Is Glycerin Vegan? Here Is Why It’s So Controversial

Have you ever wondered whether glycerin is safe for vegans to eat, or if this is an ingredient that needs to be avoided? It’s important to know, especially if you are following a vegan diet or catering to someone who is.

Unfortunately, it isn’t always easy to tell whether glycerin is vegan or not. Glycerin can be derived from three different sources: synthetic, animal, or vegetable. A lot of the glycerin used in our food products is made from vegetables, but not all of it – and frustratingly, it may not be clear on the label.

It’s important to understand whether glycerin is okay to eat if you’re vegan, so in this article, we’re going to cover some of the basics of how glycerin is made and whether it’s likely to be suitable for you to consume.

Is Glycerin Vegan?

glycerin

Glycerin is sometimes vegan, which can be confusing. Unfortunately, there’s no guarantee that glycerin is vegan, and it can vary from product to product. This is because glycerin can be derived from various sources, so there are several different types, including:

  • Manmade glycerin
  • Animal glycerin
  • Vegetable glycerin

In the past, glycerin was commonly made from animal fats, but there has been a shift toward vegetable-based glycerin, and it is thought that this is currently the most popular option for foods. That means there’s a high chance of any particular food containing vegetable glycerin, but this isn’t guaranteed and you shouldn’t assume that it’s the case.

Some foods do still use animal glycerin in them, and synthetic glycerin might not be vegan-friendly either, so you should always try to find out how the glycerin was made before you consume any. If you find this ingredient listed on the packaging of some food or a beauty product, be wary of the product until you have a confirmation that it is okay.

Glycerin is a useful ingredient in many different kinds of foods and you are likely to come across it fairly frequently if you read the labels. It is a good sweetener, and it can also appear in medicines, cosmetics, personal care products, e-cigarettes, antifreeze, tinctures, and more. Because it is so common, it’s frustrating that it’s so hard to tell whether it is vegan or not.

Why Isn’t Glycerin Always Vegan?

Glycerin isn’t always vegan because it is sometimes made with animal fats, and for a product to count as vegan, no animal derivatives can be used in the creation of it. That means that glycerin created from animal fats is automatically unsuitable for vegans, and glycerin created from synthetic substances could also be unsuitable.

Vegetable glycerin is vegan and should be okay for a vegan to consume, but it is important to note that manufacturers rarely state what kind of glycerin has been used on the packaging, and that may mean that it’s impossible to tell whether it’s vegan or not. This is frustrating for consumers everywhere, particularly with how common glycerin is.

Because there has been a sharp rise in the use of vegetable glycerin products, many vegans automatically assume that glycerin is safe for them to consume, but you must check this if you can. Although the vegetable glycerin does seem to be the most popular option, it is certainly far from being the only one out there.

This unfortunately means that you may need to treat glycerin as a non-vegan ingredient until it is proven otherwise, because of the lack of information. If you aren’t sure how the glycerin was created, do not eat it.

How Can You Tell If Glycerin Is Vegan?

Frustratingly, there often is no way to tell for sure whether glycerin is vegan, but the first step is usually to inspect the packaging closely – and not just the ingredients list. You can start with this list and see whether the manufacturer has written “vegetable glycerin” there. If they have, the glycerin is suitable for vegans because it has been made using plants.

However, if the ingredient list just says “glycerin,” with no further hints about its source, spend a bit more time looking at the packet. It may say “suitable for vegetarians” or “suitable for vegans” somewhere on it. This would indicate that the glycerin is vegan. If it only says “suitable for vegetarians,” make sure you take the time to check the other ingredients for anything you can’t eat.

If the packaging says “suitable for vegans” on it, it should be fine for you to consume the contents. This can help a lot with determining whether glycerin is okay in foods, although it may not offer you much information when it comes to personal care products or things like shampoo. Few of these will carry a label that indicates whether or not you can use the product.

Can You Find Out About Glycerin’s Source?

If you are really determined to find out whether glycerin in a certain product is plant-based or not, you should get in touch with the manufacturer, as they should be able to follow up and find out where the glycerin has been sourced from. This will tell you what kind of glycerin it is and whether it’s suitable for you to consume.

However, it is worth being aware that manufacturers do change their source of glycerin from time to time, and it’s possible that a company will swap from vegetable glycerin to animal glycerin without any warning or update.

You may not even hear about this if it occurs because there is no need for the manufacturer to change the label to reflect the new source if it only says “glycerin” in the ingredients, without mentioning where this comes from.

You should make efforts to check from time to time that they are still using a vegetable glycerin and you can keep enjoying the product. If you don’t do this, it is possible that you will end up consuming non-vegan glycerin without being aware of it. Hopefully, this will change as more manufacturers become aware of this issue and start to label their products more clearly.

