Is Brown Sugar Vegan? [Easy Tips For How You Can Tell]

Sugar is a hot-button topic for many vegans because so much of the refined sugar here in the United States is made with bone char. Some vegans think you can’t eat it and still be called vegan while others do their best to avoid it but know that you can’t be 100% certain all the time.

Is brown sugar vegan? There are some brands of brown sugar that are vegan but not all brands are. Luckily, once you know what you’re looking for, it’s not too difficult to find vegan-friendly versions of brown sugar or substitutions.

Below, I’ll explain exactly how bone char is used in the sugar-making process, how to find vegan brown sugar, and other vegan sugars. I’ll even show you how to a make vegan-friendly brown sugar substitute at home.

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crystalized light brown sugar and brown sugar cubes.

What is bone char and is it vegan?

Bone char comes from the bones of cattle and is considered a natural carbon source. Because it comes from animals, bone char is not considered vegan.

The source for bone char comes from cattle bones in Afghanistan, Pakistan, India, and Argentina. The bones are heated at high temperatures to reduce them to carbon. This carbon char is then sold to traders in other countries who sell it to the United States.

The main use of bone char is in making sugar. It is used in the sugar industry as a decolorizing filter in order to give sugar crystals their white appearance.

Does brown sugar contain bone char?

Brown sugar does not contain any bone char particles but it did come in contact with them during the sugar-making process. It’s a little tricky because the actual sugar doesn’t contain animal products but the process to make it did.

Brown sugar is made by adding molasses back into refined sugar. The refined sugar can come from sugar refineries that use bone char in the process.

Unfortunately, tracking down the refinery that sugar comes from is virtually impossible so many vegan sweets may not be truly vegan.

What makes it even more confusing is that not all sugar refineries use bone char. Some opt to use granular carbon, which is vegan, for the filtering instead. The issue lies in being able to tell which one was used, which isn’t clear on most packaging.

Vegan Substitute For Brown Sugar

Most brands of sugar at the supermarket don’t say which sugar refineries it comes from. Thus, it’s nearly impossible to know whether your sugar was made using bone char.

If you’re able to find beet sugar, that is a vegan-friendly sugar option since it is never made using bone char. For brown sugar, your best substitute will be to make your own out of coconut palm sugar and molasses.

For light brown sugar, use less molasses and add more for a dark brown sugar taste. It honestly doesn’t taste like coconut either despite being made from coconut palm sugar.

Vegan Brown Sugar Brands

If you don’t want to make your own brown sugar, there are a few vegan-friendly brown sugar brands. As of 2020, bone char isn’t listed on the National List of Allowed Substances so therefore cannot be used in USDA Organic certified sugars.

This makes it easier to find brown sugar brands that don’t use bone char. If the sugar is labeled USDA Organic, then it is vegan-friendly.

Here are some of the most common brands of vegan brown sugar:

  • Trader Joe’s Organic Brown Sugar (link)
  • Wholesome Sweeteners Organic Light Brown Sugar (link)
  • Wholesome Sweeteners Organic Dark Brown Sugar (link)
  • Woodstock Organic Brown Sugar (link)
  • Zulka

Other Kinds Of Vegan Sugar

Organic brown sugar isn’t the only type of vegan-friendly sugar option. Below I’ll cover all of the types of vegan sugar you may come across.

Is Beet Sugar Vegan?

Yes, all beet sugar is vegan no matter whether it’s organic or not. During the sugar processing, the beet sugar turns white much easier so bone char isn’t needed.

Is Organic Sugar Vegan?

Yes, all USDA certified organic sugar is vegan. Bone char isn’t approved by the USDA for use in organic certified sugar products.

Instead of trying to look up brands of sugar, going with an organic certified version is the easiest and quickest choice for vegans.

Is Turbinado Vegan?

Yes, turbinado sugar is vegan. Turbinado sugar is made from sugar cane like refined sugar is, but it is not decolorized and filtered using animal bone char.

