What Sugar Is Vegan?

As a vegan, one has to refrain from a lot of things; ranging from meat and eggs to dairy products and honey, but what about sugar? If you’re wondering whether sugar is vegan or not then the short answer is yes and no. But how can something be a “yes and a no”?

Well, our sweet pal sugar is a bit of an unusual case here. At its core, sugar is a vegan-friendly product but it’s the processing that happens that can make it a non-vegan product. Though some sugars are vegan but then what sugar is vegan and how to look for them? Let’s find out!

Sugar: How’s it made?

When we say sugar, we’re usually talking about refined table sugar that is mostly and widely used in our day-to-day lives. At first, the sugar is harvested from the source, which could be sugarcane, beets or coconuts. After harvesting, the mixture goes through processes like extraction, colourization, purification, crystallization, etc. 

The non-vegan aspect comes from the addition of bone char in the process. But what even is bone char and why’s it added to our sugar? Here’s why!

Bone char: What is it?

Bone char is a porous, black, and granular material that is made through the charring of animal bones. These bones are obtained by slaughtering animals on a mass scale which are imported and exported for many purposes such as sugar refining, water treatment, black art material for painters or artists, and many more.

Bone char and the white snowy sugar

Bone char is used as a decolorizing filter in the sugar industry. This process is mainly responsible for producing the white snowy colour of our sugar. Although the bone char is not present in the end product but still the fact that it is used in the refining process is enough for it to be considered non-vegan. Fortunately, not all sugar manufacturers use this method and thus we have vegan-friendly products as well.

Does brown sugar have bone char in it?

Yes, brown sugar has bone char in it along with some added molasses. These molasses are obtained by refining either sugarcane or sugar beets into sugar. There’s a common misconception that brown sugar is vegan friendly but due to the fact that it utilizes bone char, it’s far away from a vegan’s kitchen shelf!

So What Sugar is Vegan?

coconut sugar

Beets and Coconuts: Vegan friendly?

Now time for some good news! The refined sugar that is obtained from beets and coconuts is fully vegan. Why? Because these sugars do not require the same level of processing as does sugarcane sugar. They also don’t require bone char to do the processing for them. This makes beet or coconut sugar vegan-friendly!

Can the sugarcane ones be vegan?

Yes, while some sugar industries use bone char in their sugarcane-derived sugar refining process, many also abstain from the use of such methods. One of the many reasons for this refrainment is to make these sugars vegan-friendly and to appeal to their vegan customer segment.

USDA: The one with the label

While walking down the aisle in a grocery store or shopping at an online site, you might’ve seen some sugar brands that advertise terms like “organic”, “raw” or “natural’ etc on their labelling. And you might think to yourself “is this sugar vegan?” or “are the labels telling me the truth?” Well, the labels wouldn’t lie, right?

Nope, at least not in the case of refined sugars that are under the USDA (United States Department of Agriculture). Look out for brands that have USDA labels on them because these brands are under certain quality controls and can guarantee the consumer their vegan-friendliness. Still, if you’re curious about a particular sugar company’s practises then you can always look them up online or by getting in touch with them.

Is powdered Sugar Vegan?

Another variant of our daily life sugar is powdered sugar. It is much similar to refined sugar with the exception of added cornstarch to give it an overall standard consistency and is used as a quick-dissolving variant of sugar.

Powdered sugar, just like normal sugar, can either be vegan-friendly or unsuitable for vegans depending on how it is refined. If bone char is used in its refinement process, regardless of whether it is present in the end product or not- it makes the product unsuitable for vegans.

Alternatives

brown rice syrup

So maybe, by now, you have a clear understanding on what type of sugar is vegan, but you don’t live in America where you can find USDA approved products or you’re just not sure about your sugar brand. Well then let’s move on to give you some other alternatives.  

You can also check out the article on vegan sugar by vegnews for more insight into what type of sugars are good for you: These 6 sugars are totally vegan! But here are some (vegan friendly) sugar alternatives, just in case:  

  • Maple Syrup
  • Date Syrup
  • Brown Rice Syrup
  • Coconut Sugar
  • Agave Nectar
  • Yacon Root Syrup
  • Molasses

Conclusion

The buzz that veganism has been creating for quite some time now has translated into more vegan products for customers than ever before! The products are now of better quality, more variety and definitely more convenient for this customer segment. The table sugar case presents a similar situation. Yes, there are still many dominant, non-vegan variants of sugars on the market but in contrast, the list of vegan sugars keeps on increasing day by day as well.

Having said that, as consumers we also must keep a check on these “vegan sugars” for ourselves so that we can always know what we’re having for our sweet tooth!

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