Finding vegan confectionery means navigating a complex landscape of controversial ingredients. Some candies that appear superficially acceptable turn out to contain animal ingredients, while others that look highly suspicious don’t contain anything non-vegan at all. One example is the quirky Swedish Fish candy. Although fish-shaped, these may actually be a good choice for vegans. It’s important to pay careful attention to the ingredients of any candy you buy, as some ingredients are controversial and you may have a different opinion than other members of the vegan community. On the whole, though, if you eat candy you can probably eat Swedish Fish.
Are Swedish Fish candy vegan? Most varieties are free from ingredients of animal origin, although some may have a coating which contains animal products. Swedish Fish may also contain controversial ingredients such as cane sugar and artificial colourings. Similar fish-shaped candies are available from vegan and organic manufacturers.
You’ve landed on this page because you have questions about Swedish Fish and similar candies.
- Are Swedish Fish vegan?
- What ingredients should vegans look out for in Swedish Fish?
- Are there any alternative candies with a better vegan pedigree than Swedish Fish?
- Are Swedish Fish bad for you?
- What are some healthier candies that are similar to Swedish Fish?
Keep reading, because we have all the answers you’re looking for. On this page, you’ll learn everything you need to know about Swedish Fish candies from a vegan perspective.
Swedish Fish, those fun red fish-shaped sweets, turn out to be fairly respectable from a plant-based perspective. The original Swedish Fish was developed by a Swedish company and exported to other countries. The trademark is now owned by the Cadbury Adams company. To confuse the issue somewhat, the term “Swedish Fish” is often applied to similar fish-shaped candy that isn’t made by the same company.
Brand-name Swedish Fish are produced in Canada, Turkey and in Sweden. Vegans should take care to avoid the ones produced in Turkey, as these use beeswax rather than the vegetable-derived carnauba wax used elsewhere.
As long as you are careful to avoid varieties that contain gelatin or use beeswax or shellac (often hiding behind the innocuous name of “confectioner’s glaze”) your Swedish Fish or similar candy should be free from animal ingredients.
Problems arise, however, when you dig a little deeper and look at the provenance of the other ingredients. As vegans know all too well, plant-based doesn’t always equate to cruelty-free. Different people draw the line in different places but it’s always best to be aware of the possible ethical issues when you make your choice.
In the case of sweets, the biggest sticking point is sugar — more specifically, cane sugar. To obtain the pure white refined sugar typically used in the confectionery industry, a rather unsavoury method is employed. The sugar is filtered using multiple layers of a substance known as bone char. As the name suggests, bone char is made by taking animal bones discarded by the meat industry and subjecting them to extreme temperatures. This bone char is then used in sugar refinement.
This leads many vegans to reject all cane sugar out of hand unless it has been refined without the use of bone char. Beet sugar and alternatives such as rice syrup are free from contact with bone char, and thus are safe for stricter vegans.
Other controversial ingredients could turn up in Swedish fish. These include certain artificial food colourings, which may have been tested on animals. Some artificial flavourings and sweeteners are similarly suspect. Notable offenders include Red #40, which was heavily tested on mice, rats and other animals. Sunset Yellow and Tartrazine, which may also be present in some Swedish Fish style candies, are similarly not cruelty-free. Some vegans argue that since colourants are an incidental ingredient their provenance doesn’t matter, while others insist on cruelty-free ingredients wherever possible.
As a vegan, you’re probably concerned about the environmental impact if your food choices. Concern for the environment is often a primary motivation for vegans, second only to animal welfare. The sugar industry is often fairly brutal from an environmental perspective, requiring vast tracts of land and creating significant quantities of waste that are often disposed of irresponsibly. For this reason, a lot of vegans prefer to avoid cane sugar unless it’s specifically marked as organic and free from contact with bone char. This is a fairly reasonable position — we don’t have to consume sugar, after all, and organic products are available. Beet sugar is a somewhat better option, as it can be grown using less intensive methods and does not require bone char.
It’s also worth considering candy from a health perspective. Vegans generally lead a much healthier life than the average omnivore, and it would be a pity to undo all those benefits through the over-consumption of less healthy foods.
Are Swedish Fish healthy?
