It’s hard to determine what types of sugar are good in this day and age, especially when you’re a vegan. While the unassuming sugar may seem like a totally vegan-friendly commodity, the truth is that’s not always the case.
Bone char is the primary filter that manufacturers use extensively to refine sugar and make it white (and contaminate it!).
As a vegan, I feel frustrated every time I have to figure out whether the sugar in front of me is vegan or not. Don’t you? Depending on where the sugar came from, finding out if its vegan-friendly can be impossible sometimes. So, I began my hunt for vegan sugar substitutes.
Animal By-Products In Sugar
You probably already know that most sugars are made from sugar cane. But do you also know that animal bones are part of its production process? The majority of companies use bone chars to refine sugar.
Bone chars are coals from burnt animal bones, often from cows. It can bleach sugar and remove its impurities and eventually turn it into white sugar. A lot of people prefer white over brown sugar for many reasons.
Since its impurities have been taken away, white sugar is sweeter than brown sugar. In baking, white sugar is also the most common choice as brown sugar may discolor foods with a light color.
You’ll probably think that the easy answer for us vegans is to just avoid white sugar. Well, that’s where it gets tricky. Let me introduce you to the incognito white sugar.
Incognito White Sugar
Okay, it’s just a name I prefer to use since it sounds so apt. The thing is white sugar can be covered-up. To be specific, I’m referring to white sugar refined with bone char.
So, after all the colors and impurities have been taken away from the sugar cane crystals, it turns white.
It may sound crazy, but some manufacturers colorize white, refined sugar with molasses to make it brown again! Such deceit right?
Well it all boils down to costs. Turns out, this process is much easier for some manufacturers because all they have to do is buy white sugar and pour molasses in it. That’s actually lesser work since the actual process of making brown sugar will take much longer.
Moreover, being a basic commodity, refined white sugar is practically cheaper.
Did you ever wonder why the “healthier” sugars such as those from coconut are more expensive? That’s because they are considered “specialty” products and therefore demand higher prices.
So next time you spoon out or tear open a packet of brown sugar, you might want to think about it twice.
You might be wondering if there are ways to refine sugar without using bone char. The answer is yes, but it is much less common.
How To Find Vegan Sugar
Now you don’t need to feel like you are at a dead end! We vegans are relentlessly resourceful! There are still many, and I mean MANY ways to get hold of that vegan sugar.
First, there are now many sugar brands that have said goodbye to the use of bone char in their sugar refinement process. What a relief! To me this is a nod to the growing vegan community. Some may say it’s for economic reasons, but whatever it is, I’m just so glad about the change.
Many companies now are using carbon filters and other ion-exchange processes that do not involve the use of any animal products. See, it’s possible after all!
There are many grocery stores now that include vegan-friendly sugar brands in their shelves. I have done the work for you! To check out all the vegan sugar brands and varieties CLICK HERE. You’re welcome!
However, not all stores offer sugar brands that are vegan-friendly. So, to cover all the bases, I am giving you here all the vegan sugar substitutes. Just the natural ones though! No artificial sweeteners. Look for the ones on my list below instead and make sure to stock up (hoard alert!).
Natural Vegan Sugar Substitutes
At a glance, here are the alternative natural sweeteners that we vegans can turn to in the times of need. When the grocery stores nearby fail us, that is.
- Agave nectar
- Barley malt syrup
- Brown rice syrup
- Coconut/coconut palm nectar/sugar
- Unrefined cane sugar (Rapadura and Sucanat )
Now let’s take a look at each, one-by-one:
1. Agave nectar
From the Agave plant which is bountiful in Mexico, Agave nectar is known as a more wholesome sweetener that tastes like honey. It is more commonly available in syrup form, which is higher in fructose.
2. Barley malt syrup
A common substitute for molasses with the same consistency. It’s useful in baking too, but it has gluten. It is less sweeter than table sugar but has a high GI too. However, it has antioxidant properties.
3. Brown rice syrup
A thick, sweet syrup made by breaking down the starches from brown sugar to turn it into sugar.
4. Coconut/Coconut palm nectar/sugar
It is perhaps the most popular alternative to sugar cane. A lot of health and diet conscious individuals also choose coconut sugar instead of the usual table sugar. However, coconut sugars are generally more expensive.
5. Date Sugar
Dates are known for being rich in fiber, minerals, and some B vitamins. After dehydrating the sweet fruit, it is ground up into granules that look like brown sugar, but taste like butterscotch.
6. Maple sugar
From the popular maple tree, maple syrup is commonly known as a sweetener for pancakes. This syrup can be turned into sugar that looks powdery and just as sweet!
It’s what remains after the extraction of all the sugar crystals from sugar cane or sugar beets. It has a very viscous consistency, and is known to have actual significant nutritional content, unlike most sugars.
If you look up “healthy sugar alternatives”, stevia will keep popping up on the results. Stevia sweeteners are made from the leaves of the stevia plant. It is a popular option for those who wants zero-calorie sweeteners.
9. Unrefined cane sugar
This one is the grainy, unrefined form of sugar cane. It has a natural caramel taste, and better nutritional value than most sugars.
A contraction of the phrase “sugar cane natural” or “sucre de canne naturel” in French, sucanat is sugar with its molasses content preserved. Sucanat is essentially the same as rapadura although some locations (or people) may use either or both names.
