Is Sugar Vegan?

spoon of powder

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The Vegan Sugar Debate

Most vegans would agree that their lifestyle is free of animal products and ingredients; however, sometimes this definition is not as clear as it sounds. For example, is sugar vegan? Vegans disagree on whether or not it is. To understand the debate, we must first understand how sugar is produced. In addition, there are many sugar substitutes and sugar alternatives that vegans can use, instead.

Is Sugar Vegan? How Sugar’s Made

In the United States, there are two main types of white sugar: cane sugar and beet sugar. Beet sugar is processed at a sugar mill. Cane sugar, however, is first processed at a mill, and then at a refinery. This is where the question of veganism lies. As part of its purification, cane sugar is filtered through charcoal, and often, this char is made of animal bones.

Brown sugar is made by combining white sugar with molasses. Powdered sugar is just white table sugar ground finely into a powder. Vegans who avoid white sugar often avoid brown and powdered sugar, too.

Defining Vegan Sugar

Whether or not a vegan eats sugar depends on his/her definition of veganism. Sugar does not contain any animal ingredients. However, it is made using animal bones. If a vegan follows a process-based definition of veganism, versus an ingredient-based one, then he/she may choose not to eat sugar.

Jewish dietary laws indicate that sugar is considered kosher pareve, which means that no meat or milk is included as an ingredient. It’s understood that the bone char is so dissimilar from the animal source that it can no longer be considered an animal. Some vegans agree with this argument, and choose to eat sugar.

Vegan Sugar Alternatives

If a vegan follows a process-based definition of veganism, he/she can still eat white sugar as long as it’s beet sugar. Very few brands of sugar are labeled as such, so instead, individual companies can be contacted to verify the source of their product.

If a vegan prefers to avoid white sugar altogether, there are many ways to add sweetness to a cup of coffee, cookie dough, or anywhere else the taste is needed. Here are some examples:

  • Stevia, an herb
  • Turbinado/raw sugar
  • Agave syrup
  • Brown rice syrup
  • Maple syrup
  • Date sugar
  • Barley Malt
  • Fruit juices

Many vegan cookbooks include recipes that use alternative sweeteners.

Whether or not sugar is vegan is up for each vegan to decide. Just as the decision to become vegan is a personal one, so is the choice of whether to eat white sugar. Regardless of whether or not sugar is considered vegan, it’s a good idea to reduce it within our diets as part of healthy living.