Why Some Sugars Aren't Actually Vegan

As it turns out, not all sugar is vegan. While most people know that meat, fish, and dairy are not part of the standard vegan diet, neither is any food or beverage that is made or processed with animal by-products, and that can include some sugars.

In the United States, white, refined sugar is either made from sugarcane or sugar beets. While the two plants both contain sucrose, they are processed in completely different ways (via Treehugger). Unlike beet sugar, cane sugar is filtered with bone char, a porous material made by charring the bones of animals. Bone char is used as a decolorizing filter, which gives cane sugar its white color. Before it is bleached with bone char, cane sugar is actually brown.

While white sugar doesn't contain any bones or bone fragments, it is still processed with them, making it not vegan. Not all cane sugar is filtered with bone char, however (via HuffPost). Some refineries use granular carbon instead. Unfortunately, they both look exactly the same, and there's no way to tell which is which simply by looking at the packaging.

Which sugars are vegan?

While white cane sugar might be off the table, there are plenty of other vegan sugars and sugar substitutes that will definitely sweeten up your day. Aside from beet sugar, organic cane sugar is completely vegan. Sugar that is certified organic by the U.S. Department of Agriculture can't be filtered with bone char, according to People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals. Sugar in the Raw is another great vegan sugar. Since it's unrefined, it is entirely free of bone char or any other animal by-product (via VegNews).

In addition to vegan sugars, there are plenty of sugar substitutes you can use to sweeten your food. Agave nectar is a vegan, liquid sweetener that comes from the fluid in the blue agave plant (via Livestrong). It has the consistency of a syrup and doesn't have the unpleasant aftertaste of many other artificial sweeteners. Other plant-based sweeteners include barley malt syrup, maple syrup, and stevia.