ANSWER: The simple answer is yes - sugar is vegan, as it doesn't contain any animal products.
If you've been vegan a long time, the brand of sugar maybe something you want to consider, since the possibility exists that the sugar was processed using animal product based filters. We've covered all the nitty gritty details of this topic below.
If you're new to veganism and are having trouble with eliminating all labeled animal products, then don't let all this information guilt you or stress you out.
Simply put, bone char may be used as a whitening filter for certain refined sugars. The reasoning behind this is because companies believed that having a pure, white, and clean sugar product was superior in the eyes of the consumer. This is what made them adopt a process of whitening in the first place and it just so happened that bone char was an effective and economical way to do this.
It is easy to identify non-vegan bagged sugars in a store environment, but products that contain sugar are going to be extremely difficult to trace unless stated. For this reason, we recommend that people buy 100% vegan sugar if buying it bagged, but don't stress about it otherwise. Tracing the sugar in a restaurant meal or packaged food can be near impossible and not really necessary.
For most, this adds an extra level of neurosis to being vegan, which isn't necessary.
The sure fire way to avoid sugar processed with bone char is by getting organic sugar. According to USDA regulations, organic sugar cannot be processed with bone char. Being that organic sugar tends to minimally processed as well, you can see the difference in color and structure when buying it.
Another way you can avoid the bone char filtered sugar is to look for beet sugar. It should be quite easy to see as it should be labeled as such.
All of these details are laid out really well in this post by the Vegetarian Resource Group.
By making the choice to go vegan and eliminating your consumption of animal products, you're having an important impact on the supply chain. Your decision to not buy products with milk, for example, will send a signal to the manufacturer that they should think about changing the way that they formulate their products.
Eating something with sugar that may have come from bone char isn't going to have a huge effect on the animal agriculture industry, and can be of more harm than good. Making a fuss over whether sugar was processed with bone char can make veganism seem more difficult than it actually is.
Eliminating products labeled with animals will have the biggest impact and sends the clearest signals to these companies.
When it comes to products that have sugar in them, e-mailing the manufacturer may get you an answer, but they also might not even know. Manufacturers of products with added sugar are likely purchase both beet sugar and cane sugar considering them to be a single ingredient. The food supply chain is big and complicated and even though being educated about it is important, it shouldn't bog down your daily life.
Given the complexity of all this, it shouldn't make veganism complex for newcomers. In contrast, veganism should be an easy thing that people can do to eliminate the most amount of animal suffering they can.
So here's our rules of thumb:
Check out our Step by Step Guide to going Vegan to learn more.
Oddly enough, some vegans popular on social media have promoted added sugar as some sort of health food. However, the truth is that added sugar is simply excess empty calories without any real nutrition in the form of vitamins, minerals, and phytochemicals. If health is your concern, but you have a sweet tooth, getting sugar from whole foods plant based sources is going to be ideal.
Also known as the "Hairy Vegan Animal", cooking healthy, delicious, plant-based meals has been Joey's true passion since he went vegan in 2015. He has a masters in Nutrition and Food Science and is committed to making the internet a place of education and knowledge rather than misinformation and clickbait. He currently lives in Delaware with his wife.