What Products Contain Glycerin?

candies

There are many things that you will need to look out for if you are trying to follow a vegan diet, and glycerin can be in a whole range of foods, including marshmallows, seasoning, spices, soups, cereals, oats, dried vegetables, dried fruits, chewing gum, certain condiments, ready-made pasta, tapioca, rice pudding, nutrition bars, some sodas, icing, ice cream, diet foods, and many kinds of candy.

That’s not an exhaustive list; there are a lot of places where you should be looking out for glycerin. If you are vegan in terms of your products, you need to go even further and check things like shampoo, conditioner, toothpaste, body lotions, laundry liquids, makeup, hair dyes, candles, printer cartridges, shaving cream, and more.

You will also need to check your medications, including things like cough medicines, anesthetics, heart medication, suppositories, etc. In short, glycerin can crop up in a whole range of different places, and you won’t always be able to tell whether it is suitable for you to consume/use or whether you need to avoid it.

This may be even harder with non-food products, as you might not even be aware of the ingredients and the presence of glycerin. Where possible, always check the ingredients list and get in touch with the manufacturer for further information. This should help you to understand whether you can use a product or not.

Why Is Glycerin Used So Much?

You might be wondering why this product appears in so many different places and what makes it so special. The answer is that it plays various important roles because it has quite a few interesting chemical properties. Just as one example, it can be used to form nitroglycerin, which is necessary if you want to create explosives!

In foods, glycerin is often used as a humectant, which is intended to maintain the moisture levels within a product. This stops foods from drying out or absorbing additional moisture, helping to improve their shelf life in many cases. It can prevent sugars from crystallizing, improve the texture of the food, and add sweetness.

Glycerin is not thought to feed the microorganisms that cause dental decay, so it may be a safer alternative to regular sugar. It can prevent ice crystals from forming in frozen foods, and it also makes cosmetic products more stable. For example, it prevents toothpaste from drying up inside the tube.

As you can see, therefore, glycerin is an immensely versatile substance, which is why it is so popular in both the food industry and the cosmetics/personal hygiene industries. You may find that it’s hard to avoid because it is so useful.

How Is Glycerin Made?

Vegetable glycerin is generally made by heating up a vegetable fat (such as coconut oil or palm oil) in a high pressure environment. It can also be made by mixing it with lye. Either process will help to split the fatty acids and the glycerin so that the glycerin can be separated and used. 

Because no animal products are involved in this process, vegetable glycerin is considered suitable for vegans to consume. However, the same process can be completed with animal fats, and this creates a non-vegan glycerin that you will need to avoid.

What’s The Difference Between Glycerin, Glycerine, and Glycerol?

If you are confused by these three different terms, you aren’t alone, because they are so similar that they are very easy to get mixed up. However, glycerol is the scientific name for the chemical, whereas glycerin and glycerine are the two terms that manufacturers use for this substance.

Glycerine tends to be used in British English, but in America, you will usually see the term glycerin. There is no other distinction between these two terms and neither tells you whether the product is suitable for vegans or not. You should check with the manufacturer if the label doesn’t make it clear.

It is worth noting that you may sometimes see the term glyceride on food products too, and this is one that you should look out for. There are no guarantees either way, but it is common for glyceride to be made using animal fats, rather than plant fats. You should therefore treat this with more caution than glycerin.

Is The Palm Oil A Problem?

palm oil

If you are vegan for environmental reasons, the presence of palm oil in foods likely causes you some concern, and this may be an issue with consuming even vegetable-based glycerin. Palm oil production is causing mass destruction across the world, resulting in habitat loss and death for many animals.

Unfortunately, this is a tricky one to deal with, because palm oil is a high-yield crop, and replacing it with other oils is not the answer to the problem. Although you may wish to cut down on your palm oil consumption for eco reasons, this is a complex area to navigate and many people struggle with it.

You will need to decide for yourself whether you are happy to consume the vegetable version of glycerin given this potential issue, but it is generally considered suitable for vegans. If you are trying to move away from additives like glycerin, you may find that your only option is to cook more at home.

It can be challenging to avoid products like glycerin if you purchase processed foods, and these are also more likely to contain non-vegan ingredients, or ingredients that are technically vegan, but have the potential to be environmentally damaging. You will find that cooking for yourself lets you dodge some of these issues, but it can be hard to find the time in today’s busy world.

Conclusion

So, is glycerin vegan? The answer is that it depends on where the glycerin was derived from, and this isn’t always easy to establish. If you are going to consume glycerin, make sure you check the packaging and contact the manufacturer for more information if necessary. This should help you to enjoy your food without compromising your morals/ethics. 

Alexandre Valente

Hey there! My name is Alex and I've been vegan for more than five years! I've set up this blog because I'm really passionate about veganism and living a more eco-conscious life. Hopefully, I can use this website as a channel to help you out on your own journey!

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