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.