Turbinado sugar is also called “raw sugar” or unrefined sugar. It is not fully raw though since the sugar syrup is boiled and crystalized to remove soil and impurities. (source)

Its crystals tend to be more coarse and has a slightly off-white color since a portion of the molasses is left in the sugar grain.

Turbinado sugar gets its name from the turbines that are used to create it. The sugar is spun in a turbine or centrifuge to remove some of the molasses, hence the name “turbinado.”

Is Demerara Sugar Vegan?

Yes, demerara sugar is vegan. It is a large grain raw sugar that still retains some of its molasses. No bone char is used in its production.

Is Muscovado Sugar Vegan?

Yes, muscovado sugar is vegan and doesn’t use any bone char. Muscovado sugar is less processed than demerara and turbinado sugar.

It contains a lot more of the original molasses so it has a strong molasses taste. Muscovado is very moist and has a bold flavor making it good for bbq sauces and marinades.

Other Unrefined “Raw” Sugars

There are many other types of unrefined or raw sugars. Some of these include panela, jaggery, rapadura, piloncillo, and coconut palm sugar. All of these raw sugars are vegan because they don’t go through the refining process using bone char.


Is Brown Sugar Better Than White Sugar?

Brown and white sugar have virtually the same calories and nutrition. Brown sugar has slightly higher potassium, calcium, and iron due to the molasses but it isn’t enough to be significant.

The main difference between brown and white sugar will be the taste. White sugar will have a light sweet taste were brown sugar has a caramelized toffee taste.

When used in baking, brown sugar has more moisture so baked goods will be more dense and soft. White sugar produces airy baked goods.

Is brown sugar good for weight loss?

No, brown sugar is not good for weight loss. Brown sugar is no different than regular white sugar in regards to calories and how it’s digested.

Brown sugar is not healthy and will not assist you in losing weight in any way.

Is Brown Sugar The Same As Sugar In The Raw?

No, they are not the same despite looking similar. Sugar in the raw is produced when the final refining process with bone char is bypassed. It’s coarse turbinado sugar with an amber color.

Brown sugar is when refined sugar has molasses added back into it. It tends to be more wet and have a stronger flavor.

The Difference Between Brown Sugar And Turbinado

Both brown sugar and turbinado are brown due to the molasses contained in it. The biggest difference is in the processing and how the molasses got there.

With turbinado sugar, the molasses content is the original molasses straight from nature. It’s filtered out to varying degrees but no additional molasses is added back in. Overall, turbinado sugar contains less molasses than brown sugar products.

With brown sugar, all of the original molasses is filtered out creating white sugar. Then molasses is added back into the crystals in varying amounts. Dark brown sugar contains more molasses than light brown.

Turbinado sugar crystals are larger than brown sugars and contain less moisture which makes it less likely to clump. Brown sugar has a lot of moisture and can clump together into a hard block over time.

It’s important to note that neither sugar is considered healthy. They both contain empty calories and will spike your blood sugar.

So, Is Sugar Actually Vegan?

Many vegans debate on whether it matters whether bone char is used in making sugar since none of the char is in the final product.

It boils down to your personal ethics and beliefs as a vegan. Some vegans are super strict and won’t consume any sugar products where they can’t verify the source. This eliminates being able to eat most commercial baked goods and restaurants.

Other vegans will try their best to purchase verified vegan-friendly sugar at home and don’t worry about it when it involves other people’s baked goods and restaurants.

This is the belief I fall into. I try my best to eat vegan verified products. Due to the fact that so much of the sugar in the United States can’t be traced to their refineries, it makes living a stress-free life difficult.

I’d still rather support vegan-friendly businesses and risk the off-chance that the sugar was maybe processed using bone char. Which belief do you fall into?

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Stephanie Mantilla

Plant-Based Diet & Vegan Lifestyle Expert

Stephanie is the founder of Plant Prosperous, a plant-based vegan living, and parenting blog. She has been eating a plant-based diet for over 24 years along with a B.S. in Biology & Environmental Science. She also has over 14 years of experience working in the environmental and conservation sectors. Stephanie is currently raising her son on a plant-based diet and hopes to help others who are wanting to do the same. You can read more about her here.

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