Haribo gummy bears have existed since the 1920s with the first bear created from licorice. The gelatin-based gummies appeared in 1960s and have been steadily growing in popularity in America after stealing the hearts of their home country – Germany. In 2016 Haribo gummy sales in the U.S. hit almost $120 million (and the company is now building a factory here).
With the growing popularity of this candy, a concern for its ingredients increased as well. The Haribo brand bears often contain corn syrup (linked to type 2 diabetes and high triglyceride levels), artificial additives, and food dyes (associated with allergies, hyperactivity, and behavioral issues in children).
Some companies have already made healthier alternatives with naturally-derived colorings and without toxic or concerning additives. But it also can be a fun project to make your own healthy bears (kids can help too).
What’s In the Haribo Gummy Bears?
Haribo gummy bears (and similar gummy brands) are made a little differently depending on the type, but the general recipe is similar. Here’s the ingredient list for Haribo Gold-Bears: corn syrup, sugar, gelatin, dextrose, citric acid, corn starch, artificial and natural flavors, fractionated coconut oil, carnauba wax, beeswax coating, and artificial colors: Yellow 5, Red 40, Blue 1.
There are multiple concerns with many of these ingredients.
First of all is the aforementioned use of corn syrup, which is comprised of 100% glucose, which can spike blood sugar quickly. Candy like Haribo and other gummy bears is well known for giving people a quick energy boost, but eating too much can lead to health problems such as an increased risk for blood sugar issues and even diabetes.
The second big issue is the artificial food coloring: Yellow 5, Red 40, and Blue 1. They have been linked to ADHD, behavioral problems in children, allergies and asthma, as well as risks of tumors and DNA damage.
Thirdly, some of the ingredients are just bad for teeth. Of course, it is candy, but they could have substituted xylitol (chosen not from corn sources), which is a sweetener that actually prevents cavities. The two ingredients in gummy bears that hurt teeth are dextrose and citric acid. Dextrose is a type of sugar, which adds to the risks of diabetes and heart disease. Citric acid has been connected to tooth erosion by German doctors.
Gelatin is a controversial substance, with many talking about its benefits as a collagen protein for joints, hormones, and overall health, while others say it causes stomach issues. The main issue with gelatin among critics has always has been its source – animals. Gelatin is not vegan; it is made from skin and bones of farm animals (Agar agar is a good plant-based alternative to gelatin).
The last problem to be aware of is that artificial flavors often originate from petroleum. In high doses petroleum is especially bad for the liver, but also the nervous system and blood.
Then there are carnauba wax and beeswax coating. They are not bad for you per se; they just don’t digest.
In good news, fractioned coconut oil is actually healthy! Although, it is usually used for skin and hair, not food.
Another Haribo gummy bear product contains malic acid, calcium citrate, and sodium malate.
The sugar-free version of these gummies also list hydrogenated glucose syrup (LYCASIN) as its primary ingredient. This ingredient comes with a warning on its package, saying that it may cause stomach discomfort. LYCASIN is a trade name for a sweetener, which is known to cause bloating, diarrhea, and other symptoms of stomach upset due to its inability to be absorbed by the body.
But it’s not all bad. Haribo Juicy Gummy Bears still contain corn syrup and artificial flavors, but have no food dyes; instead the ingredients contain juice and plant concentrates, and even carob and elderberry extract, which are healthy in their pure form.
Still, most of Haribo’s products unfortunately contain at least one ingredient that is best avoided, in addition to corn syrup.
Alternative Makers of Gummy Bears
Perhaps one day Haribo will clean out its non-natural ingredients from their factories completely. To the company’s credit, they are made in Turkey now which means they’re far less likely to contain GMOs. But the unnecessary additives make them a questionable choice for health enthusiasts even as a once-in-a-while thing, especially when buying or making healthier gummy bears is possible.
Here are a few better alternatives:
Black Forest, a USDA organic brand, makes gummy bears using black carrot and carrot juices, turmeric, and red beet extract as colorants. The brand is guaranteed pesticide-free, hormone-free, and gluten-free. There is just one major concern for some people – it’s not vegan. That’s where Surf Sweets comes in.
Surf Sweets created a vegan, non-gmo bear, that they call fruity bears. Their colors and flavors also come from juices, spices, and other natural ingredients. They are also free from ten major allergens.
These alternatives are also high in sugar, however, so enjoy in moderation.
For people who want full control of the ingredients or just want a fun project – it is very easy to make these bears at home.
Making Your Own Gummy Bears at Home
Making gummy bears at home requires fresh fruits, a sweetener, and gelatin or agar agar as the base.
A recipe by WhatsUpMoms gives the following instructions:
-1 cup fresh fruit
-1/4 cup water
Puree the two together and strain the mixture if using berries with seeds (such as raspberries). Then add:
-Juice of ½ lemon
-2 ½ Tbsp honey
-2 ½ Tbsp Gelatin
Pour all ingredients into a bowl on low temperature, and mix until gelatin (or agar agar) dissolves.
Finally, fill into silicone molds (such as this gummy bear molds for 150 candies) and freeze for 20 minutes.
These bears last about 5 hours at room temperature, and a few days refrigerated.
Watch the video instructions at WhatsUpMoms.
For a different and a vegan recipe, refer to the following video: