By now you’re probably already aware of the controversy that surrounds sugar’s “vegan-friendly status”. If not, well you’re in for a surprise, and perhaps a little disappointment.
We’ve known sugar to be a product of the sweet sugar cane plant, at least mostly. So how on earth could we even have doubts if it’s vegan or not?
Is sugar vegan? I’d like to give you an easy yes or no but that won’t cut it. In a gist, not all sugars are. Do you want to learn how to choose sugar that is vegan? This article will help you.
What Can Makes Sugar Not Vegan
There’s such an abundance of products from plants that we all can enjoy today. The problem is once it undergoes food processing, contamination easily happens.
One issue is the use of animal products in the process, which is very prevalent in the food industry today. You’ll actually find it a surprise at how much and at what food items animal products are used these days. Both these things happen in the production of basic sugar.
Primarily, majority of sugar manufacturers use burnt animal bones or bone char to refine the world’s favorite sweetener. It is a practice that has been around for more than a century already. This, of course, contaminates the naturally-vegan sugar cane crystals with animal by-products.
However, not all sugar manufacturers use bone char. Although it was the most popular sugar refiner for quite some time, there have been bigger and better changes now. It will probably be impossible to eliminate the use of bone char completely, but this gives us vegans more options. Still good news, right?
Sugar Processing and Refinement
There’s a long and complex process that sugar mills do before sugar cane juices finally turn to sugar crystals. It may not seem like it but table sugar requires a labor-intensive production process. Once the granules are dry, it undergoes further processing for refinement.
Refining sugar makes it sweeter and whiter. It also eliminates impurities that may make sugar look dirty. To do this, the resulting raw sugar goes through a handful of processes such as carbonation, filtration, and ion exchange. That’s just to name a few.
When it comes to the filtration process, bone char from cattle is the most common medium that manufacturers use. Bone char bleaches or decolorizes sugar crystals. Also, by serving as a filter to remove its impurities, it can make sugar sweeter.
However, many companies call bone char as natural charcoal, which may sound deceiving. So watch out for this term as well when you see it on sugar packages. Natural charcoal = bone char.
The good news is, more companies today claim to use granular carbon instead of bone char. This way, the desired refinement is still achieved but without contaminating the sugar with traces of animal by-products.
The result? Vegan-friendly sugar in all varieties! The question though is which brands have made the move? This time, the labels should have the answer.
Checking Sugar Labels
It will make things much easier if companies just add “vegan” to their labels, right? Well for some reason not all sugar companies have done this.
The good news is there is now a growing number of brands with an actual “vegan” label. On the other hand, there are sugars without the “vegan” label that are actually vegan-friendly. Unfortunately, that’s when you’ll have to figure it out yourself.
However, one of the ways to guarantee that you are choosing a vegan sugar is to look for USDA organic brands or varieties. This should be easily seen on the label as it is shown with a seal of approval or certification.
The USDA only certifies products that have undergone minimal processing or no refinement at all. In the case of sugar, it stops them from reaching the bone char filter section of the refinery. Phew!
Sugars with the label “unrefined” are also a go. Since bone chars are only used in the refinement process, these ones are totally vegan-friendly.
Vegan Sugar Varieties
Another way to pick out the vegan sugar from the sea of cryptic labels is by figuring out the varieties. A lot of sugar varieties are actually minimally processed and never refined at all!
Here are the sugar varieties that have not undergone refinement:
Less-refined specialty sugar with coarse texture and a pale gold color with a slight stickiness and crunchiness. It also has a light toffee-like flavor that makes it ideal for sweetening beverages and desserts. Demerara is made through the partial evaporation of cane juice.
Often mistaken for demerara because of their similar appearance, turbinado is finer than demerara. It is also less stickier, but still coarser than most sugars. Turbinado is also the ideal substitute for demerara. To produce this sugar, in addition to evaporation, a turbine centrifuge is used.
3. Rapadura or Sucanat
Rapadura is just the genericized trademark of sucanat from the brand Rapunzel. Sucanat is short for the french term “sucre de canne naturel” or “sugar cane natural” in english. The German company no longer uses the name in their products but still remains to be a popular alternative name for sucanat.
Produced from evaporated cane juice, sucanat is dark brown in color. It has a distinct, deep caramel flavor as it retains a lot of its natural molasses content.
