Say No to Bone Char

By Published On: 16 November 2009Last Updated: 17 January 2017

Many sugars are not vegan- be aware and be informed.

What's in this post

I absolutely love to receive email from folks, just love it.  Recently, I received this email regarding sugar and bone char:

“Maybe you can settle something. My brother and I are vegan. We consider ourselves very strict. I like to know  where the sugar I eat comes from to make sure its not been processed using bone char. I see people promoting Ghirdelli chocolate as vegan. I called them they said they can’t get an answer to where their sugar comes from. I see peta and a lot of companies don’t seem to care about this issue. I make and sell vegan chocolates we are very strict about knowing where our ingredients come from. Are we wasting our time If most people dont care?. I guess maybe I don’t understand why they don’t care. Perhaps you could shed some light on this subject for me. And I do understand that each person must make their own choices.”

Well, basically bone char is carbonized cattle bone, used to filter cane sugar of “impurities” (these impurities contain the actual nutrients of the sugar) to make it white.  Which is gross.

So, unless you’re buying/using beet sugar, turbinado (raw) or Sucanat cane sugar, or limited refined cane such as Florida Crystals (which has a brown tint to it), then you’re likely consuming sugar produced by animal exploitation.  Confectioners and brown sugars are filtered with bone char then corn starch and molasses is added to each, respectively.  Beet sugar production does not require filtering so bone char is not used.  Turbinado and Sucanat are not refined to the extent of whitening where bone char would normally be used.

To be sure about whether or not a sugar is vegan, if your ingredient list does not specifically state “beet sugar” or “raw cane,” then don’t chance it.  The sugar used may be pure beet sugar, but there’s no way for you to know for sure.

Don’t forget the other great sweeteners that mother nature has given us- agave and maple, for example.  Brown rice syrup and molasses are also widely available.  There are other sweeteners on the market, but I, personally, tend to stay away from those which are not natural, non-nutritive or highly processed. If you need a vegan processed sugar for purposes such as baking, powdered sugar is easy to make at home if you can’t find it at your grocer made with beet sugar.  Sucanat can be used in place of brown sugar or try using raw sugar with a touch of molasses.  If you absolutely must use a white sugar, seek out that which is labeled as 100% pure beet sugar, or perhaps using Florida Crystals would do the trick.

So, how far do we take our veganism?  If we are vegan, should we care about the bone char/sugar issue?  If we believe that the moral baseline for veganism is the abolition of animal use, then yes, we should.

When we apply that moral baseline to our everyday lives, things become more clear.  If it is wrong to use animals, then we must remain consistent in that message and reject products that are made with animals.

So, to respond to the email, I don’t think you are wasting your time trying to find out more information about where sugar comes from.  I don’t know if “most” people don’t care, but I assume that some don’t.  If I had to guess why, it would be that it’s either expensive to purchase pure vegan sugar (it is where I live) or ignorance of the subject itself.  And both of those excuses reasons are easily debunked in the following manner:

  1. Vegan sugar might be expensive but remember that sugar, like salt, is yummy but can give us some health issues to contend with if we over-indulge.  First and foremost, use vegan sweeteners.  It would also be wise to use sweeteners with nutritive properties as well.  But sometimes our psyche needs cupcakes or cookies- with frosting…let’s just not harm non-humans in that process.
  2. It’s about educating ourselves about where all the hidden animal products are, then eliminating them, one by one from our diet.

Yes, each person has the ability to make their own choices about how far to take their veganism.  Measuring solely on the philosophy that it is wrong to use animals, it should be easy to reject animal products.  So, in my mind, a vegan would appreciate the time it took for you to research sugar.  Because then you can go on to make truly vegan chocolate for me to enjoy.  I’d choose a truly vegan company any day over a company that seemed vegan but couldn’t tell me if the sugar was.  I don’t think I’m alone in that thought.  We’re out here, searching for companies such as yours to support.  The sugary sweetness that we enjoy shouldn’t be tainted with the bitter loss of life.


