Is Brown Sugar Vegan? What You Need to Know About Brown Sugar & Bone Char

vegan brown sugar on a spoon

Sugar is in a vast majority of consumable, processed foods and beverages available in the store and at restaurants. It seems downright inescapable. When you are vegan, this seemingly always-present ingredient is especially difficult to try to avoid.

Many types of sugar simply are not vegan since they are made with bone char. Bone char is granular material made from ground up bones of cattle from Pakistan, Argentina, India, and Afghanistan, which are sold to traders that, in turn, sell bone char to sugar manufacturers in the United States.

Bone char is used in sugar because it is a decolorizing filter that gives sugar its white appearance. Does this mean that brown sugar contains bone char since it is not white? Or is brown sugar vegan? The answer might surprise you.

Bone Char and Its Use in Sugar

For several hundred years, sugar refiners have been using bone char from cattle to whiten their products. As consumer demand for delectable, sugary sweets increased around the globe, the sugar cane industry boomed, most recently holding about 50 percent of the market share in sugar. Little did the average consumer know that what they were putting in their mouth was made from ground-up cattle bones.

Sugar comes from either sugar cane or sugar beets. After it is collected from cattle bones in Afghanistan, India, Pakistan, and Argentina, it is sold to traders in countries like Brazil, Scotland, and Egypt.

Those traders, in turn, sell bone char to sugar manufacturing companies located in the United States. Both the United States Department of Agriculture and the European Union have high regulations for bone char.

The FDA restricts the use of bones from cattle in the United States, and the bone char that is imported is only supposed to come from cattle that have died of natural causes. Of course, that is not something that is being strictly monitored.

Bone char is used to filter out color in sugar, thereby giving it a white appearance. However, bone char is also used in confectioner’s sugar and brown sugar.

Unfortunately, most supermarket brands of sugar do not state which of the multiple refineries they get their sugar from, so it is virtually impossible to know which brands use bone char. Beet sugar is the only type of sugar known to naturally be vegan because it does not get filtered with bone char.

Is Bone Char in Brown Sugar?

Bone char does get used in brown sugar because of how brown sugar is created. Brown sugar is made from refined sugar with molasses added in.

The refined sugar could come from refineries that use bone char to process their sugar, which potentially makes brands of brown sugar not vegan. Unfortunately, this means that the delicious cookie your friend made for you using brown sugar may or may not be vegan, and it would be impossible to find out.

Vegan Brown Sugar Brands

Finding vegan brown sugar for baking is not an easy task, especially if you are just starting down your vegan path. However, there are some certified bone char-free brands of sugar and brown sugar available on the market, both in stores and online. Most major grocery stores sell at least one brand of vegan sugar and brown sugar.

The following brands all feature vegan-friendly sugar and brown sugar products, many of which are sold online or in grocery stores:

  • Zulka

Zulka has vegan, non-GMO certified sugar products available on their website, and the prices are extremely affordable – even more affordable than some products you will find on the shelves at your local grocer. While their products are not readily available in stores, they can be ordered online here.

  • Sugar in the Raw

Sugar in the Raw has unbleached and unrefined sugars that do not contain bone char. Their sugars can be found in many grocery stores and are affordable. They are great substitutes for refined sugar in baked goods, as the sugar tends to bake well into pretty much anything. You can purchase it by the bag here.

  • Now Foods Turbinado Sugar

Turbinado sugar is always vegan due to the way it is processed, so you do not have to worry about bone char in your sugar. Now Foods makes excellent turbinado sugar that is organic, non-GMO certified, vegan, low in sodium, and is gluten-free – you can purchase it here.

Baking Brown Sugar at Home

baking vegan brown sugar at home

The best way to ensure that your brown sugar is, in fact, vegan is to try baking it at home. If you consider yourself to be something of a kitchen witch, then you might enjoy trying to make your own brown sugar in the comfort of your home.

You can opt to make either light or dark brown sugar, depending on what type of recipe you intend to use this sugar in. Not only are you ensuring that your brown sugar is gluten-free and vegan, you will also be saving money in the long-run.

A Few More Tips for Avoiding Bone Char Sugar

Knowing is half the battle, so knowing what products to avoid the next time you’re browsing the baking aisle in your grocery store can help you find vegan-friendly sugar.

Always avoid any sugar that says “100% pure cane sugar.” This sugar is likely refined with bone char. Instead, opt for products that say “100% pure beet sugar” as beet sugar is never filtered with bone char.

Look for organic sugar and products that are made only with organic sugar, as that tends to not be refined with bone char. Some of these products will also be marked as non-GMO certified and gluten-free.

Consider making the switch to coconut sugar. Not only is coconut sugar free of bone char, it contains about 400 times more potassium than regular sugar. It is also low on the glycemic index and is rich in minerals, Vitamin C, and antioxidants. It can also help balance blood sugar levels since it contains inulin, and it is a great option for anyone who needs gluten-free products.

Use your best discretion when browsing for brown sugar products or when eating something that might contain brown sugar. It is sometimes difficult to avoid animal products altogether, but you can avoid them as much as possible by remaining informed on what products might contain things like bone char.

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2 thoughts on “Is Brown Sugar Vegan? What You Need to Know About Brown Sugar & Bone Char”

  1. Hello Aaron,
    Great post about sugar, and I’ll be sharing this with my own subscribers at Edible Musings. Livvy became a friend of mine, and while I was sad to see her abandon her site, she chose a great replacement in you! Cheers, and I look forward to more terrific information from 86 Lemons.


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