There’s a big to-do about sugar, and it isn’t just because many people feel it’s not healthy (which it really isn’t). No, some of the stink about sugar comes from the way in which it is processed.
In and of itself, sugar is actually vegan. It’s plant-based for crying out loud. I was surprised to learn that depending upon the brand of sugar, it may not be vegetarian/vegan. The processing of sugar, particularly cane sugar, is what makes this already controversial sweetener a problem for vegetarians and vegans. Read on to see what I’m speaking of.
Cane sugar is, by some companies, processed using “natural charcoal” also known as bone char. Bone char is made by charring animal bones, usually the bones of cattle. According to the linked Wikipedia article, the practice has largely been discontinued, but that requires citation and according to several articles I’ve found, there are plenty of companies still using it.
Why would they process it with bone char? To make it white! The bone char helps remove the natural brown coloring that cane sugar has. Even brown cane sugar is processed with bone char, because the brown sugar we see has had coloring and molasses added to it. It’s already been processed with bone char before the additives.
So what is a vegetarian/vegan to do? Well, there are a few options.
The first is to choose brands that are beet sugar. Beet sugar doesn’t require whitening, so bone char isn’t used. Generally the bag of sugar you’re looking at will tell you if the sugar is cane sugar or beet sugar. The only brands of sugar I’ve been able to find that are definitely beet sugar are Crystal Brand and Spreckels, although Spreckels appears to be more geared toward industrial uses considering the smallest package listed on their website is 50 lbs. However, some beet sugars are made with genetically modified beets, so if you’re steering clear of GMO ingredients, you might want to take another option.
Another thing you can do is to find cane sugar brands that do not process their sugar using bone char. Sugar in the Raw and Florida Crystals brand are two that do not. However, be careful, as Domino Sugar and C&H Sugar are both owned by Florida Crystals but process their sugar with bone char aka “natural charcoal”. If you choose to go with Florida Crystals, make sure you’re getting the actual Florida Crystals brand. I’ve seen both Sugar in the Raw and Florida Crystals brand sugars readily available at most grocery stores, so this is probably your best bet if you want to continue to use cane sugar.
The final thing you can do is go for an “artificial” sweetener aka non-sugar sweetener. These include Stevia, Truvia, and other non-caloric sweeteners. However, you have to be careful with these as some of them are purely chemical compounds created in labs, while others may be made with GMO ingredients. Obviously, this is entirely up to you and if you are diabetic, you may have no choice but to go with this route.
As with everything, do your research… find what’s available in your area or what you’re able to find online. Make sure you look for products that fit your particular requirements and don’t hesitate to email companies if their websites aren’t clear about whether or not they use bone char/natural charcoal or GMOs in their products.