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The Great Vegan Sugar Controversy

Most sugar comes from plants, like sugar cane or beet root. It should be vegan… but a lot of cane sugar is not, and that’s the rub. Some of it’s not even vegetarian.

White sugar:

Some bright lad along the way decided that a wonderful way to make sugar nice and white would be to run the sugar in its slurry form through a bone char filter.

Yes, that’s animal bones.

One way around the problem was explained in Robin Robertson’s 1,000 Vegan Recipes. Robertson wrote, “You can use beet sugar, which is more expensive than cane sugar, but does not use bone char for filtration.”

Great. This has been an ongoing and annoying issue, so I went to my local grocery store. I knew I had seen both “sugar” and “pure cane sugar” for sale. Obviously, the “pure cane sugar” would be out, but I went in search of this “more expensive” pure beet sugar.

Can’t find it. There are only two types of sugar for sale in the average grocery store. The ingredients list on the bags says either:

“Ingredients: Sugar.”

“Ingredients: Pure cane sugar.”

No beet sugar. Apparently selling beet sugar is somehow inferior and something to be hidden at all costs. (Where is Robertson buying her sugar?) Artificial sweeteners are not an option during the Rustic Vegan experiment, so I’ll have to stick with the “raw sugar” that I’ve been using.

Raw sugar:

But now I’ve also learned that my “raw sugar” isn’t completely raw. Robert Wolke wrote in his book, What Einstein Told His Cook: Kitchen Science Explained, that when the juice from sugar cane is first clarified (using lime, of all things) and then crystallized, the result is real raw sugar. “The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) declares it to be unfit for human consumption….. Raw sugar [is] turbinado sugar, which s a light brown sugar made by steam-washing, re-crystallizing, and centrifuging raw sugar for the second time.”

Really, guys. I just want to make some cookies.

Maple syrup:

So the other option is things like maple syrup, which is the cooked-down sap of the sugar maple tree. This is vegan, and it’s great… and that’s why many, many vegan cookbooks are literally awash in maple syrup as an ingredient. That’s okay if you can handle the maple taste in everything sweet that you bake.



What about honey? Let me sum it up in one sentence: Vegans don’t eat honey because it’s bee barf–yes, bee barf–regurgitated, and eaten, and regurgitated, up to 200 times. And if you look at unfiltered honey, you can see bits of bee. The filtering just gets rid of the visible bee parts.

No, really, guys. I have this spice cake recipe I want to make. Why does this have to be complicated? And gross? And somehow very, very disturbing?

Other syrups:

Another option is things like Tate & Lyle’s famous Golden Syrup. I can also get beet syrup from my local Ikea, of all places. There’s nothing that’s cropped up saying these aren’t vegan sugars. Not yet, anyway. Give it a few years.

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