If you love mint gums, I’m pretty sure you’ve come across this name many times already. Xylitol is a low-calorie sweetener from sugar alcohol. It has a cooling effect with a minty feel, which explains why you always see it in mint gums.
It’s also a popular ingredient in toothpaste and mouthwash because of its ability to reduce cavities. It can be found in a wide variety of plants from hardwood trees like birch to fruits like plums and strawberries. Take caution in use, however, as it’s excessive amounts are known to have laxative effects.
11. Yacon syrup
The Yacon plant is one of the lesser known plants. However, it is starting to gain popularity in the world of weight loss supplements. It is high in soluble fiber, which, although good, may also have adverse digestive effects in large consumptions.
Natural Vegan Sugar Varieties
Now I know the questions you will have after the quick list. A lot of vegans are health nuts that need to know all the details. I, myself, tend to be like that sometimes. So, other than the vegan sugar alternatives, you will probably be looking for the following as well:
- Raw Vegan Sugar Alternatives
- Vegan Brown Sugar Substitutes
- Vegan Powdered Sugar Substitutes
- Raw Vegan Sugar Substitutes
- Vegan Diet Sugar Substitutes
- Vegan Gluten Free Sugar Substitutes
- Vegan White Sugar
The sugars in all its varieties that we love! The good news is, most of the substitutes from the list above have these varieties.
For example, there is raw cane sugar, which is of course vegan. Many certified vegan sugar brands like Wholesome also have white sugar and powdered sugar. Even a vegan sparkling sugar!
Most sugars are also gluten-free, EXCEPT for those made from barley and similar grain sources. If you want vegan diet sugar, look for low or no calorie substitutes like stevia and xylitol.
The Nutritional Values Of Natural Vegan Sugar Alternatives
Sugar is a known cause of many health problems from tooth decay to weight gain to diabetes. This is why you must always remember to use it moderately. The problem is, sugar is a staple in majority of food items today.
Health concerns from excessive sugar use have also led to the hunt for better alternatives. Here is a table to make things simple on a nutritional standpoint.
Reference for comparison:
White sugar (sucrose)
Glycemic Index: 60-70
(figures per substitute may vary per brand)
Name of Substitute
GI (Glycemic Index)
Ratio As A Replacement (Sub:Sugar)
Calories per level tsp.
- Most sugar sources are naturally gluten-free. However, certain manufacturers produce sugar in facilities that also process products with gluten. This will contaminate a naturally gluten-free sugar.
- Glucose raises insulin secretion while fructose increases triglyceride levels.
- Most sweeteners also have sucrose, which, when broken down, become glucose and fructose too.
- Calories from sugar are just empty calories in most cases.
BONUS: To learn how to make your very own Date Syrup as a healthy sugar alternative, check out the video below!
More Wholesome Ways
You can also sweeten your food with natural fruit products or herbs like:
- Fruit juice
These have distinctive tastes, however, so just try to experiment where to add them and discover what food items they can complement as a sweetener.
Vegans love DIYs! After all, it’s the answer to having everything in the kitchen vegan-friendly. Table sugar seems daunting to DIY, so I found a much easier alternative, maple sugar! Try this recipe from The Merry Thought. It’s easier than you might think!
What You Need:
- pure maple syrup (ratio: 1 cup of syrup will yield about 1 cup of sugar)
- one large and one small saucepan
- electric mixer with paddle attachment and stainless steel mixing bowl
- digital candy thermometer
- mesh strainer
- Using the large saucepan, heat an inch or two of water over medium heat. Set empty mixing bowl on top of pan to make the bottom of the bowl warm. Keep it over the simmering water while you do the next step.
- In the small pan, heat the maple syrup over medium high heat.
- Stir constantly until it boils.
- Once boiling, turn down the heat a little but keep it boiling.
- Keep stirring until it reaches between 255º-260ºF on the digital candy thermometer.
- Remove from heat and pour the syrup into the heated mixing bowl.
- Place the mixing bowl on its stand and stir with the paddle attachment on lowest speed.
- The syrup will start to change consistency and get dry and crumbly.
- Keep it stirring until the mixture turns into fine crumbs (until it looks like sugar!).
- Scrape down the sides of the bowl as needed, and mix until there are only small clumps.
- Pour the resulting sugar onto a plate or cookie sheet to cool.
- Once cool, sift through a fine mesh strainer to remove any large clumps.
- Store in an airtight container.
Natural Sweeteners Are Still Sugars
So now that you have more options when it comes to vegan sugar substitutes, I will leave you with some words of advice. Regardless if they are natural, these sweeteners are still sugar.
Some of them may contain trace nutrients, but they’re negligible. Also, since these nutrients are small by ratio, the risks will outweigh them easily. How? Well you will need to consume cups and cups of sugars first before you get the significant nutritive values each day. Hello diabetes!
All sugars can be notoriously unhealthy in excessive amounts, so make sure to always limit your daily intake.
Natural vegan sugar substitutes can be your guarantee to vegan-friendly sugar at home, or wherever you are. However, keep in mind that there is no real “healthier” sugar. There are better ones with lower GIs, but that doesn’t mean they are essentially healthier.
So, go ahead and try some vegan sugar alternatives, but remember to use as little as possible.
Do you have a favorite natural sweetener? Have you made your own vegan sugar before? Let me know on the comment section below. And don’t forget to share this article in your favorite social media platform.