Reviewed and edited by Stephanie Wells, MS, RD, LD, ACSM-CPT
Red Bull energy drinks are enjoyed by consumers all around the world. Enticed by their variety of flavors and high caffeine content, Red Bull is often what people gravitate towards when in need of a pick-me-up.
Red Bull’s ingredient list is not very transparent, which may leave many vegans wondering if it is suitable for their lifestyle.
In this article, I’ll discuss where Red Bull ingredients are sourced from, if their products are vegan-friendly, and whether the company is cruelty-free.
Keep reading to find out everything you need to know about consuming Red Bull as a vegan.
What is Red Bull?
Red Bull is one of the most popular energy drink brands on the market. Containing high amounts of caffeine, Red Bull is designed to combat mental and physical exhaustion. One standard 8.4 oz can contains 80 mg of caffeine, which is equivalent to about a cup of home-brewed coffee or two 12 oz cans of Coke.
Consumers often drink Red Bull for its desirable effects, including increased alertness, enhanced mood, and restored energy. The company’s slogan, “Red Bull Gives You Wings,” insinuates its ability to provide an energy boost capable of tackling life’s greatest challenges.
The ingredients listed on the original Red Bull Energy Drink (8.4 oz) include:
- Carbonated Water
- Citric Acid
- Sodium Bicarbonate
- Magnesium Carbonate
- Niacinamide (Vitamin B3)
- Calcium Pantothenate
- Pyridoxine HCL (Vitamin B6)
- Vitamin B12
- Natural and Artificial Flavors
According to Red Bull1, the energy drink contains only non-animal ingredients.
A common misconception is that the taurine in Red Bull is derived from animals. Taurine is an amino acid that is naturally produced in the body and can be sourced from animal tissues, including meat and seafood. However, Red Bull has confirmed that the taurine2 used in their energy drinks is synthetically produced in a lab, claiming it is therefore suitable for vegans and vegetarians to consume.
Is Red Bull vegan?
Red Bull does not contain any animal-derived ingredients, but the answer to whether the product is vegan or not is complicated.
This is because the Red Bull franchise has historically been accused of funding research that involves animal testing. Red Bull also contains artificial colors, which have been tested on animals in the past to determine their safety profile.
This may lead some people to believe Red Bull is not cruelty-free or truly vegan. To help you make a more informed decision, let’s get into the details.
In 2004, the founder of Red Bull established a non-profit research foundation known as Wings for Life3. This organization dedicates funding to spinal cord injury research. All administrative costs and charitable events associated with Wings for Life are sponsored by Red Bull.
With hopes of developing a drug that will reverse paralysis, researchers for Wings for Life have performed deadly spinal cord injury experiments on animals. Some clinical trials4 have involved inflicting injuries on monkeys and rats and testing their recovery of function after administration of the drug.
Researchers have justified the use of animal models to determine the drug’s safety and effectiveness prior to use in human clinical trials. A recent study5 published in 2022 details the use of human subjects, but there is reason to believe that animal studies will not cease until the drug has been approved.
For these reasons, organizations such as PETA6 do not consider Red Bell a vegan energy drink. PETA continues to urge Red Bull and other partners of Wings for Life to end their support of animal testing.
The FDA7 defines a natural flavor as a substance that contains flavoring constituents derived from plant material, meat, seafood, eggs, poultry, or dairy.
Companies are legally allowed to use the general term “natural flavors” to hide ingredients in their products. The downside is that consumers can never be certain of the type of flavorings being used. The concern, especially for vegans, is whether the flavoring is animal-derived or plant-derived.
As a general rule of thumb, it is best to check the package for a vegan label. There is no way of knowing if the natural flavors are being derived from plant material unless the product clearly states its vegan status.
Red Bull does declare that all ingredients in its product are of non-animal origin. Therefore, it is safe to assume that the natural flavors listed on its ingredient list are appropriate for vegans to consume.
As defined by the FDA, a color additive8 is a substance that lends color to a food, drug or cosmetic product. A color additive can be derived from natural sources or produced synthetically.
There are nine certified color additives that have been approved by the FDA for use in food, all of which are synthetically produced. Common examples include Red 40, Blue 1, and Yellow 5.
Synthetic color additives can only be used by food manufacturers if they are FDA certified, meaning they undergo certification each time a new batch is produced. Natural colors, which are pigments derived from vegetables, animals, or minerals, are exempt from certification. However, manufacturers are still required to seek approval before use.
While FDA-certified colors must be listed on the ingredient list, colors exempt from certification can be listed collectively as “artificial color,” “color added,” or other equivalent terms.
Synthetic artificial colors have been tested on animals to determine their safety for consumption. However, once the dye obtains FDA approval, routine testing on animals is not required. From an ethical standpoint, this may lead vegans to avoid the consumption of artificial colors even though they are not animal-derived.
The only information Red Bull has released about the color additives in its energy drink is the listing of “Colors” on its ingredient list. Considering it isn’t animal-derived, these colors are most likely artificial pigments and suitable for vegans.
