Fans of fruit-based soft drinks have plenty of options. Given that such drinks are essentially made up of the juice of berries (and other fruits) and water, you would be forgiven for thinking they would all be fine for vegans to consume. Alas, as with so many other food and drink products, sometimes non-vegan ingredients are chucked into the mix to spoil things for those on a plant-based diet (as with Vimto, which is not vegan).
The good news here though is that the popular blackcurrant drink Ribena is indeed perfectly fine for vegans to drink. But let’s delve a little deeper into this purple beverage that was introduced before the Second World War. We’ll examine what goes into the drink, outline the main varieties available in the UK and also take a look at the drink’s nutritional stats.
What Is Ribena?
As said, Ribena is a soft drink that comes in various flavours. Originally, when it was introduced back in 1938, it was a blackcurrant squash, and it gained popularity during the Second World War when it was bought in large quantities by the British government and distributed to children in the UK as a source of vitamin C. In fact, a serving of Ribena contains approximately 40% of the Reference Intake amount of vitamin C (around 32mg per 100ml), which is a real bonus from a nutritional perspective.
Although the drink originated as a squash to which water needed to be added, many other varieties of ready-to-drink and carbonated versions (in various flavours) have since been introduced. We’ve detailed the most popular varieties below, but first let’s take a look at the ingredients of the standard Ribena Blackcurrant squash.
Ingredients in Ribena
Water, Blackcurrant Juice from Concentrate (32%), Sugar, Thickener (Polydextrose), Acidity Regulator (Sodium Gluconate), Acid (Citric Acid), Vitamin C, Extract of Carrot and Hibiscus, Natural Blackcurrant Flavourings, Preservative (Potassium Sorbate, Sodium Bisulphite), Sweeteners (Acesulfame K, Sucralose)
As you can see, there’s nothing that immediately jumps out as an animal-derived ingredient. There are some that could be derived from animal products or which might have used some animal products during the production processes (such as sugar, which can be produced using bone char, but rarely is these days). But fear not, we are confident none of these ingredients has been produced using animals. How can we be so confident? Well, because Ribena state as much in their website’s FAQ section:
All our products are suitable for vegetarian and vegan diets. We do not use any animal derived ingredients in our products and during the manufacturing process.
You can’t be too much more definitive than that, right? But life is rarely this simple and despite this unequivocal statement there are still some people who believe that Ribena is not suitable for vegans… what’s all that about?
Why Do Some People Say Ribena Is Not Vegan?
For many vegans, especially those who’ve come to veganism for ethical reasons, products not only must contain no animal-derived ingredients, they must also never have been tested on animals. This comes into the whole difference between vegan and cruelty free products and the crossover between them.
In the case of Ribena, the problems (or perceived problems) occurred because the brand used to be owned by the gigantic pharmaceutical multinational, GlaxoSmithKline (GSK). In that line of business, it is essentially impossible to avoid testing on animals and many people who identified as vegan were loathe to spend their hard-earned cash on Ribena products that would contribute to the profits of an organisation that openly tested on animals.
However, in 2013, Ribena (and another GSK-owned brand Lucozade) were sold to Japanese drinks firm Suntory (you might know the name from the whisky, which is sipped by Bill Murray in the 2003 film, Lost in Translation). Suntory had their own animal-testing row, exposed by PETA, but in 2018, they banned any animal testing (at least any testing that was not a legal requirement). As such, as things stand, Ribena contains no animal products and is owned by a company that does not test on animals, thus Ribena is fine for vegans.
What Varieties of Ribena Are There & Are They All Vegan?
Let’s answer the second part first: yes, all varieties of Ribena currently available in the UK are vegan. Let’s take a swift glance at the many options vegan Ribena fans can enjoy. Here are the main varieties of Ribena available in the UK at the time of writing, which fall into four categories.
- Ribena Squash – Ribena Blackcurrant Squash; Ribena No Added Sugar Blackcurrant Squash; Ribena No Added Sugar Strawberry Squash; Ribena No Added Sugar Pineapple and Passion Fruit Squash; Ribena No Added Sugar Winter Spice Squash
- Ribena Ready to Drink – Ribena – Blackcurrant; Ribena – Mango & Lime; Ribena – Strawberry; Ribena Light – Blackcurrant; Ribena – Very Berry; Ribena Light – Pineapple & Passion Fruit; Ribena – Raspberry
- Ribena Carton – Ribena Strawberry Carton; Ribena Blackcurrant Carton; Ribena Blackcurrant No Added Sugar Carton
- Ribena Sparkling – Ribena Sparkling Blackcurrant
Note that varieties change from time to time and some (like the Winter Spice flavour) are seasonal. All are currently vegan and whilst this could change, we see no real reason why it is likely to.
Nutritional Value of Ribena vs Coke & Fanta
|Typical Values (Per 100ml)||Ribena||Coca Cola||Fanta|
|of which saturates||0g||0g||0g|
|of which sugars||4.1g||10.6g||4.6g|
As you can see from the nutritional snapshot, fizzy Ribena compares favourably to Coke when it comes to sugar content (as do a lot of drinks, to be fair) and is slightly better than Fanta. But with Ribena including 32mg of vitamin C per 100ml, it sneaks ahead of the others in our books.
Perhaps surprisingly, the Ribena squash contains more sugar per 100ml (after dilution with water) at 4.5g, although the No Added Sugar version is notably better on that front, containing just 0.7g of sugar per 100ml of diluted squash.
As we have seen above, Ribena is completely fine for vegans to consume and that goes for all varieties, including the squash, ready-to-drink options, the cartons and even the sparkling beverages they produce. The fizzy Ribena in particular is a good choice for those who are partial to carbonated drinks but who would like a little less sugar than is found in drinks like Coke.
The added benefit of Ribena is that it also contains a decent amount of vitamin C. Of course, it’s never going to act as an alternative to a healthy diet that contains plenty of fruit and veg (i.e. the diet many vegans follow!). But having a bonus dose of a crucial vitamin in a soft drink is certainly better than not having it, so it gets the thumbs up from us!