Is Sugar Vegan? White, Cane, Powdered: A Vegan Sugar Guide

Vegan sugar on a green background

Sugar is a big buzzword these days. Many people monitor their intake and wonder how much, if any, is part of a healthy lifestyle or a vegan diet.

Is Sugar Vegan?

The short answer is yes; raw sugar is generally vegan. The long answer is… not always. I know that’s a little confusing, so let me explain.

Raw sugar comes from the leaves of the sugar cane plant, where it is stored in the leaves as cane juice. The leaves are then sent to a factory, and the cane juice is extracted.

So far, so good, right? No non-vegan red flags yet; all seems vegan friendly so far…

But here is where the vegan eating line begins to get drawn, right around the time when the sugar is sent out for processing.

Once sugar is sent out for processing, the sugar juice is heated up and sent through a series of steps to create sugar crystals. Here is the point where many sugar manufacturers of refined sugar in the sugar industry use something called bone char(also known as natural carbon) in their processing procedure.

The sugar is then put through a process in which it is filtered with bone char, aka “natural carbon.” They use bone char because it helps white sugar retain its pure white coloring and remove impurities. Bone char is also cheap because it is usually brought in from many other foreign countries, making bone char filters affordable and effective.

Bone Char

But here’s the rub. Bone char is made from exactly what it sounds like it’s made from…bones. Animal products. Which is decidedly not considered vegan. Many bones come from cows in Pakistan, India, Afghanistan, and other foreign countries. So you can see why this process is not exactly vegan friendly. So is sugar vegan? Not in this case. And unfortunately, many producers of table sugar and refined cane sugar use this process. This is why in the vegan world, sugar is often a no-no.

However, when sugar is organic, there is no bone char used in the process as that would negate the organic label. 

When Is Sugar Vegan?

When refined sugar, cane sugar, refined cane sugar, white sugar, and brown sugar are labeled organic, the sugar industry production does not use bone char as that would negate the organic label. Organic sugars are not filtered through bone char and contain no animal products whatsoever.

These are the types of sugars in vegan recipes since they are cruelty-free.

So basically, all organic sugar is vegan, but not all vegan sugar is organic. Check your labels to be sure.

Different Types of Sugar and Sweeteners

Brown Sugar – Brown sugar is made from refined sugar by adding molasses to the boiling cane sugar or coating white granulated sugar with molasses. You may be wondering if brown sugar is vegan, but unfortunately, it is not necessarily vegan either.

Sugars that aren't vegan

Since it is made from white cane sugar and refined sugar, many of the suppliers still use bone char to process the original cane sugar that the molasses are then added to. So even if the brown sugar process itself is vegan, by simply adding molasses, the white sugar it is added to may not be.

Coconut Sugar – Coconut sugar is another type of sugar becoming more popular. Coconut sugar is vegan because no bone char is used in its processing. It is made from coconut palm sap, and the refining process is minimal. Most vegans tend to lean towards coconut sugar and its counterpart, beat sugar, as they can be assured they will be vegan.

Beet Sugar – There is a type of sugar that comes from sugar beets, called logically enough, beet sugar. Beet sugar is made by thinly slicing the sugar beets to extract the sugar beet juice. The sugar beets juice is then purified and heated to create beet sugar. Beet sugar is almost always vegan because there is no need to use bone char in the manufacturing process. 

Brown Rice Syrup – is made from brown rice and is both vegan and gluten-free. However, it does not hold as many health benefits as one would hope, but then again, most sugar and sweeteners don’t.

Agave Nectar – Agave nectar is a common sweetener and is an excellent alternative to refined sugars. It is 100 percent vegan as it comes straight from the agave plant with very little processing. It’s a perfect option for vegans with a sweet tooth.

White, Cane, Powdered, What’s the Difference?

White Sugar- White sugar can come from cane sugar or beet sugar. It is the type of sugar you see most often. It is most likely vegan if it is made from beet sugar as there is no bone char used during processing. If it is made from cane, bone char may have been used in the processing, making it not vegan.

Cane Sugar– Cane sugar is made guessed it…sugar cane! It is the most common type of white sugar on the market and, unfortunately, most often uses bone char.

If you are eating vegan, it is best to do as much research as possible about the refined sugars and brands you are eating as there is a high risk for them using bone char. It is best to start following companies you know do not use this process.

Powdered Sugar – Powdered sugar is made from white sugar with corn starch added to keep it from caking. The white sugar could be either cane or beet sugar but will most likely be cane sugar and might not be suitable for vegans.

Is Sugar Organic?

Some sugar is while some sugar is not. Sugar labeled “Agriculture Organic Sugar” is most assuredly because the sugar cane or beets used to produce the sugar are organically made.

Most sugar you come across will not have the “Agriculture Organic Sugar” label as it is made using bone char, which would not mean organic standards.

Although beet sugar is vegan, it may not be organically grown(although it generally is). Still, double-checking is always an excellent way to ensure everything you are getting is nice and clean.

Vegan Sugar Brands

  • In the Raw
  • Now Foods Beat Sugar
  • Imperial Sugar
  • Simple Truth- Kroger/Ralphs Brand
  • Simply Balanced- Target Brand
  • Trader Joes brand
  • Wholesome
  • Woodstock Farms


What Sugar Not Considered Vegan?

Some sugar is not vegan because it is filtered through bone char or bone-char filters. Bone char is not vegan friendly because it is made from ground-up cow bones.

Are Refined Sugars Bad For You?

Generally speaking, yes. Refined sugars increase your risk of obesity, type 2 diabetes, and heart disease. But all things in moderation and communicating with your individual doctor might give you a better idea of what you personally should steer clear of in the sugar department.

Is Honey more Nutritious Than Sugar?

Honey has more health benefits than sugar; however, it is about the same calorically speaking. But it does not have the same adverse health side effects that sugar often comes with (and it isn’t vegan.)

Is it Ok To Eat Sugar Every Day?

The answer to this can once again depend on your personal doctor’s recommendation. Still, it is generally advised not to eat sugar daily to avoid it.

Is Beat Sugar Best?

As far as a vegan diet goes, generally, yes. It is sure to be animal product-free and is typically organically made. However, it is advised to still be monitored in its intake since it is still, after all, sugar.

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