Are Pop Tarts Vegan? The Answer May Surprise You

Pop Tarts were a beloved breakfast and snack treat for me for many years. The sweet, gooey filling encased in a flaky pastry shell was hard to resist.  However, as I got older I started to realize they probably weren’t super healthy.

In 2013, when I became a vegetarian and grew much more aware of hidden animal ingredients in foods, I wondered, “Are Pop Tarts vegan?”

Unfortunately, the answer is no; the majority of Pop Tarts are not vegan or vegetarian. Most Pop Tarts contain animal-derived ingredients such as gelatin, milk, and egg whites. While the Blueberry, Brown Sugar Cinnamon, and Strawberry varieties are sometimes cited as being vegan-friendly, they still contain questionable ingredients such as “natural flavors” and “artificial colors” which may be sourced from animals, making them unsuitable for vegans.

In this article, we’ll explore:

  • what are Pop Tarts?
  • a brief history of Pop Tarts
  • common ingredients used in Pop Tart brand Pop Tarts
  • off-the-shelf Pop Tart alternatives
  • Larissa’s homemade pop tart recipe

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3 pop tarts toaster pastries with pink icing and sprinkles across the center of the image. Text (above and below pop tarts): Are Pop-Tarts Vegan? The Answer May Surprise You

What Are Pop Tarts?

Pop Tarts are a popular breakfast pastry that has been enjoyed by many for decades. These convenient, ready-to-eat treats are known for their sweet fillings and flaky crusts. Originally designed to be a quick and easy breakfast option, they have also become a beloved snack for people of all ages.

Pop Tarts come in a variety of flavors and forms:

  • Frosted Pop Tarts  These are the classic version, topped with a layer of icing and often decorated with colorful sprinkles. Popular flavors include Frosted Strawberry, S’mores Pop Tarts, and Cinnamon Pop Tarts.
  • Unfrosted Pop Tarts  For those who prefer a less sweet option, Unfrosted Strawberry Pop Tarts and other unfrosted varieties are available. Not my favorite but Larissa used to love these.
  • Mini Pop Tarts: These bite-sized versions, such as Pop Tarts Bites, offer the same great taste in a smaller, more portable form.

A Brief History of Pop Tarts

Pop Tarts have a rich history that dates back to 1963, when Kellogg chairman William E. LaMothe had a vision to create a convenient breakfast food that could be enjoyed on the go. 

He enlisted the help of “Doc” Joe Thompson and his kitchen crew to develop a toaster-ready rectangular pastry filled with sweet jam-like filling. Originally called “Fruit Scones,” the name was later changed to “Pop Tarts” to align with the Pop Culture movement of the time.

The first Pop Tarts were introduced in 1964 in four original unfrosted flavors: apple currant jelly, strawberry, blueberry, and brown sugar cinnamon. Frosted versions were introduced in 1967. Over the years, Kellogg’s has produced over 30 different flavors of Pop Tarts, with strawberry and brown sugar cinnamon being the most popular choices.

2 blueberry pop tarts surrounded by fresh blueberries sitting on a brown plate. Plate is on a bamboo placemat. Glass of orange juice and mug of coffee in background

Common Ingredients Used in Pop Tarts Brand Toaster Pastries

Understanding the ingredients in Pop Tarts is essential for anyone following a vegan or plant-based lifestyle. Here’s a closer look at the common ingredients found in Pop Tarts: 

Wheat Flour  The primary ingredient in Pop Tarts, wheat flour forms the base of the pastry dough. While wheat flour itself is vegan, it’s often enriched with vitamins and minerals such as vitamin B1 and vitamin B2, which can be derived from both plant and animal sources.

Sugar  Granulated sugar is used to sweeten both the dough and the filling. Conventional sugar is often processed with bone char, a non-vegan ingredient. This means that even though sugar itself is plant-based, the method used to process it can be a concern for strict vegans.

Corn Syrup and High Fructose Corn Syrup  These sweeteners are commonly used in Pop Tarts to add sweetness and texture. While derived from corn, a plant-based source, they are heavily processed.

Dextrose  Another form of sugar derived from corn, dextrose is used to add sweetness. It’s vegan-friendly but, like other sweeteners, can be highly processed.

Vegetable Oil (Palm Oil)  Palm oil is used to give the pastry its flaky texture. While plant-based, palm oil production raises significant ethical and environmental concerns due to deforestation and habitat destruction.

Artificial Colors and Flavors  Here’s where it gets a little tricky when it comes to labeling some flavors of Pop Tarts “vegan-friendly.” While Blueberry, Brown Sugar Cinnamon, and Strawberry are sometimes cited as being vegan-friendly, they contain various artificial colors (such as Red 40 and Blue 1) and artificial flavors to enhance their appearance and taste. 

