These days, there are so many sweeteners out there that it’s hard to say what the definition of sugar is. For most people, sugar is just a white substance you buy from the supermarket, derived from cane grass grown in tropical & sub-tropical regions around the world. Something extracted from boiled grass has got to be vegan-friendly; it’s literally plant-based.
So is sugar vegan?
Did you know that a lot of sugar is actually derived from beets? Yeah, those beets, the same ones that taste like dirt if you cook them wrong. Refined sugars as we recognize them are processed from either beets or cane grass, and the sugar made from cane grass is filtered & bleached with animal bone char. That’s what creates the pristine white color we recognize, but the sugar processed from beets doesn’t require the same level of processing, so it’s a vegan-safe sugar option.
However, not all white cane sugar is processed with bone char. There are a number of bone char-free, vegan sugar companies out there, and I’ll list some of my favorites below. The quickest way to tell if a sugar is vegan is by only buying organic sugar, which is never processed with bone char. There are also over a dozen sugar alternatives that make great vegan sweeteners, if you can get your hands on them.
Bone Char-Free Vegan Sugar Companies
The National Organic Program is the US’s federal regulatory framework for certifying organic foods. This means that they keep track of which foods and farms have been certified organic, and which substances are approved for use in organic food production. Bone char is not on their list of allowed substances, meaning that certified USDA organic sugar is always vegan. Below are some of my favorite bone char-free, vegan sugar companies, almost all of which are certified organic. I’ve starred the options you can find easiest in a local grocery store.
Wholesome Sweeteners Fair Trade Organic Sugars (including their White, Light Brown, Dark Brown, and Turbinado Sugar varieties; these are my favorite to use at home)
Zulka (light brown sugar, proudly grown & produced in Mexico)
Billington’s Natural Demerara Unrefined Cane Sugar (larger sugar crystals produced from the first crystallization of sugar cane juice, with no bleaching or chemicals in the production process)
Red Path Organic Granulated Sugar (black packaging— all of their sugars are refined in Canada from sugar cane, but according to their website they don’t use any animal by-products in any of their refining processes)
NOW Foods Organic Beet Sugar (says it’s an alternative to cane sugar, but it’s still refined white sugar, and not any healthier)
*Trader Joe’s Organic Sugar Evaporated Cane Juice
*Kirkland Organic Sugar (Costco)
*Sugar In The Raw (Most Chain Markets)