Is Sugar Vegan?

Sugar is in almost every food that you can find in a store, and even savory products often contain a certain amount of sugar.

Is Sugar Vegan?

But if you are eating a plant based diet, can you eat sugar? Yes, sugar is usually vegan with a few exceptions.

In this article, we look at what makes sugar vegan or not, and how you can find out whether your sugar is definitely vegan.

Different Types Of Sugar

There is a large variety of sugar, and when we talk about vegan sugar, then we mostly speak of refined sugar rather than table sugar.

Refined sugar is usually used in baking, and it is available in powdered form as well as white and brown sugar.

Generally, refined sugar comes from two sources: sugar beets and sugarcane.

Beet Sugar

Thanks to the way it is processed, you will find that bet sugar is always vegan because it doesn’t need the same amount of processing as sugar made from sugarcane.

Sugarcane Sugar

This is very different with sugar made from sugarcane. Processing can vary widely and refined cane sugar is not always vegan.

What Makes Sugar Not Vegan?

The best way to understand why refined sugar is not always vegan is by looking at the way it is processed. Let’s look at the way caned sugar is made.

First, the sugar cane stalks need to be crushed. This helps to separate the pulp from the juice.

The juice is then processed and put through a filter. It is also bleached with the help of bone char. 

Bone char creates this vibrant white color that we associate with white sugar.

Considered a natural carbon, bone char is commonly used throughout the sugar industry. It helps to decolorize the sugar making it brilliantly white.

The problem with bone char is that it is made from the bones of cattle. It is typically produced in the Middle East and Asia, and then sold across the world.

While coconut sugar and beet sugar are never processed with bone charcoal, sugar made from sugarcane often requires bone char to be used.

It’s worthwhile pointing out here that sugar does not actually contain bone char but the bone char is used during the production process of sugar.

This means that most vegans would not eat refined sugar where bone char is used to make the sugar.

Luckily, not all sugars are made in this way and there are some great vegan sugars that are better for the environment.

How To Tell If Your Sugar Is Vegan

Now that you know that refined sugar isn’t always processed in a vegan-friendly way, how do you find out if your sugar is vegan?

If your favorite sugar is made from beets, then you don’t have to worry. All beet sugars are vegan, and they have almost exactly the same texture and taste as cane sugar.

However, if your sugar is not made with sugar beets or coconut, then you will have to look more closely at the packaging.

Many vegan sugar brands are proud of their plant-based production, so they will state that it is vegan.

Saying this, many brands are not certified vegan which means they are not allowed to advertise this on their packaging.

Some important words to look out for when looking for a vegan sugar are:

  • Unrefined
  • Organic
  • Raw
  • Natural

If any of these words are used on the label, then the sugar has been been filtered with bone char and it is definitely vegan.

The filtering process for these sugars is much more organic and works in a slightly different way to the normal bone char method.

Vegan cane sugar juice is boiled and then spun in a giant centrifuge. Then, it is dried into small sugar crystals.

While this organic practice means that your sugar doesn’t look as white, it is fully vegan.

Is Brown Sugar Vegan?

Brown sugar is typically not vegan because sugar manufacturers just add molasses to white sugar which has been filtered with bone char.

This applies to brown refined sugar, as well as confectioner’s sugar and fructose.

Vegan Sugar Alternatives

Vegan Sugar Alternatives

As not all sugars are vegan, it can be easier to avoid any of the confusing labels by just using a sugar substitute.

Here are some of the best sugar and sweetener alternatives.

Date Sugar

Dates are not just delicious but date sugar also makes for a great sugar replacement. You can substitute date sugar with a 1:1 ratio.


But you can also use dates themselves as a sweet alternative. Simply make a date paste by turning the dates into a purée.

This will create a thick paste, and one cup of date paste is enough to replace a full cup of sugar.

Maple Syrup

Syrup is also super sweet, so you can use it to replace your brown or white sugar. Just use ¾ of a cup of maple syrup to replace one cup of sugar.

Coconut Sugar

Coconut has become a firm favorite with many vegans already, thanks to the availability of coconut milk.

You can easily replace your sugar with coconut sugar with a 1:1 ratio.


Stevia isn’t new on the sweetener market but it has been undervalued so far. 

The best thing about stevia is that it is super sweet, so you only need half a teaspoon of stevia to replace one cup of sugar.

Agave Nectar

You only need ⅔ cup of natural agave nectar to replace one cup of white or brown sugar.

Monk Fruit

Sweet monk fruit is often found in baking, so you can use just one teaspoon of monk fruit sweetener to replace one cup of sugar.

Final Thoughts

Only beet sugar is always vegan but cane sugar may not be suitable for a vegan diet. 

It’s best to avoid any refined sugars that don’t use the words organic, raw or natural on their label.

You can also choose a vegan sugar alternative which is guaranteed to be plant-based.

Clara Howie
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