These additives can be derived from both plant and animal sources and are often tested on animals, making them a concern for strict vegans.

Milk and Milk Derivatives  Many Pop Tarts varieties contain milk or milk derivatives like whey and nonfat milk, making them unsuitable for vegans.

Gelatin  Gelatin is commonly used in frosted Pop Tarts to give the icing its texture. Gelatin is derived from animal collagen, making it non-vegan.

Egg Whites  Some Pop Tarts flavors include egg whites to help with the texture and stability of the pastry. If you’re vegan, this is another ingredient you’ll want to avoid.

Natural Flavors  The term natural flavors is broad and can include ingredients derived from both plants and animals. Without specific labeling, it’s challenging to determine the source, making it a potential concern for vegans.

By understanding these common ingredients, you can make more informed choices about whether Pop Tarts align with your dietary preferences and ethical considerations.

chocolate pop tart with chocolate icing and white sprinkles. Words "Gelatin icing" in yellow and yellow arrow pointing to chocolate icing

Off-the-Shelf Pop Tarts Alternatives

Finding a vegan off-the-shelf toaster pastry is tough. As of the writing of this article, there aren’t any off-the-shelf alternatives that are certified vegan (that I could find). Although some unfrosted Pop Tarts brand varieties are vegan-friendly, if you’re a strict vegan you’d be hard-pressed to find one you can eat.

If you’re a vegetarian (meaning you consume some dairy and eggs), you’re in luck. There are a few off-the-shelf toaster pastry options that could be considered vegetarian. Some flavors contain honey, which vegans don’t eat but many vegetarians do. Here are a few vegetarian-friendly Pop Tarts brand alternatives when you’re looking for a quick breakfast on the go:

1. Nature’s Path Organic Toaster Pastries

3. Annie’s Organic Toaster Pastries (Fairtrade and Certified Vegetarian)

3. Trader Joe’s Organic Toaster Pastries

If you’re looking for some vegan breakfast ideas, check out 10 Energizing High Protein Vegan Breakfast Recipes You’ll Love

Your Best Alternative to Storebought Pop Tarts…Make Your Own! 

The best alternative to highly processed foods is, of course, to make your own! When you make your own, you control every single ingredient that goes into your food so there aren’t any surprises. 

Larissa recently started making her own version. Here’s her delicious recipe! 

2 homemade pop tarts toaster pastries with icing and multicolored sprinkles on a light green plate

Larissa’s Easy Homemade Vegan Pop Tarts Recipe

Ingredients

Instructions

  1. Preheat oven: Preheat your oven to 400°F.
  2. Prepare filling: Combine ½ cup jam or preserves and cornstarch in a bowl and stir well. 
  3. Roll Out Dough: On a floured surface, roll half of the dough into a 9-inch square. Cut into three strips.
  4. Fill and Seal: Place a spoonful of filling in the center of one half of each strip. Leave a little room around the edge to seal the dough. Brush the dough around the filling with egg substitute or water. Fold the other half over the filling and press down around the edges with the tines of a fork to seal.
  5. Repeat steps 3 and 4 with remaining dough.
  6. Bake: Place pastries on a parchment paper-lined baking sheet and bake for 15-18 minutes until golden brown. Remove to a rack to cool.
  7. Glaze: Mix powdered sugar with 1 tablespoon of jam or preserves plus enough non-dairy milk to create a smooth glaze. Drizzle or spread over cooled pastries.
5 homemade pop tarts toaster pastries sitting on a wire rack while the glaze dries

Tips for Perfect Vegan Pop Tarts

  • Use a pastry cutter to cut uniform strips of dough
  • Experiment with different flavors of jams or use vegan chocolate to fill your pastries

While Pop Tarts aren’t vegan, you can still enjoy your own tasty homemade treat without all of the questionable ingredients. 

FAQ

Do Pop Tarts contain pork gelatin?

Yes, many varieties of Pop Tarts use gelatin to give the frosting a smooth texture and help it set properly. This gelatin is typically derived from pork, making those Pop Tarts varieties unsuitable for vegans, vegetarians, and those who avoid pork for religious or dietary reasons. Always check the ingredient label to determine if a specific Pop Tarts variety contains gelatin or other animal-derived ingredients.

Are homemade vegan Pop Tarts healthier? 

Homemade vegan Pop Tarts can be a healthier option as they allow you to control the ingredients. You can use whole grain flours, natural sweeteners, and organic fruit fillings, which can result in a more nutritious treat compared to store-bought varieties.

Are there any “accidentally vegan” Pop Tarts?

While no Pop Tarts varieties are officially labeled vegan, some unfrosted fruit flavors might be considered accidentally vegan if they do not contain gelatin or dairy. However, formulations can change, so it is crucial to check ingredient labels regularly to ensure they remain free from animal-derived ingredients.

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