With so much confusion going on about the question, is sugar vegan? I felt that there needs to be some healthy clarification.
Not everyone knows the exact process of how sugars are processed, and some brands can be downright deceiving.
In this guide, you’ll get an inside look at the process of how sugar is made.
I’ll do my best to give the descriptions of different kinds of sugars and tell you which ones are actually Vegan.
Let’s get started:
Is Cane Sugar Vegan?
Right from the get-go, we need to jump into the most common forms of sugar that we know. To answer the question is cane sugar vegan?’ the answer is yes and no because of each factory’s refining methods.
But it’s the one that most everyone knows and loves and, is made from sugar cane. But did you know that Brazil is the largest sugar producer?
It makes up 35% of the world’s production and 40% of global sales.
The Growing Process
The process of how sugar cane is made is a very fascinating series of events. In Brazil, everything that goes into growing sugar cane is ethical.
Even down to the types of natural pesticides used to keep insects and pests from attacking the cane plant itself.
A typical cane plantation uses offset residue called ‘filter cake’ that comes from crushed and processed cane is recycled.
It then goes back into the fields and makes a nutrient-rich fertilizer.
It takes an average of 6 years before a cane field is replanted. At least 2% of Brazil’s land is used to produce sugar cane, covering 20 million acres.
One of the separated elements that come from a sugar cane factory is called Vinasse. It’s another type of liquid fertilizer that is regulated by the country and helps to grow the cane.
This cuts down the use of petroleum-based fertilizers and doesn’t add to the greenhouse effect.
They also introduce biological pests into a field to fight other pests that attack the cane. Essentially, they use insects that prey on other insects just like gardeners use ladybugs in their back yard.
This reduces the need for industrial chemicals used for insecticides. When it comes time to make an annual harvest from April-December, fully grown sugar cane will reach its’ full maturity.
The machine operated vehicles now manually cut the sugar cane and collects the cane in small arm-length pieces. The straw is separated from the cane and laid onto the soil so it protects the ground.
Later this straw is collected and used as fuel in furnaces at the factory to power their machines.
A single collection vehicle can collect 800 tons of sugar cane per day. These vehicles return freshly chopped cane to the factory where it then gets tested.
The Factory Processing
A factory needs to test sugar cane to see what the percentage level of sucrose is within a fresh batch of cane. After that, it goes to the crushing machines.
It’s then chopped up into a fine mush and goes through a series of special rollers. This allows the liquid to be separated and turned into raw sugar. What is leftover from the sugar cane is called Bagasse.
This is further recycled and used as more fuel to burn for factory furnaces.
The yearly amount of a yearly cane crush in Brazil can produce nearly 600 million tons of processed sugar. There are over 430 sugar mills throughout Brazil that produce sugar and ethanol from liquid coming from the crushed cane.
The liquid that’s collected is split into separate categories that determine their usage. The first and second roll is very important since these liquids are higher in sugar content.
The third roll and press is liquid that is processed into ethanol. These rollers use specialized drums that collect filter cake that is scraped off and is used for fertilizer in the field.
The untreated liquid then needs to be further refined and filtered. But first, it needs to grow the sugar crystals.
This liquid is placed in specially sealed vats that are under vacuum and heat. This is done to turn excess water into steam and help grow sugar crystals up to 4 hours.
The contents are then analyzed for crystal percentage and then the crystals are separated from the left-over liquid. These crystals are the raw sugar that is then dried and packaged.
Further Sugar Crystal Bleaching
Not every batch of sugar goes into another part of the factory where the sugar is packaged. Most of the sugar is sent to be bleached using different processes.
This includes turning the raw sugar back into a liquid and Bone char or activated carbon is added.
Bone char helps give the raw sugar a whiter appearance while the activated carbon absorbs natural colors in the sugar.
The sugar is then recrystallized and appears as white crystals that are finished.
Adding Molasses For Color
One of the facts that many people get wrong is the rumor that molasses is added to white sugar. This is partially true but not for the reason that a factory is purposely trying to trick anyone.
The very first sugar that comes out of the factory is raw sugar crystals. Trying to change the color would be simply ineffective and would also leave the sugar with a sticky residue that never dries.
What is actually happening in the factory takes raw (un-whitened) sugar and mixes it with molasses.
This makes the sugar ideal for baking and the sugar can be easily packed.
Since it’s easier to use raw sugar rather than white sugar, adding molasses to white sugar would be pointless.
Is Organic Cane Sugar Vegan?
Organic sugar is usually a word that is very similar to raw sugar. This means it’s very likely Vegan since it’s not processed further to turn it white.
Organic sugar is sold under many names but the version you see in the stores is always raw sugar or organic raw sugar.
It’s the brownish-amber sugar that is very popular for coffee shops and specialty cooking suppliers.
Is Beet Sugar Vegan?
The answer to this will always be yes. Sugar beet goes through a similar process that sugar cane does. Sugar beets are another way that sucrose can be harvested.
When sugar beets are sent to the factory, they are washed and then sliced into very thin bits called cassettes. The cassettes are then sent to a 100-foot tower where the sucrose gets diffused out of them.
This is achieved by pouring a premeasured amount of hot water over the cassettes for a short period. After this, the cassettes are pressed and the remaining sucrose is collected.
This left-over pressing is then dried into pellets and is often sold as a very healthy animal feed.
Processing The Juice
The raw sugar beet sucrose is filled with many impurities that need to be removed. Filtering is one of the steps but not the only one used. Limestone and foundry coke is mixed and kiln-heated together to create Milk of Lime’.
This is added to the sugar beet juice making it react and allowing the juice to separate from impurities. Then this cleaner version of the raw sucrose is then sent to various evaporators to reduce the water content.
