08 August 2011

TDIV Q&A: So apparently honey isn't vegan but sugar is okay, isn't it?

So apparently honey isn't vegan but sugar is okay, isn't it?

Sugar! Sweet, delicious… deceiving!

We have cane sugar, which of course comes from sugar cane, and we also have beet sugar. Besides sugar coming from two different plants, there are also different processing methods to get the final product that some of us use every day.

To purify cane sugar, it is filtered through activated carbon (charcoal), which can either be animal, vegetable, or mineral origin. This process decolorizes the sugar, and is unnecessary for beet sugar so it doesn’t apply here.

Over half of the cane sugar refineries in the United States use bone char, which is charcoal made from animal bones, as their activated carbon source. As a vegan, this final sugar product is not something that I would consume.

There is no difference in taste or appearance between beet and cane sugar, nor is beet sugar typically labeled as such. Supermarket brands buy their sugar from several different refineries, so there is no sure way of knowing whether their sugar is vegan at any given time.

Bone char is used to whiten sugar, and brown sugar is usually made from refined white sugar with molasses added. Most refined white sugar is processed over bone char, so they are not vegan. Turbinado and Sucanat sugar are both vegan, as are all beet sugars.

The following sugar companies DO use bone char and are not vegan:
Splenda—tested on animals*
Savannah Foods
California & Hawaiian Sugar Company (with the exception of its Washed Raw Sugar)

The following sugar companies are VEGAN:
Florida Crystals Refinery
Refined Sugars Incorporated
Pillsbury (only their sugar)
Supreme Sugar Company
Wholesome Foods
Hain Organic Powdered Sugar
Jack Frost
Country Cane
Southern Bell
365 (the Whole Foods house brand)

Other labels to look for when you’re shopping for sugar are:

Beet Sugar
Raw Sugars & Turbinado
Unrefined Cane Sugar
Evaporated Cane Juice
Other plant sweeteners like rice syrup, date syrup, corn syrup, maple syrup, agave nectar, molasses, succanat, fructose, and barley malt.

Vegans are used to reading the labels, on everything from bed sheets to pastry dough, so I’ve just grown used to it—it becomes second nature. When I found out about the processing methods for sugar, I made a list—which you can simply copy down from above—and kept it in my bag at all times to reference while shopping.

Sugar is everywhere, even in our packaged foods. So having this list helps a lot—if the label says, “evaporated cane juice” that’s great. But if it says “sugar” you have to decide for yourself.

And just one last important note on sugar. Splenda used the firm Huntingdon Life Science (HLS) for it’s animal testing, one of worst offenders and abusers in the animal testing industry. “An estimated 12,800 animals died in the process of testing the artificial sweetener Splenda, according to a published report in a recent scientific journal.”

From what I’ve read, Splenda no longer uses HLS due to all the controversy, but they still do animal testing. Their parent company is none other than Johnson & Johnson, (also famous for it’s heinous abuse of animals) who still contracts with HLS.

Kelly Beth | @veganbotanicals
Kelly Beth is a smiley vegan herbalist and wanderer, and currently resides in Boulder, Colorado with her fiancé and kitty (kitty face). She created twig & leaf botanicals, a vegan & organic herbal apothecary 3 years ago to bring healthy, plant-based alternatives to mainstream medicine and home care. Follow Kelly Beth on her blog and Facebook.

Photo credit:cc:flickr.com/photos/uwehermann