Why Sugar Is Not Always Vegan

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You would be forgiven for assuming sugar is always vegan and moving on with your life. You would also be forgiven if you came across a packet of Whole Earth's plant-based sugar alternative that is made from erythritol and monk fruit on Amazon and did a double take. After all, "plant-based" is a term mostly used to describe vegan alternatives to meat and cheese. So there is an implication that there are animal products associated with or contained in sugar.

To cut out any uncertainty, the basic product of sugar is indeed vegan. In fact, you can make the argument that sugar is already plant-based as Food Insight describes it as refined sugar cane. Other possible sources of sugar include sugar beets and coconuts. The difference between raw sugar and table sugar is in the refining process, specifically in the removal of molasses for the latter. However, the refining of a plant into a crystal structure does not stop the base of the end product from being a plant. However, that also does not guarantee that all sugar products are vegan.

Animal bones can make sugar non-vegan

The fact that a product is plant-based does not necessarily mean the process for making it is vegan. For example, a vegan man once sued Burger King for making his Impossible Whopper on the same surface as their meat ones (per CBS). Whopper lawsuits aside, there are sugar production methods that incorporate non-vegan elements.

Vegan.com explains some sugar cane companies use bone char to decolorize sugar because there used to be a belief that brown sugar is somehow inferior to white sugar. Bone char is sourced from cattle bones, which is where Vegan.com's interest comes from. However, PETA notes that if the sugar is labeled organic, it is still vegan because the USDA doesn't count sugars filtered through bone char as organic. For people who are bothered by the bone char, Vegan.com recommends going for sugar that is specifically labeled as vegan and avoiding all processed foods that merely describe the sweetener as "sugar" in their ingredient list.