Here’s a big shocker for non-vegans and new-vegans: not all sugar is vegan! It’s devastating but true, so now you need to reevaluate the sugar brands in your life and see if they’re vegan, one by one.

Today we’re going to tackle brown sugar and ask, is brown sugar vegan? If not, what’s the best alternative?

Here’s the short answer: Browns sugar contains bone char so it’s not vegan by default. There are some vegan sugar brands you can avail of, and there are vegan alternatives to sugar for use in recipes and drinks too.

Is Brown Sugar Vegan

Brown Sugar: Is It Vegan?

By default? No!

Technically speaking, no sugar is vegan by default. They all contain an ingredient that turns their natural beauty into something you want to avoid in the grocery store.

What Is Sugar?

Bet you never thought you’d have to ask that question. Sugar is a plant, almost everyone knows that. Sugar comes from sugar cane and sugar beets, but you can find sugar in almost every plant.

It’s a combination of fructose and glucose, both sugar elements, that form to make the sugar we know and love today. 

As plants are clearly vegan, what gives with this whole non-vegan sugar thing!?

Bone Char: The Culprit Behind Non-Vegan Sugars

Humans like things to be pretty. Centuries ago, we used to put chalk in bread to make it white, because that was desirable. Sugar is no different and char is still used in it today by most sugar manufacturers—not all, thankfully, but you can’t be sure who uses it and who doesn’t.

For centuries, humans have been shocking bone char into sugar to make it look whiter. Bone char comes from—you guessed it—the bones of cattle. They’re ground up and mixed in with the sugar, giving it that beautiful powdery look.

Your char has a long journey to make before it gets to sugar makers in the US. It often starts in Argentina or Pakistan, making its way to Egyptian, Brazilian or Scottish traders. Then, it’s sold off all over the world, including to the US.

Surprisingly enough, there are regulations related to bone char in the US. They state that the char can’t come from American cows, plus it comes from cows that weren’t slaughtered. This is relatively humane and some vegans may be okay with it, but we can’t prove that this happens, can we?

So Why Is It In Brown Sugar?

The char is to make the sugar white. What’s it doing in something that’s supposed to be brown? Well, brown sugar doesn’t start off with that hue.

All sugar starts as refined sugar, the thin, white stuff you know. This sugar could come from anywhere, any factory, so it could come with or without bone char in it. Once it’s designated sugar to be made brown, the manufacturers add molasses. They don’t filter anything out, they couldn’t if they wanted to—it’s all too thin and well-mixed.

So the brown sugar is tainted by the char used in white. You can never truly tell if it’s got char in it, but no devoted vegan is willing to take that chance. 

A jar of brown sugar on a wooden table

How to Avoid Bone Char Sugar

Sugar brands don’t list their manufacturers, most of the time. Therefore, you’ll never know if you’re getting sugar from somewhere with or without the char. There are a few things you can do to try and avoid it, though.

#1 Switch Sugars

Coconuts are wonderful and sweet, and many vegans know the glory of coconut milk in place of regular milk. Yum! So why not consider coconut sugar instead?

There’s no char in coconut sugar, and it’s full of potassium, antioxidants and vitamins. It’s also far better for your blood sugar than regular sugar, as there’s insulin in it.

Finally, coconut sugar is fantastic for celiacs or people who are gluten-free by choice. It contains no gluten whatsoever!

#2 Avoid Pure Cane Sugar

Most cane sugars contain bone char, so avoid ones that are 100 percent cane. If you’re looking for a 100 percent-something, go for beet sugar.

Manufacturers don’t refine beet sugar with char, so you’re always safe when going with a beet sugar of any color. 

#3 Go Organic

Organic sugars lack bone char most of the time, but you can take it a step further. Look for organic sugars stated to be gluten-free and non-GMO. You can bet you’re getting a safe product here—there’d be some legal trouble to get in otherwise.

