In this post, we will look at sugar to see if it is truly vegan or not. We will look at different types of sugar, including white sugar, cane sugar, and brown sugar. We will also look at why most sugar actually is vegan now (despite what you sometimes hear) and when sugar might not be vegan, and what to look out for.
Is Sugar Vegan?
The issue of sugar being vegan or not vegan is slightly complex. For the most part, the majority of sugar is vegan, but there are some cases in which it might not be.
Sugar is considered vegan or not vegan based on a couple of different factors. First, we have to look at the type of vegan that is being addressed, and how strict of a vegan they are. Second, it will depend on what kind of sugar it is. Third, it depends on the method of production that the sugar company chose to use. And last, it might depend on what country you are purchasing the sugar in.
If the vegan is only concerned about animal-based ingredients in food, then all sugar is vegan (as well as vegetarian). From an ingredients perspective, there are no direct animal ingredients in any type of sugar.
But, if a vegan is concerned about cruelty to animals or indirect animal ingredients being used, then sugar may pose a problem. Cane sugar is naturally a brown color. But sometimes bone char is used to turn the color of sugar to white. Bone char is an animal product that comes from heating the leftover bones of cattle.
For a vegan concerned about this, then it will depend on what type of sugar it is to determine if it is vegan or not. So even though sugar is plant-based, there may have been the animal product bone char used in the production of certain sugars, but not all sugars.
Different types of sugar are processed in different ways. All organic sugars will be vegan, and non-organic sugars may or may not be vegan based on the type of sugar or the method that the manufacturing company used. We will go over each type of sugar further down.
Lastly, in the U.K. almost all sugar is vegan, regardless of the type of sugar, except for icing sugar. But, in the U.S. this is not the case and some types of sugar will be vegan and some will not be vegan.
What Sugar is Vegan?
All organic sugars and mostly all sugars sold in the U.K. are vegan, except for icing sugar. But in the U.S. different types of sugar are processed in different ways and made from different ingredients, which changes whether some sugars are considered vegan or not. Let’s explore some different popular sugars to see which are vegan and which might not be vegan.
Is White Sugar Vegan?
Not all white sugar is made in the same way. White sugar is made from two different sources, depending on the manufacturer. It can be made from either sugar beets or sugarcane.
If white sugar is made from sugar beets, then it is made directly from the sugar beets without any more processing. It remains completely vegan.
According to USDA on sugar production, the good thing is that 55-60% of all sugar production in the U.S. is produced from sugar beets. This means the majority of U.S.-based sugar would be completely vegan. Of course, there still is some (40-45%) that is produced with sugar cane.
The reason that cane sugar might not be vegan has to do with the use of animal products in the manufacturing of white sugar. We will talk about this next.
Is Cane Sugar Vegan?
Cane sugar can be vegan or non-vegan depending on the type of cane sugar or the choice of processing used by the sugar company. Some refined white cane sugar in the U.S. is made using an animal product called bone char, which can make sugar non-vegan for any vegan that is concerned with more than just animal products being present in the ingredients. But, not all refined cane sugar is processed using bone char. There are other methods using ion exchange and activated charcoal that produce the same result as bone char.
In fact, the use of bone char has gone down since the 90’s as more companies are becoming aware. As a result, the majority of processed sugar is now probably not done with bone char. But it still does exist.
Unrefined cane sugar on the other hand, such as organic cane sugar, raw cane sugar, natural cane sugar, and unrefined cane sugar, are all produced without using any animal products. This makes these sugars completely vegan. Also, all white sugar in the United Kingdom is processed using a different means than bone char, making it safe as well.
Bone char is made from the bones of cattle in a process in which the bones are heated to extremely high temperatures. The resulting charred bones, or bone char, are then used in the process of bleaching cane sugar so that it turns white. You see, cane sugar is naturally brown in color, but in order for it to have the white color we are familiar with in sugar, it must be processed using the bone char.
No bone char or animal products are left in the final cane sugar product. So the cane sugar would still be considered vegetarian. But in the case of a vegan looking for products that did not involve animals in their production, this white cane sugar would no longer be vegan friendly.
Is Organic Cane Sugar Vegan?
Unrefined cane sugar, including organic cane sugar, raw, natural, or unrefined cane sugar, are all produced without using any animal products. This makes them completely vegan.
As we mentioned previously, refined white sugar uses bone char to produce, but organic or unrefined can sugar does not use this bone char process.