A dark brown and moist sugar, muscovado has a strong molasses taste and stickier texture. It may look powdery and soft, and may clump because of its natural moisture.
5. Raw Sugar
After extracting the molasses from the sugar cane, raw sugar is what remains. All the sugars in this list are some form of raw sugar with varying molasses content and different drying processes.
Raw sugar is light brown in color with a sparkly appearance, and is a popular substitute for brown sugar.
There are also sugar types which are great vegan alternatives for table sugar, which manufacturers derive from other plant sources.
Be Careful Of The Brown Sugar!
Did you ever think brown sugar is vegan-friendly? Don’t fall for the color! A lot of brown sugars today are just white sugar in disguise. Yikes!
How does that even happen?
Apparently, there are companies that just buy white sugar and pour molasses on them to make them brown again. This saves them a lot from labor and production costs especially because white sugar is generally cheaper as it is a bulk commodity.
So next time, be careful when you think about choosing brown over white sugar, they just might be the same.
Vegan Sugar FAQs
There are still a lot of questions especially from new vegans when it comes to the sugar controversy. Here are the most common ones and my answers:
1. Is Brown Sugar Vegan?
Not all of them. Lots of brown sugars these days are just white sugar with molasses coating. Check the labels or the brand’s website for this information.
2. Is White Sugar Vegan?
Again, not all of them. Most white sugars are not vegan because they are refined through bone chars. However, there are also companies that use carbon instead, which will yield a vegan-friendly white sugar.
3. Is Pure and/or Organic Cane Sugar Vegan?
Organic sugars are vegan since they are not refined. Pure cane sugar, on the other hand, has no guarantee being a vegan unless it has a “vegan” or “organic” label.
4. Is Raw Sugar Vegan?
Yes. Raw sugar is the state of sugar after all the extraction and drying procedures, which is just before it undergoes refinement.
5. Is Refined Sugar Vegan?
Some can be vegan. This only depends on the filtering medium used. While bone char is a popular medium, there are manufacturers now that refine their sugar products with carbon and other non-animal media.
6. Is Coconut Sugar Vegan?
Yes it is! Coconut or palm sugar does not undergo any processing. It’s production process is so much simpler than than what is conventionally done in sugar mills. However, it is more expensive than table sugar since it is a specialty sugar.
7. Is Beet Sugar Vegan?
Beet sugar is vegan as it has a different processing method than cane sugar. No bone char. However, some sugar products from sugar beets may have a mixture of cane sugar, which may not be vegan. This information may be on the label so keep an eye.
8. Is Powdered Sugar Vegan?
It depends on the brand really. Before, most powdered sugars would be considered not vegan. Now, there are vegan brands that can refine their sugar by other means and produce sugars in powder form or paper white granules. It may also refer to confectioners’ and icing sugar in some regions.
9. Is Granulated Sugar Vegan?
Not all. “Granules” just refer to the sugar’s grainy texture. It is more commonly known as the table sugar that we use everyday. This will again depend on the brand, specifically its production process.
10. Is Icing Sugar Vegan?
Some are. Icing sugar is a type of powdered sugar, although it may also be called confectioners’ sugar in some places. Most icing sugar will have eggs, which is of course off limits for vegans. However, organic icing sugar is vegan.
11. Is Confectioners’ Sugar Vegan?
Confectioners’ sugar is powdered sugar with added cornstarch to prevent clumping. Cornstarch is vegan but the question will lie on the sugar again. So it depends on the brand.
Unless it comes in a “vegan” label, it will be hard to tell if it is vegan or not. There are such brands, however, like the organic confectioners’ sugar from Wholesome.
12. Is Organic Sugar Vegan?
As long as it is certified, yes, which will vary per country. For American products, look for the USDA stamp on the labels. Certifications ensure that only little or no refinement process happens during production.
13. Is Invert Sugar Vegan?
14. Is Palm Sugar Vegan?
Yes. Palm sugar is another name for coconut sugar. Technically a product of coconut palm, it is from the sap of the trees’ flower buds, not coconuts. The sap is put under heat to evaporate until the brown powder is left. No need for any refining process.
16. Is Domino Sugar Vegan?
Some of their sugars are. The Domino Demerara Washed Raw Sugar and Pure Cane Certified Organic Sugar are vegan. So are those made in their refineries at:
- Baltimore, MD (Lot code starts with 4)
- Yonkers, NY (Lot code starts with 1)
- South Bay, FL (Lot code starts with 6)
These are the Domino refineries that do not use bone char in sugar refinement. Check on the lot code on the packaging using the reference above and you should be in good hands.