#4 Make It Yourself

If you’re crafty and like baking, you could make the sugar for yourself. Now, you will need gluten-free and non-GMO sugar to start, so you can be sure the ingredients are vegan. It’s often easier to find this safe sugar in white than it is in brown.

How To Make Brown Sugar

All you need to make brown sugar is your chosen vegan white sugar and some molasses. Making it is easy—the ratio is one tablespoon of molasses per cup of sugar.

Blending it well is the hard part. As molasses is thick and gooey it can be difficult to stir, and there’ll always be a sugar crystal left without a coating. For best results, use your fingers to rub the molasses into the sugar, squeezing it as seen in the video below.

You need to keep the sugar, when made, in an airtight container as it can dry out easily and become unusable and unlikely to dissolve in your drinks or mix into your recipes. Once made, it can last an age—the same as store-bought sugar.

If this seems like too much effort to you then read on. There are some vegan sugar brands out there that are deliberately vegan, not just char-free by chance.

Best Vegan Brown Sugar Brands

If you want to be absolutely certain your brown sugar is entirely vegan, go for the brands that are certified vegan friendly. You’ll often struggle to find these in a regular grocery store so it doesn’t hurt to go hunting for them online instead.

Now Foods Turbinado Sugar

This brand’s sugar is processed without bone char, every time. Not only that, but it’s the healthiest form of sugar you’re likely to find besides coconut sugar. It lacks gluten and doesn’t contain much sodium, plus it’s non-GMO certified and organic.

If you’re lucky you’ll find the brand in stores, but it’s motley available online.

Sugar in the Raw

Another char-free brand, this sugar is said to be fantastic for baking. It’s neither refined nor bleached and mixes well with other ingredients.

It’s not exactly organic, nor does it have anything special like being low-sodium like the brand above, but it’s wonderful all the same.

Again, you can find this brand online and it comes in large quantities.

Zulka

This brand never sells in stores, but it has non-GMO, vegan sugars available online. You can find one of the brand’s brown sugars here

Alternatives to Sugars

If making brown sugar isn’t for you, you don’t like the brands above and you don’t want to switch to coconut sugar, that’s fine. Maybe a different type of sweetener will be more your style. We’re not talking about those powdery, sugar-alternatives here—we mean tastier substances.

You should note that these are best to use in beverages and recipes where sugar contributes to taste, not volume. If it’s granules or power you need then you’re out of luck.

#1 Molasses

Skin the sugar part and go right to what makes brown sugar unique: molasses. There are tons of fantastic recipes that readily use molasses, and a spoonful of it in a milk alternative makes a fantastically sweet vegan coffee creamer

#2 Maple Syrup

If something calls for sugar to taste, or perhaps one requiring honey, use maple syrup instead. It’s very runny but incredibly sweet.

This one is fantastic for beverages as well as adding some extra taste to oatmeal or pancakes. 

#3 Agave Nectar

This is another one that’s a replacement for honey as well as sugar. Thick and sticky, it’s an excellent add-on or topping to a bland treat. You can also use it in baking, beverages, smoothies and milkshakes to add an extra kick and extra taste.

Some salad dressings even use agave!

#4 Date Syrup

Don’t want to make your own brown sugar, but willing to make another sweetener? Then date syrup works well in recipes and drinks. 

You’ll need:

  • Medjool dates.
  • Lemon juice.
  • Water.

Depending on how thick you want it you can play with the consistency, and be sure to put far less lemon juice than water and dates. Blend them up, test the taste and consistency,, and add ingredients to alter it as needed.

Someone pouring brown sugar into a bowl

Brown Sugar: A Vegan Disappointment

So, unfortunately, that brown sugar you love so much isn’t vegan. You’ll have a hard time finding the baking ingredient you want, or that delicious add-on to your daily tea or coffee.

There are alternatives you can use, and vegan brands, so all hope is not lost. Keep an eye out and shop smart to ensure you get a vegan-safe product every time. While you’re at it, recommend the brands to your friends so you can be sure any baked goods you receive as a treat are entirely vegan, too.