RELATED: Is Red 40 Vegan?
Refined sugar that is derived from raw sugar cane utilizes bone char in its refining process. Bone char9 is a porous, granular material that is produced from charring or burning animal bones. Bone char is used to remove impurities from the sugar cane and help the product achieve a pure white color.
Bone char is only used on sugar that is derived from raw sugar cane. Other common sources of sugar, such as beet or coconut sugar, do not use the same refining process and are therefore free of bone char.
Fortunately, the sugar used in Red Bull10 is sourced from beets, making it vegan-friendly.
Are any Red Bull products vegan-friendly?
Red Bull offers a variety of flavors, including watermelon, tropical fruits, blueberry, strawberry apricot, dragon fruit, peach-nectarine, coconut berry, and pear cinnamon. The only difference in ingredients between the original Red Bull energy drink and the flavored editions is the addition of Blue 1 in blueberry, dragon fruit, and coconut berry.
There are two sugar-free options, including Red Bull Zero and Red Bull Sugar Free. The sugar substitutes contained in Red Bull Zero are acesulfame-potassium K and sucralose, whereas Red Bull Sugar Free uses acesulfame-potassium K and aspartame.
All sugar substitutes used in the sugar free options are synthetically produced. Blue 1, contained within a few of the Red Bull flavored editions, is a FDA-certified color additive and is also synthetic.
Considering all ingredients used in Red Bull are either synthetic or non-animal derived, all varieties of the energy drink can be considered vegan-friendly.
The artificial colors and flavorings used to enhance Red Bull energy drinks are synthetic. Additionally, the sugars used are either naturally sourced from beets or artificial sweeteners.
Red Bull has confirmed that their energy drinks contain only non-animal ingredients, making them suitable for vegans.
However, there are a few intricacies to this claim. Red Bull has been known to support spinal cord injury research through the Wings of Life foundation. Although this sounds promising, this research involves harmful animal testing. There is also evidence of artificial colors like Blue 1, which is added to some Red Bull flavored editions, being tested on animals to determine their safety for human consumption.
For ethical reasons, many vegans may choose not to consume Red Bull, despite their products containing no animal-derived ingredients. After all, the choice whether or not to consume Red Bull is ultimately up to the consumer.
Is Red Bull vegan? – FAQs
Is taurine in Red Bull vegan?
Although taurine can be sourced from animal tissues, the taurine in Red Bull is synthetic, making it suitable for vegans.
Is Monster Energy vegan?
The original Monster Energy drink does not contain any animal-derived ingredients. However, Monster Energy products are not vegan certified. Vegan consumers should be aware that Monster energy drinks contain refined white sugar, which is filtered through animal bone char during processing.
What energy drinks are vegan?
A few vegan-certified energy drinks include Muci, Guayaki Yerba Mate, Plant Press, Juvee, Celsius, Alani Nu, and OCA.
The scientific information in this article was accurate at the time of publishing but may change over time as new research becomes available.
- Red Bull Energy Drinks. Is Red Bull Energy Drink suitable for vegetarians?. Red Bull Q&A website. Accessed 11/2/2023.
- Hohmann M, Felbinger C, Christoph N, Wachter H, Wiest J, Holzgrabe U. Quantification of taurine in energy drinks using ¹H NMR. J Pharm Biomed Anal. 2014;93:156-160. doi:10.1016/j.jpba.2013.08.046
- Red Bull Energy Drinks. How Wings For Life Funds Spinal Cord Research. Red Bull Bulletin. Accessed 11/2/2023.
- Wang X, Zhou T, Maynard GD, et al. Nogo receptor decoy promotes recovery and corticospinal growth in non-human primate spinal cord injury. Brain. 2020;143(6):1697-1713. doi:10.1093/brain/awaa116
- Maynard GD, et al. A Multicenter, Two Part Study to Evaluate the Safety, Tolerability, Pharmacokinetics, and Efficacy of AXER-204 in Subjects With Chronic Spinal Cord Injury. ReNetX Bio. 2022; https://clinicaltrials.gov/study/NCT03989440#more-information
- PETA. Major Funders Shun Red Bull-Backed Charity After PETA Exposes Deadly Tests. PETA website. Accessed 11/1/2023.
- U.S. Food and Drug Administration. CFR – Code of Federal Regulations Title 21. FDA website. Accessed 11/1/2023.
- U.S Food and Drug Administration. Color Additives Questions and Answers for Consumers. FDA website. Accessed 11/1/2023
- Donovan M. SUGAR | Refining of Sugarbeet and Sugarcane, Encyclopedia of Food Sciences and Nutrition (Second Edition), Academic Press, 2003; Pages 5659-5665. doi.org/10.1016/B0-12-227055-X/01163-9.
- Red Bull Energy Drinks. How Much Sugar in Red Bull. Red Bull Q&A website. Accessed 11/2/2023.