Is Your Sugar Vegan?

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Sugar Cane is a Plant, But is Sugar Actually Vegan?

Sugar is probably one of the most controversial products on the market. It is known to be addictive, have a heavy hand in the US’s obesity epidemic, and be ever present as an additive in many processed foods. Then there’s sugar’s dark past as a product of slave labor and forced migration on Caribbean plantations.

Today, sugar also presents ethical questions for vegans and vegetarians who aim to make change for animals in the food industry. Part of sugar production is the refining process in which sugar is filtered in order to whiten it, and the industry-preferred filter for this process is bone char.

What Is Bone Char?

Bone char is exactly what it sounds like: Charred bones.

The bones come from cows and are sun-dried, then incinerated for 12 hours at temperatures over 1,200 degrees. This burning process leaves behind a granular substance that is free of viruses, bacteria, or proteins. Only large, weight-bearing bones, such as the pelvis, are durable enough to undergo the incineration process.

Why is Bone Char Used to Refine Sugar?

Bone char has been used in the sugar-refining process for hundreds of years to produce the “pure” white crystals that consumers so avidly sought. It has become industry standard because of its efficiency.

The bone char filter is a coarse filter, one of the first that raw sugar material is passed through. Particles that are unlike the char stick to the granules, including colorants such as amino acids, phenols, and ash. Bone char is less effective at removing inorganic ions, so sugar is often passed through a charcoal or ion exchange system after the bone char filter.

Brown sugar, despite its darker color, is still refined with bone char. Brown sugar is made by adding molasses to refined sugar.

Confectioner’s sugar is refined sugar mixed with cornstarch and also undergoes the same refining through a bone char filter.

How Can I Avoid Sugar Processed with Bone Char?

There are a few ways to make sure your sugar isn’t processed with bone char, if that is something important to you. First, know that only sugar made from sugarcane is processed with bone char. Sugar from beets or coconuts are never processed with bone char; just watch out for sugar that is a mixture of beet and cane sugar.

You can also play it safe by purchasing USDA Certified Organic sugar. Bone char is not on the National List of Allowed and Prohibited Substances and therefore is banned from the production of organic sugar.

Finally, you can always opt out of sugar and choose other vegan sweeteners like agave nectar, maple syrup, molasses, stevia, and other plant-based sources of sweetness!

Bone Char Free Sugar Companies

If you don’t want sugar made with animal products, look for these sugar brands that do not use bone char filters to make their sugar, and so can be trusted to provide vegan sugar.

  • In the Raw
  • Big Tree Farms
  • Billington’s
  • Bob’s Red Mill
  • Florida Crystals
  • Imperial Sugar
  • Michigan Sugar company
  • Now Foods
  • Rapunzel
  • The Raw Cane
  • Redpath
  • Simple Truth
  • Simply Balanced
  • SuperValu
  • Trader Joe’s
  • Western Sugar Cooperative
  • Wholesome!
  • Woodstock Farms
  • Zulka
Sources: 

“Is sugar vegan?” by PETA, www.peta.org, 8/8/18

“Is your sugar vegan?” by Jeanne Yacoubou, Vegetarian Journal, www.vrg.org, 2007

Contributor: 

Emily Messer

Emily is a student of English and Spanish literature at Dickinson College in Pennsylvania, where she is also a track and field athlete. Currently in her final year and looking forward to writing her senior thesis, Emily plans to go into the publishing field after graduation. When she isn't reading, lifting, or running, Emily enjoys cooking new recipes and experimenting with old ones.