Is Organic Sugar Vegan?
Any sugar that is organic, including cane sugar or brown sugar, will be safe for a vegan to eat. It will not have used bone char in the processing.
Is Brown Sugar Vegan?
Brown sugar is just refined white sugar with molasses added to it. This means the white sugar might have been made from cane sugar, which would have been used with bone char, making the brown sugar not vegan.
But, organic brown sugar is vegan. Since organic cane sugar is vegan and doesn’t use bone char, then the organic brown sugar will not use bone char as well. Also, if you can find brown sugar made with beet sugar, then it would also be completely vegan friendly.
Is Powdered Sugar Vegan?
Powdered sugar is just white cane sugar that has been pulverized. Much like brown sugar, the origin of the sugar will determine if bone char was used and if it is vegan or not. Organic powdered sugar will be vegan since no bone char is used on organic cane sugar. But if it is not organic, you will have to look at the origin of the sugar. Also, some powdered sugar might use dried egg white in the ingredients.
If the powdered sugar was made from cane sugar, then it would have used bone char in the process of whitening the sugar. If the powdered sugar was made from beet sugar, then it will not have used bone char in the process.
Regardless, neither sugar type will result in any animal products being present in the final powdered sugar product. But, cane sugar will have used bone char (animal bones) in the refining process.
In the U.K. even though cane sugar does not use bone char in the processing, some companies will put dried egg white into powdered sugar, making it no longer vegan.
Is Caster Sugar Vegan?
Caster sugar is white sugar that has been broken down into tinier pieces. This means that caster sugar could be made from either cane sugar or beet sugar, depending on the source.
We know already that sugar does not have any animal products directly in the ingredients. But, if the caster sugar was made from cane sugar, then it would have used bone char in the processing, making it not vegan-friendly for some vegans. If the caster sugar was made from beet sugar, however, no bone char would have been used, making it completely vegan and vegan-friendly.
Is Icing Sugar Vegan?
Icing sugar tends to not be vegan because either it is made from cane sugar which has been processed with bone char to whiten it, or some companies put dried egg white into their icing sugar, making it not vegan as well.
So in the United Kingdom, even where must cane sugar is vegan because they do not process it with bone char but use a different method, there still might be dried egg white in the icing sugar ingredients.
Is Sugar Vegan in the UK?
Almost all sugar in the UK is vegan. Sugar in the UK is not processed with bone char and goes through a different type of processing. The only exception is icing sugar which may contain dried egg whites.
Is Dextrose Vegan?
Dextrose, even though it is made from a different plant than cane sugar, faces some of the same problems with its production as sugar. Most dextrose, especially in the UK, will be vegan and will not be processed using bone char. But, bone char is still used to process some dextrose, which would make it non-vegan.
Check the label to see if you can find a vegan symbol to indicate if a particular brand is vegan-friendly.
Why Is Sugar Not Vegan?
The majority of sugar, especially sugar in the UK, will be vegan. But there are cases in which bone char might have been used to produce granulated sugar. Bone char is the heated bones of dead animals, that are used in some cases to refine cane sugar and turn it white.
But, remember that the majority of sugar in the US is made from sugar beets and not sugar cane, making that sugar vegan, since it’s not refined at all.
Of the sugar that is produced using sugar cane, again the majority of that is processed not using bone char, but instead newer methods that have replaced bone char. But there are still cases in which bone char is used, and in those cases, sugar would not be vegan.
Also, there are some brands that produce icing sugar with dried egg whites, making that sugar not vegan.
Vegan Sugar Alternatives
If you are concerned about sugar as a vegan or don’t want to get an organic sugar, which is vegan friendly, there are some sugar alternatives that are vegan. These can be used in recipes instead of refined sugar or used in place of table sugar. These include:
- Maple Syrup
- Coconut Sugar
- Brown Rice Syrup
- Date Sugar
Is Sugar in the Raw Vegan?
Sugar in the Raw is unrefined sugar and it is vegan. It uses no bone char or animal products.
Is Sugar Vegetarian?
Luckily for vegetarians, all forms of sugar are vegetarian. There are no animal products found in the final processed version of all sugars, including cane sugar, brown sugar, powdered sugar, or caster sugar.
There are some forms of icing sugar that contain dried egg white, but this is still vegetarian friendly since it is not animal meat or parts.