Is sugar vegan? Some vegans think yes, and some say no. Some vegans do not even know that it may be an issue. After all, you would think that as sugar comes from a plant, it would be vegan wouldn’t you? And it is – in its natural form. It’s the refining process of some sugars which some vegans have an issue with.
So, is sugar vegan? Well it all depends on how you define the word “vegan” as there are several variations. This is the definition I like most and is the original meaning of the word:
A vegan is someone who tries to avoid – as far as is possible and practical – all forms of exploitation of animals for food, clothing or any other purpose. This is for the benefit of people, animals and the environment. Vegans eat a plant based diet free from all animal products, such as meat, milks, eggs, honey and gelatine. They also avoid animal products like leather, wool and silk for clothing or other purposes.
Sugar comes from two different plants – the beet sugar plant and the cane sugar plant. Neither types of sugar contain any animal ingredients, but depending on how you define the word “vegan” may depend on which brand of sugar you choose to eat. It is all down to the refining process of sugar that may make a difference to you. Cane sugar processing methods takes place in two stages – the sugar mill and the refinery. The fining process of cane sugar can involve the use of bone charcoal – also called bone black, ivory black, animal charcoal or abaiser – which is used to remove the colour and impurities in the sugar. The charcoal is sometimes derived from animal bone, which may be an issue for some vegans. If this is a concern for you, then you have a few choices.
The production of sugar from the sugar beet plant uses an ion based transfer process, so bone char is not used. Unfortunately most sugar is not labeled as being from either beet or cane – but you can get it online. UK|USA.
According to various sources, beet and cane sugar are nutritionally equivalent and taste more or less the same as they are both composed of sucrose. The production and sale of both sugar types are also roughly equal. The term “nutritionally equivalent” is an oxymoron because sugar doesn’t contain any beneficial nutrients in the way of vitamins and minerals. You could also use Turbinado (UK|USA) and Sucanat (UK|USA) sugars as they are not refined to the same extent of whitening which uses bone char.
Other options include maple sugar, date sugar, brown rice syrup, agave syrup, malt syrup and concentrated fruit juices. Another option would be to use sugar which is organic. Organic sugars are only milled and do not go through the refining process which involves the bone char filtering method.
Brown sugar is refined white sugar with molasses added which gives it the brown colour. You may or may not consider it vegan depending on if the white sugar is cane sugar and where it was refined. Fructose sugar may or may not be refined using bone char depending on the manufacturer. Supermarket own brands of sugar buy their sugar from several different refineries, so there is no way of knowing whether it is vegan or not – unless they label it as such. I have noticed that some supermarkets here in the UK (Sainsbury’s) do label their sugar if it is vegan. So, if you are using beet sugar or organic sugar, you do not need to worry. If you are using cane sugar, you may want to contact the company to see which refining process they use. If you consider sugar to be non vegan due to the processing method – then you could consider other products to be unsuitable as well. For example, in many areas bone char is used to remove fluoride from water. It is also used to refine crude oil in the production of petroleum jelly.