When you think about foods that vegans can and can’t eat, you might reasonably assume that eggs, meats, and dairy products are only ingredients off the table. If only it were that simple.
Depending on how strict you are in your vegan diet, you might avoid any food products that interact with animals in any way, whether it’s a fish bladder used to filter wine or collagen-derived gelatin found in gummies, and this information requires a bit more investigating to find out.
One of those more unlikely "no-go" foods is white sugar. Sugar comes from stalks of sugarcane, right? And sugarcane is a (fairly sustainably-sourced) plant. So, at what point does sugar go from plant- to animal-derived product?
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The answer lies in the sugar’s coloration. Granulated white sugar isn’t pure white on its own, and oftentimes, the refining process of sugar involves the use of bone char. Although white sugar doesn’t contain bone char, it is decolorized with the ingredient to achieve the white hue. Bone char, which acts as a crude filter, is a porous material made by charring the bones of cattle from Afghanistan, Argentina, India, and Pakistan, according to peta.org.
Brown sugars and powdered sugars aren’t totally off the hook either. Brown sugars (light or dark) and powdered sugars are usually made from refined white sugar, either by adding different amounts of molasses to the crystals, or by pulverizing the granules until they turn into a powder. Either way, the white sugar used to create these products is not considered vegan.
Read more: Here’s What You Didn’t Know About “Raw” Sugar
Now, the bone char process isn’t all that essential to the flavor or texture of the final sugar product, so it really doesn’t need to be used at all. If you are vegan, there are certified vegan sugar products available, or you can always swap in maple syrup or agave when you’re in need of something sweet. When you’re seeking out vegan sugars in the store, look for words like unrefined and raw to indicate bone char was not used in the process.
In addition, beet sugar is always considered a safe bet for vegans, and you can rest assured that any certified organic sugar product was not filtered with bone char.
Buy It Now: Domino Pure Cane Organic Sugar, $8, amazon.com
Read more: How Much Sugar Is in Honey, Maple Syrup, and Agave Nectar?
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