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Is Sugar Vegan? How to Tell + 17 Delicious Vegan Sugar Options

If you’ve been vegan for a while, you might be asking yourself, is sugar vegan? or can vegans eat sugar?

Seems like a dumb question. Of course sugar is vegan, right?

Most everyone would assume so. But it may be hard to believe, that that is not always the case. 

There are sugars on the market, and some that you’ve probably even used before, that are processed with non-vegan substances like bone char.

So, what is bone char, and why would they do that? Well, as we know there are loads of non-vegan foods that seem vegan at first glance. Sugar is no exception.

Don’t worry, we’re going to answer the question for you and take a closer look at why some sugars are not vegan. We won’t leave you hanging either. We will also zero in on which sugars are safe for vegans to consume.

Short, Sweet History of Sugar

is sugar vegan - white sugar on a spoon on a slate surface

Sugar as we know it in its most common granular form has been used for around two thousand years! It dates back to ancient India, where sugarcane juice was the main source. In fact, the word “sugar” actually gets its origins from Sanskrit.

In medieval times the cultivation and sugar-making processes by the Islamic world was instrumental in the improved production of sugar. By the end of the medieval period sugar was a prized commodity. It became expensive and was treated as a fine spice.

At the beginning of the 16th century the manufacturing of sugar spread to the West Indies and other tropical regions of the Americas. This resulted in continuing improvements of sugar productions through the 19th centuries. It’s easy to see that sugar has been vegan during most of its lifespan. From raw form of either date palm sap and sugarcane juice, both being purely plant-based.

In the 19th and 20th centuries, beet sugar, high-fructose corn syrup, and other sweeteners were created. And by these times, sugar was mass produced in bulk and it became much cheaper than it was previously.

Nowadays, there seems to be endless varieties of sugar options to suit each person’s needs.

Is Sugar Vegan? Not if it is Made Like This!

So, why is sugar not totally vegan? 

Our culprit – bone char. 

Bone char is a black granular material that is made by charring the bones of animals, usually from cattle or pigs.

Bone char is used in the United States with sugar cane to remove coloring. Thus, it is often used in a lot of the white sugars on the market. Bone char also acts as a de-ashing agent in the sugar refining process.

So, that sparkling white sugar you know and love is often not 100% vegan.

Not to be the bearer of bad news, but it doesn’t end there.

Can Vegan’s Eat Sugar? Best Vegan Sugar Options

Beets - vegan sugar made from beets

Don’t despair, there are vegan sugars to be had in the United States.

Beet sugar, coconut sugar, and sugar labeled organic are always vegan in the United States and not refined with bone char. So, vegans can feel safe choosing one of these three sweetener options.

Below are a few brands that have vegan sugar.

  1. Trader Joe’s vegan-friendly sweeteners
  2. In the Raw
  3. Bob’s Red Mill
  4. Florida Crystals
  5. Imperial Sugar
  6. Rapunzel
  7. Michigan Sugar Company
  8. Woodstock Farms
  9. Simple Truth Organic Cane Sugar

Is It Just White Sugar? Other Non-Vegan Sugars to Watch Out For!

Is Powdered Sugar Vegan - powdered sugar shaken from a sieve into a bowl

Okay, now that you’re clear on whether or not white sugar is vegan, let’s talk about other sugar types and their vegan status.

Is Powdered Sugar Vegan?

Well, powdered sugar, which is also called icing sugar, can sometimes contain dried egg whites.  So, it’s not always easy to find vegan powdered sugar, but a search online of “vegan icing sugar” will produce brands that do make it animal-free.

Is Brown Sugar Vegan?

Since brown sugar is made with white sugar, you will need to review it with a critical eye before buying it. If it’s made with cane sugar, it’s likely not vegan. If it’s made with beets or is organic, you can go for it!

Is Dextrose Vegan?

Another ingredient that might pop out at you is dextrose.

Well, dextrose itself derives from corn, so in its original form it is purely plant-based. 

But vegans should be aware that cultured dextrose can contain dairy. And also if dextrose is sold alone, it can often contain bone char as a part of the whitening process, just as in refined sugars. 

Is Domino Sugar Vegan?

Since loads of people want to know the answer to “Is Domino Sugar Vegan?” let’s cover that complicated topic quickly.

The short answer is, it depends where it was made. To find out, you have to look at lot codes on sugar bags to find out.

If the lot code begins with 5, it was made in Louisiana and is not vegan. If it starts with 1 or 4, it was made in Baltimore or New York and is vegan.

Complicated much? Yeah…

8 Vegan Sugar Alternatives – Maple, Agave & More

Vegan Sugar Alternatives - Maple

There are lots of people who stay away from most refined sugars, often due to dietary restrictions related to health issues. 

For those of you that want your sugar rush without the sugar, then below are some options for vegan sweeteners.

Maple Syrup is a trusty classic sweetener, directly from the sap of a tree, this is always a good bet for vegans.

Dates and Date Sugar are one of the oldest plant-based sweeteners in history, going back thousands of years.

Coconut Sugar has a little bit of fiber in it, which keeps blood sugar spikes to a minimal. So vegans can get a tiny benefit from this natural sweetener.

Apple Honey is another sugar substitute that vegans can choose. Although not yet widely available, health food stores and vegan shops are the best places to look for this vegan-friendly sweetener.

Agave Nectar may be the most easily accessible of some of the newer sugar substitutes. With this handy sweetener, vegans will get options in light, amber, dark, and raw. So agave can provide versatility in its usage for vegans looking to sweeten up any dish or beverage.

Stevia is another sweetener that has come along in modern times. It is a purely plant-based sugar, so vegans can feel comfortable selecting stevia as an alternative to refined white sugar.

Yacon Syrup is also an emerging alternative to traditional sugars. This South American root is a bit of a hidden gem in most of the world. It is made purely from vegetable roots, and it has a similar taste to molasses and caramelized sugar.

Speaking of Molasses, most of the products on the market are vegan-friendly, but some are processed with animal-products. So it’s best to keep an eye on the label when purchasing this dark viscous sweetener.

Vegan Sugar Roundup

Donuts - with vegan sugar

So as you can see, most sugars are vegan. 

However, there are still a large amount of refined sugars that are made with bone char and other non-vegan techniques in the USA. 

White sugar is usually the one that contains bone char, so it’s best to pay attention to which type and brand you’re buying. Look out for words like “organic”, “raw”, and “unrefined”. 

And remember, beet and other root-based sugars are a safe bet, along with coconut sugar and other plant-based sweeteners.

Owner’s Note: This topic is goes deeeep into the “100% vegan” territory. If you decide to eat sugar that is made with bone char, that is totally up to you. You’re not going to lose your vegan status…in my opinion. Remember, it’s not possible to be 100% vegan, and that’s not even the point. So do the best you can and be kind to yourself!