17. Is C&H Sugar Vegan?
Most of their sugars are not vegan as the company uses bone char. However, they have two varieties that are vegan-friendly:
- Demerara cane
- USDA organic raw cane
18. Is Turbinado Sugar Vegan?
Turbinado is a form of raw sugar, which do not go through bone char filtration, and is therefore VEGAN. It is made from the first pressing of sugar cane. Instead of filtering, a turbine-like centrifuge is used (hence its name) after evaporation, although some companies just use evaporation methods.
19. Is Zulka Morena Sugar Vegan?
Zulka is one of the few brands that produce high quality sugar products that are not only vegan but are also non-GMO. They don’t use bone char at all and never refine their products, so ALL their sugars are vegan, thank goodness.
20. Is Demerara Sugar Vegan?
Demerara is quite similar to turbinado sugar. It does not undergo any refinement process. This type of raw sugar is made from partial evaporation of cane juice, allowing the retention of more molasses content. In short, demerara is VEGAN.
21. Is Rogers Sugars Vegan?
Lantic Rogers or Rogers and Lantic is a Canadian sugar brand. However, NOT ALL of their sugars are vegan-friendly. From their website, it says “Bone char is not used at the Taber’s sugar beet factory or at Montreal’s cane refinery. While bone char is used at the Vancouver refinery.”
According to Mary’s Test Kitchen, “the product number will start with “22” if it’s from Taber. If it starts with “10,” it’s from Vancouver, BC where it is NOT vegan-friendly.”
23. Is Redpath sugar vegan?
Yes, all redpath sugars are! They refine their sugars but do not use any animal products or by-products in the process. So they are totally vegan-friendly!
24. Is Florida Crystals sugar vegan?
26. Is Great Value sugar vegan?
While some may say it is vegan, there is not enough information available to verify this. Even its main distributor Walmart, which has multiple suppliers, say on its product description: “Manufacturers, suppliers and others provide what you see here, and we have not verified it.”
So it will be best to treat this brand as NOT vegan since verification will be quite a long shot. With more options for vegan sugars now, I think we’re better off just grabbing the ones we can be sure of to be really vegan.
Packagings may change from time to time, so please make sure to always check especially those without actual “vegan” labels.
How To Find Out If Sugar Is Vegan
In a quick outline, here are the things you can look for if you want to know if a sugar is vegan when the label doesn’t say so:
- USDA organic
- Sucanat or rapadura
These varieties are only from sugar cane and sugar beets. For more vegan sugar varieties made from other sources, click here. They are great alternatives! If you need a brand guide for vegan sugar, I got you covered too! Click here.
More sugars now are getting a “vegan” label. If these ones are yet to reach the grocery stores near you, opt for organic sugars instead.
If you encounter a sugar that you feel unsure about, you can always contact its manufacturer if possible.
What It All Comes Down To: Sugar And Health
It’s a common knowledge already how sugar can be bad for one’s health. Heart disease, obesity, diabetes… they can all be waiting for you at the end of the sugar rainbow!
However, it is so hard to imagine food without sugar! It can be really addicting if you consume too much of it. In fact, it can be more addicting than cocaine!
While we vegans take all the time to find out which sugar we can enjoy while still sticking to our lifestyle, it doesn’t mean we can have it in abundance. Especially with the growing number of choices we have now.
Sugar is literally a sweet treat that often becomes an everyday thing, perhaps a staple already, in many tables now. This can easily make us forget about its health implications.
The bottomline is, sugar, even if it is vegan, should be taken in moderation only. Always! The vegan lifestyle is not just about animal safety advocacy. It’s also about optimum health, and vegans should never forget that.
If you are going vegan, then your body should benefit from it, right? So choose your favorite vegan sugar, but remember that a few tablespoons of it a day is more than enough. No exceptions, no buts and ifs!
Not all sugars are vegan. In most cases, refined sugar is contaminated by animal by-products from bone char filters. To make sure your sugar is vegan, choose the ones that didn’t undergo any refinement process.
However, there are also refined sugars that are vegan, which are filtered through granular carbon.
How do you choose your vegan sugar? Share it with us! Let me know on the comment section below. And don’t forget to share this article in your favorite social media platform.