Is Sugar Vegan?

What is bone char? What about organic sugar?

Tea spoon of sugar
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Veganism is the practice of avoiding animal products and avoiding harm to animals. It's obvious that meat, fish, milk, and eggs are not vegan, but sugar? White sugar contains no animal products - it's just refined cane juice extracted from sugar cane - so what's the problem? The reason some vegans do not consider sugar to be vegan is the bone char that is sometimes used to filter the sugar. 

How is sugar made?

Sugar can be made either from sugar cane or from sugar beets. Both are sold in the United States as "sugar," "white sugar" or "granulated sugar." Both are the same molecule - sucrose. The prevailing belief is that there is no difference between cane sugar and beet sugar, although some professionals and foodies have noticed differences in taste and texture due to differences in the trace minerals and proteins.

To make sugar from sugar cane, the sugar cane is harvested and cane juice is extracted. Then dirt and other solids are removed from the cane juice and the juice is boiled and evaporated to turn it into a syrup. The syrup is then crystallized to make raw sugar, which is brown in color. The raw sugar is then sent to another facility to be filtered to become white sugar and the remaining liquid is turned into molasses. The filtering step at the second facility is the one where bone char may be used.


Beet sugar is not filtered with bone char, and is processed in a single step at a single facility. 

What is bone char?

Bone char is literally charred bones. According to Sugar Knowledge International (SKIL), which describes itself as the "world's leading independent sugar technology organisation," bone char is "prepared by almost incinerating animal bones to leave activated carbon - a bit like making wood charcoal." The bones come from animals slaughtered for meat.


Does my sugar have bones in it?

The final product has no bones in it, and the filters are used over and over again. Because there are no bones in the sugar, some consider refined sugar to be vegan, even if bone char is used in the production. The sugar can also be certified kosher.

Why is bone char a problem?

Because vegans try to minimize animal use and suffering, bone char is a problem because it is an animal product. Even if bone char is a by-product of the meat industry, supporting the by-product supports the industry as a whole. Many vegans also find the thought of their food being filtered through animal bones to be disgusting.

What about brown sugar?

Brown sugar is white sugar with molasses added back in. Buying brown sugar is not a guarantee of avoiding bone char filtration.

What about organic sugar?

Organic sugar is not filtered with bone char. According to Sam Jones-Ellard, Public Affairs Specialist for the U.S. Department of Agriculture, "Sections 205.605 and 205.606 of the USDA organic regulations (7 CFR Part 205) identify the non-organic ingredients and processing aids that are allowed in the handling of organic products. Bone char is not listed within sections 205.605 or 205.606; therefore, its use is not permitted in the processing of certified organic products."

How can I avoid bone char sugar?

Bone char filtration is becoming less common in the U.S. Beet sugar now makes up the majority of sugar consumed in the U.S. and it is gaining market share because it is less expensive to produce. Also, sugar beets can be grown in more temperate climates while sugar cane needs a hot climate that is not as common in the U.S. 

In addition, some refineries are switching to other types of filtration. According to SKIL, "Modern technology has largely replaced bone char decolourisation but it is still used in a few refineries." 

To avoid bone char sugar, you could call the company and ask whether they use bone char sugar, although it might change from day to day because some companies buy their sugar from multiple suppliers. 

Sugars that are produced without bone char include:

  • some white sugars (ask the company)
  • organic sugar
  • beet sugar
  • less refined sugars, demerara sugar, or Turbinado sugar (e.g. Sugar in the Raw, Florida Crystals, Sucanat, etc.)
  • unrefined brown sugar (e.g. piloncillo, rapadura, jaggery, etc.)

Is sugar vegan?

For some vegans, bone char sugar is a grey area because the sugar passed through a filter made from animal bones, but there are no animal bones in the sugar. For other vegans, bone char sugar is either clearly vegan or clearly not vegan. If you are cooking or shopping for a vegan, be safe by choosing a sugar that is not processed using bone char. 

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Your Citation
Lin, Doris. "Is Sugar Vegan?" ThoughtCo, Feb. 27, 2016, Lin, Doris. (2016, February 27). Is Sugar Vegan? Retrieved from Lin, Doris. "Is Sugar Vegan?" ThoughtCo. (accessed February 24, 2018).