process that uses bone char (animal bones leftover from the meat industry that has been heated to a very high temperature). The use of bone char means that most refined cane sugar isn’t cruelty-free. For this reason, many vegans choose to avoid refined cane sugar and use alternatives. Some cane sugar is refined without bone char; beet sugar, derived from a root crop, doesn’t require the same refinement methods and is largely cruelty-free. There are also other sweet ingredients, although many artificial sweeteners have been heavily tested on animals and are not cruelty-free. Even natural alternatives such as agave nectar may come with environmental concerns.
That said, cane sugar is not the sole issue. Mike and Ikes also contain other ingredients that are not truly vegan, from an ethical perspective. If one’s veganism were motivated purely for the demonstrable health benefits of going animal-free, that would be fine. However, many vegans are motivated as much by concern for animals as concern for their own well-being, which means avoiding ingredients that are tested on animals. Mike and Ikes, unfortunately, contain many of these.
Food dyes are a common problem for ethical vegans. The same colourants used to produce those bright, cheery candy shades often have a dark history of animal testing. Mike and Ikes contain many such substances. One example is Allura Red (Red #40), a popular artificial colouring that has been extensively tested on rats, mice and certain insects. The candies also contain Tartrazine (Yellow #5) and Sunset Yellow (Yellow #6), which have also been tested on mice, rats and rabbits. Overall, the candies contain so many animal-tested colourings that they are often considered categorically non-vegan.
With all of that out of the way, it should be mentioned that many major organisations list Mike and Ikes as being vegan. Even PETA includes these candies on their list of vegan treats.
Are there vegan candies like Mike and Ikes?
If you enjoy Mike and Ikes but want to adhere to a stricter vegan lifestyle, you’re probably keen to find an alternative. Luckily, there are some candies which are broadly similar but which don’t contain either animal-derived ingredients or animal-tested additives.
The best way to track down cruelty-free candies is to look for suppliers that specialise in both vegan and organic products. If you avoid artificial colours and other additives, you stand a better chance of avoiding animal-tested colours or flavours. You can ask at your local health food store — they will usually be happy to help you. Most health food stores stock vegan candies that are free from artificial colourings and ingredients like beeswax or shellac. Another reason to check out your local store is that they may have candies made by smaller regional manufacturers. There are lots of smaller suppliers making delicious artisanal candies that you might not discover elsewhere.
You can also find online candy suppliers that may ship to your region. You’ll find here are plenty of vegan candies that are fairly similar to Mike and Ikes in flavour and consistency. In North America, Montreal-based Squish Candies make a range of cruelty-free gummies and chews. Another brand that’s more easily available outside of the US is Torie and Howard, which makes organic, cruelty-free vegan sweets including tasty fruit chews.
If you’re concerned about the sugar in your candies being bone-char free, look for products where the sugar is specified as being refined with a non-bone char process. These candies are usually free of animal-tested colourings and flavourings too.
Are Mike and Ikes healthy?
One major reason for adopting a vegan lifestyle is the health benefits. Assuming you’re okay with the ingredients in Mike and Ike candies from a vegan perspective, the next question is whether they’re healthy for your body.
As candies go, Mike and Ikes are not particularly bad but they’re not particularly good either. They contain little of actual nutritional value and consist largely of refined sugar. This is bad for your body in a number of ways. As our dentists keep telling us, refined sugar is terrible for your teeth — it promotes dental caries (cavities) and gum problems. Consuming too much-refined sugar is not safe, as it can give rise to lots of different health problems.
One of the most obvious problems associated with a diet that’s high in sugar is obesity, although this is less likely to be an issue for someone on a vegan diet. A consistently high blood sugar level can also cause problems for your kidneys and may contribute to the development of diabetes. High sugar diets are associated with certain types of cancer, as well. Recent studies suggest that high blood sugar levels can cause mood disturbances and may even contribute to depression.
The food dyes used in Mike and Ikes are also known to be rather suspicious from a health perspective. Red #40 has been tied to the development of cancers in animal models — remember those unfortunate rats and mice? — and is suspected of having other health impacts. Other colourings and flavourings used in these candies may be unhealthy too.
Any negative impacts that eating candy may have on your health will likely be offset by the overall healthiness of your vegan diet. Consuming a plant-based diet with plenty of fresh and varied ingredients gives you a head start over someone who’s following a conventional diet that’s high in refined carbohydrates, unhealthy fats and processed ingredients. You probably won’t suffer any noticeable negative effects from consuming a little candy now and then, just as long as you don’t overdo it.