  1. Gilberto Gutiérrez May 22, 2022 at 9:02 am - Reply

    Buen día. Con todo el respeto a la comunidad vegana mundial considero que están seriamente desinformados. Partamos del principio que la generación o cultivo de cualquier alimento vegetal sobre la tierra se origina en la descomposición natural de todos los seres vivos y no vivos sobre la tierra, es decir, los animales (llámese vaca, perro, tigre, elefante, cabra, gallina, etc.), la flora (llámese árbol, planta, cultivo, etc.), los microorganismos para la descomposición de los seres vivos y flora, todos ellos y la naturaleza misma son el soporte para el crecimiento de los vegetales o plantas de la alimentación vegana. Dicho de otra forma, la misma naturaleza no seria vegana pues se origina en la transformación de los seres vivos en otro tipo de ser vivo como una planta.
    Para determinar si el carbón animal puede considerase como un elemento que hace un alimento vegano o no, se debe verificar mas bien si este en su producción es ecológico. La alimentación vegana es 100% ecológica? El carbón animal se usa sólo para azúcares extrablancos (azúcar refinado) y este azúcar no necesariamente es obtenido usando carbón animal. El azúcar no es mala, el problema es la forma como la usas. El agave y arce son tan perjudiciales para la salud como el azúcar, la diferencia esta en como lo usas y puedes agregar si son o no obtenidos ecológicamente.
    Quiero aclarar, que un azúcar blanqueado no necesariamente se obtiene “filtrando” a través de carbón animal, este es un concepto totalmente erróneo debido a desinformación.

  2. dj March 11, 2018 at 4:06 pm - Reply

    1. what kind of beers that do not use bone char?
    2. when using bone char filters, is it bad for your health?

  3. Robbie March 9, 2018 at 3:13 pm - Reply

    Excellent response! Personally I avoid beet sugar and stick to coconut sugar (highly recommend!) or organic bone char-free cane sugar.

    First of all, bone char is disgusting. Why would I care what color the sugar is? It tastes the same anyway. But yes it’s also wrong, especially if we proclaim ourselves to be moral vegans who care about animals.

    • Gail Cannonrate November 4, 2019 at 3:12 pm - Reply

      Bone char is an allergen for those of us with alpha gal, a food allergy created by the bite of a lone star tick. It produces an allergy to all meat from all mammals except hominids. This can include by-products such as dairy, gelatin, bone char, magnesium stearate (which can be animal or vegetable), lanolin, etc., etc.

  4. Tammy May 27, 2014 at 10:03 am - Reply

    Thank you so much for taking the time to write about this. We absolutely do care about whether our sweetener is filtered over bone char or not. My wife is vegan and I am vegetarian but we support each other in our wishes to be the best humans we can to our animal friends. This article was very helpful. Thanks for doing the research and I have shared it on FB so my other friends will read it as well. Thanks. Keep up the great work!!!

  5. Suzanne March 9, 2012 at 4:23 pm - Reply

    I would avoid beet sugar unless it is organic. The greater percentage of beet sugar comes from GMO sugar beets. All sugar in Kellogg’s products comes from GMO sugar beets. This would include Morningstar products which was bought out by Kellogg’s.

  6. Kk December 9, 2009 at 12:21 pm - Reply

    I read that those sugars r considered vegan kosher for the fact that the sugar does not contain bone char it’s just used to take impurities out…I’m confused

  7. Shad Christopoulos December 3, 2009 at 4:43 pm - Reply

    You need to speak to someone else at Ghirardelli. Someone there knows or can find out where the sugar comes from, even if they have to go to their vendor. They know who they buy from and they can ask them. If they don’t know, they can ask THEIR vendor.

    They know who they pay bills to. Customer service may not know, but someone does. Go back and ask again and if you get the same answer ask to speak to a supervisor. Not in a mean way, but to get the info you need.

  8. Katara November 16, 2009 at 5:09 pm - Reply

    Hi, regarding the bone char/sugar issue, remember that it is different in different countries. I have heard that all UK sugar does not use bone char, and I have made enquiries to Sugar Australia (I’m in Aus) who state that bone char processing was phased out in Australia in the early 1990s. However, what you define as vegan is always a grey area. A common harvesting practise in Aus is ‘slash and burn’ which kills a lot of snakes and mice. If US sugar is too much of a mine field, and you use reasonable quantities of sugar, perhaps you would like to research sugar companies in other countries and consider importing your product?

  9. Charleen November 16, 2009 at 12:53 pm - Reply

    Please be aware that ALL Domino sugar is labeled as “pure cane.” The key to avoiding the bone char process with Domino is the “organic” label. A sugar processed with bone char cannot be labeled as “organic,” according to the USDA. The vast majority of Domino’s sugars are processed with the bone char- it’s simply cheaper for them to do so.

  10. Lindy Loo November 16, 2009 at 9:39 am - Reply

    Actually, Domino Pure Cane sugar is vegan and easy to track down. It’s usually in the organic sections of the grocery store. And it’s not as pricey as some of the other brands and works well for recipes calling for white sugar. Just FYI.

    This is what it looks like:

    Also, this article has a list of bone-char-free sugars as well:;col1

  11. uberVU November 16, 2009 at 3:24 am - Reply

    Social comments and analytics for this post…

    This post was mentioned on Twitter by YourDailyVegan: Say NO to bone char #vegan…

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HELLO! I'm KD Angle-Traegner.

Writer, activist, and founder of Four Urban Paws Sanctuary. I’m on a mission to help people live a vegan life. Read more about KD…