The short answer is “not really.” Swedish Fish contain little nutritive value and are essentially composed of empty calories. They are full of refined sugar and other heavily processed carbohydrates, not to mention some thoroughly undesirable trace ingredients like mineral oil. All these are served up along with a hefty dose of artificial colourings. Despite the manufacturer’s optimistic claim that Swedish Fish are a fat-free food, you really shouldn’t be considering them as a salubrious treat. By that metric, a bag of pure sugar is also “a fat-free food”.
The sugar and starch used to make Swedish Fish are pretty unhealthy by themselves. As any dentist will tell you, sugar is terribly bad for your teeth. More than almost any other food, refined sugar is associated with dental problems: cavities, gum disease and other disorders are all provoked and worsened by sugar. Once the sweet has been consumed, it will continue to create trouble by spiking your blood sugar, upsetting your insulin production and causing other ill-effects. A diet containing too much sugar is associated with an increased risk of obesity, diabetes and certain cancers. Scientists have also connected a high-sugar diet with mood disorders like depression.
As well as being tested on animals, the artificial colours used in Swedish Fish may be injurious to your health. Depending on the variety, your Swedish Fish candy could be loaded with Red #40, Yellow #5, Yellow #6 and Blue #1. Many of these are associated with undesirable effects, with suspicion falling on Red #40 that it’s a carcinogen.
If you want to enjoy the occasional sweet or two, Swedish Fish aren’t terrible — certainly no worse than most other conventional confectionery and probably somewhat better than candy made with animal products. That said, sweets like this should be an occasional indulgence rather than a regular feature of your diet.
What can I have instead of Swedish Fish?
Because Swedish Fish are already within a catfish’s whisker of being truly vegan, it’s no surprise that vegan candy manufacturers have stepped into the breach with their own tasty, fully vegan treats. These sweets mimic the appearance of Swedish Fish and borrow some of their ingredients — for example, they use cornstarch or similar materials to provide stability in place of the more usual gelatin. Unlike Swedish Fish, though, they are completely free from things like beeswax. Out go dubiously vegan artificial colourings and in come fun plant-based shades that look great and won’t cause health issues later on.
Another difference between fully vegan fish candies and the original Swedish Fish is the attention paid to the sources for their sugar and sweeteners. Instead of refined cane sugar that may have been produced using bone char, truly vegan fish candies are made with organic sugar that has been refined using cruelty-free methods. They may also substitute different substances for sugar.
Canadian manufacturer Squish Candies produces an allegedly vegan version of Swedish Fish; however, they don’t provide many details on the ingredients so it’s tough to say exactly how vegan their own-brand fish candies are. On the whole, though, Squish is a pretty reliable company much loved by vegans. If you’re bored with fish, Squish also offers a blue shark sweet.
If you’re looking for a Swedish Fish alternative that’s both vegan and gluten-free, I would recommend DelishFish from Wholesome. Regular Swedish Fish contain cornstarch, which puts them off-limits to those on a gluten-free diet. DelishFish are one of my favourite substitutes. They look almost exactly like the originals and have a similar tangy taste. However, they’re completely free from animal ingredients — no beeswax, no shellac, nothing. The controversial food dyes are replaced by organic purple carrot juice, which produces a jolly red colour just like the Swedish Fish I remember. The sugar is all organic and sustainably produced. It’s also fair trade, so you know it’s kind to humans as well as animals.
If you’re not too picky about the specific shape of your candy and just want a chewy vegan treat, I have a surprise for you. One place that I would never have associated with sweet treats is a budget Swedish furniture outlet, but IKEA now sells their own vegan chews in a range of shapes. The sweets are called “Lördagsgodis”, a Swedish word that means “Saturday sweets”. They do a fish shape as well as many other varieties in different flavours. Next time you’re looking for a self-assembly coffee-table, you can pick up some vegan Lördagsgodis for a cruelty-free snack.
It’s also possible to make your own Swedish Fish at home. The basic recipe is incredibly simple and only calls for a few common ingredients. Homemade candy also has the advantage of tasting exactly the way you want. You can find fish candy moulds online or in speciality cooking stores. Just remember not to eat them all at once.