It also goes into vacuum pans that are heated to the mixture starts to get thick like molasses. When this mixture gets to the right thickness, it’s ready for crystal seeding. This acts as a catalyst for the molasses mixture.
It’s further boiled until it reaches the right amount of crystals. After that, the liquid is sent to another chamber where the crystals are spun-out using a centrifuge.
After that, the crystals that are extracted come out perfectly white. It’s then dried and packaged. Sugar beet sugar makes up at least 50% of the sugar that is found in American homes.
This also makes sugar beet sugar perfectly fine for vegan consumption.
Beet Sugar Vs Cane Sugar
The difference between these two is very forgiving if you consider that the beet sugar isn’t adding bone char. But sadly beet sugar doesn’t work well for baking since it makes very poor brown sugar.
Making molasses from sugar beets is not so easy and doesn’t produce a good product either. This is why many of the beet sugars have cane sugar molasses added instead.
Since this adds the right amount of sticky texture to the brown beet sugar to work.
It should also point out that brown sugar produced with sugar beet and cane molasses is also vegan-friendly. Some people can tell the difference between beet sugar and cane sugar. With beet sugar, there is often a mild flat taste after you eat the sugar.
Cane sugar has a long-lasting sweetness that stays on the tongue. Beet sugar can also smell a bit, well like beets, whereas can sugar smells sweet and lightly rooty.
Is White Sugar Vegan?
This might sound like a trick question but there are many kinds of white sugar.
There is a sugar that is made from coconut, sugar beet, wheat, and sugar cane.
Anything that extracts sucrose from a plant, fruit, or vegetable can produce white sugar. But not all of these can be considered Vegan.
One exception is for cane sugar that uses bone char added to whiten the natural color of the sucrose.All of the white sugar that is made from coconut, wheat, and beet sugar is all vegan.
If a sugar refinery can find alternatives to bone char, then processed cane sugar that’s whitened will be considered Vegan.
Is Brown Sugar Vegan?
This is very easy to answer if you are talking about beet sugar that’s made from cane sugar molasses. A factory will add molasses to white sugar for clarity issues.
Raw sugar doesn’t always have a constant shade of amber. It can be darker from each batch that’s made. This is why white sugar and molasses are mixed to create brown sugar.
Basically, this makes cane sugar non-Vegan because of the refining process.
Is Coconut Sugar Vegan?
Coconut sugar is 100% Vegan but surprisingly doesn’t use any of the coconut meat in making it. It comes from the sap that’s inside their flower buds.
These buds are boiled to extract the sucrose and then refined to produce a sucrose mixture. The final sugar is like raw sugar and tastes like brown sugar.
It’s never refined so the color is light-brown. It makes a good supplement for refined white sugar.
Is Powdered Sugar Vegan?
Powdered sugar is white granulated sugar that’s been pulverized into a fine powder. This is not Vegan since it comes from processed white cane sugar.
You can make your own organic cane sugar into powdered sugar by using an electric coffee grinder. Some food processors can pulverize raw sugar into a powder but the color will be light amber as a result.
It will be lighter on color and is still considered Vegan.
Is Granulated Sugar Vegan?
The exact meaning of granulated sugar is based on the level of crystallization that sugar goes through. Raw sugar is also granulated but is usually larger in granule size. It will look a bit like coarse sand.
Fine sugar used for confectionary is much smaller in granule size, and it looks just like table salt. If the sugar is made from cane, it gets processed so it turns white; but that doesn’t make it Vegan.
Other sugars like beet sugar or coconut sugar are naturally white and are 100% Vegan.
Q & A
· Is brown sugar the same as white sugar?
Yes, in many cases, they all put molasses into white sugars. This helps to control the color levels due to raw sugar color variation. All white sugars produced that don’t have bone char are Vegan-friendly.
· How to tell if raw cane sugar is Vegan?
Any cane sugar that hasn’t been refined using bone char and active charcoal is Vegan. This will leave the sugar looking as it would be in the raw form. This sugar is also called Turbinado or Demerara. Most people know it like sugar in the raw.
· Is sugar filtered through bone char?
Not all the Vegan- friendly websites get this right including PETA and other advocate groups. The sucrose is not actually filtered through anything, because it’s manually added to the sucrose. Often activated charcoal on the mixing paddles will absorb natural colorants in the liquid sucrose. This is often related to filtration but isn’t filtering anything. The bone char is added to whiten the sucrose before the crystallization has begun.
· Is raw cane sugar good to make brown sugar?
You can use raw cane sugar for making brown sugar. The only problem is that raw sugar does tend to be larger sized crystals. It must be ground down a little bit so it can blend better when you use it for baking. If you use raw sugar and molasses, your brown sugar will be a bit darker than usual.
· Can you buy brown sugar that’s made with raw sugar?
Many Vegan sugars can also sell a brown sugar version. You can make your own which will be much cheaper than the specialty shops will charge. Especially if they know they can put a Vegan sticker on it, the price will likely be triple. You can make your own using raw cane sugar, white beet sugar, or any kind of vegan sugar with molasses.
· Is organic sugar vegan?
Any kind of plant-based material that is turned into sugar through extracting the sucrose is Vegan. Only when you have cane sugar that goes through a secondary refinement does it need bone char as an additive. But before it gets treated this type of organic sugar is Vegan.
I hope this helps solve the question is sugar vegan?’ since many websites are telling the wrong information. Learning about the process is also rewarding because too many sites condemn bone char.
Had it not been for the fact it’s made from cow bone, cane sugar would be Vegan. This guide is the only guide that tells you how bone char is added. The actual filtration is from a charcoal filter that removes natural coloration.
If bone char wasn’t used for the whitening process, the sugar crystals would likely be very light amber.
If you suspect your cane sugar has been refined, switch to the raw cane sugar instead which is 100% vegan friendly.