One of the most asked questions in the vegan community is, “Is Sugar Vegan?” We break it down and tell you what to look for and why.
Every time we write a new recipe that includes sugar, we write vegan sugar or vegan cane sugar. And usually once a week we get a comment like, what is vegan sugar? So, today we thought we’d answer the question, “Is sugar vegan?”
The answer (TL/DR): Sometimes.
First, if you live outside of the United States, then likely all your sugar is vegan and this isn’t something you need to worry about at all. It seems that only the US has figured out a weird way to include animal products inside sugar.
If you are shocked to be reading this, then know that we also had the same reaction when someone told us this the week we went vegan.
Why would sugar not be vegan?
There are three main sugar sources that are popular (sugar sources, not sugar alternatives). Those three are sugarcane, sugar beets, and coconuts.
In the United States, sugar is sometimes filtered through bone char (animal bones) in order to whiten the sugar more.
It’s simply for looks and something that we have been conditioned to feel as through extremely white sugar is best and other colorless or brown sugars are “weird”.
It’s no different than adding red dye to make cherries appear more red or yellow dye to pickles to retain a certain color.
There is no difference in taste or quality by using this filtering system.
Sugarcane is the only type of sugar that uses bone char in the filtering process.
What is bone char?
Bone char is made mainly from cattle bones, but also sometimes from pig bones.
It is used for filtration and decolorization. Often times, it is referred to as natural carbon.
It was originally used in sugar refining as a way to fix color impurities as cane sugar has a lot of color variation.
So do bones remain in my sugar?
Many vegans simply denounce that process because animals had to die in order to use the bone char in the filtration process.
However, bone char acts and appears like a charcoal type of product where the sugar crystals are filtered through. The bone char itself does not land in the sugar.
Is beet sugar vegan friendly?
Yes. Beet sugar is never processed using bone char.
Is coconut sugar vegan friendly?
Yes. Coconut sugar is never processed using bone char.
What about brown sugar?
Brown sugar is simply refined white sugar with molasses added to it.
Given that the sugar has already been refined before the molasses is added, it means that companies that use bone char in their white sugar, that their brown sugar will also be made with bone char.
What about powdered sugar or confectioner’s sugar?
Similar to brown sugar, powdered sugar is just refined sugar with cornstarch added to it.
Meaning that the main sugar component as already been refined and so if companies use bone char in the white sugar, it will also be used to make powdered sugar.
Should I eat something with sugar if I’m not sure?
Listen, this is a personal choice, honestly. For us, and many others, being vegan is knowing that there’s no perfect and sure way to be vegan. It’s about doing everything that we possibly can in order to ensure that as few animals are harmed every chance we get.
So for us, if someone makes us a vegan cake and they are so happy and excited that it was a success, then no we aren’t going to sit down and question every ingredient like sugar. We are going to enjoy the cake.
It would be no different than consuming vegetables from huge farms that use manure or other animal products to grow plants.
This shouldn’t be an aspect of veganism that you stress over. Remember that no actual animal products remain in sugar, it’s only a refining process and that is most of the time you are working towards ending animal cruelty.
Does organic labels on sugar mean it’s not filtered with bone char?
This is one of the easiest ways to identified bone char free sugar, which is vegan friendly.
The United Stated Department of Agriculture has certified that organic sugars (of any variety) cannot be filtered using bone char.
What are the Top 3 easiest ways to find bone char free sugar?
- Look for labels that specifically say bone char free
- Look for labels that specify they are organic
- Check the ingredients list to see if it is made from sugarcane or beet sugar — beet sugar is always vegan
What about sugar alternative sweeteners?
If you are wanting to use a sugar alternative then you do not have to worry about bone char in your sugar source. Some popular ones include:
- Maple Syrup
- Monkfruit sweetener
- Date syrup
- Brown Rice Syrup
What vegan desserts should I try now?
Now that you know what to look for to ensure that your desserts stay vegan friendly, here’s a few desserts that you should try!
- Vegan Carrot Cake Cupcakes (pictured above)
- Vegan Rice Krispie Treats
- Dairy Free Brownies
- Vegan Chocolate Lava Cakes
- The Best Dairy Free Lemon Pound Cake
- Triple Chocolate Dairy Free Cookies
- Dairy Free Chocolate Cake
- Perfect Dairy Free Apple Pie
- Dairy Free Cinnamon Rolls