By Jeanne Yacoubou, MS
VRG Research Director
The VRG received an inquiry from a food company in January 2013 about vegan sugar defined as sugar that had not been processed through cow bone char. As we reported in a 2007 update, most United States cane sugar continues to be decolorized through cow bone char.
We spoke with two employees at C&H® Sugar in January 2013 who told us that most of their sugar not certified USDA Organic is processed through “natural charcoal” (i.e., cow bone char). Their Washed Raw Sugar has not been decolorized using bone char but it is only produced at its Hawaii plant and not available for widespread distribution especially in large quantities. However, the company is looking into purchasing cane sugar from other nations in order to expand production of the Washed Raw Sugar.
C&H® directed us to its sister companies: Florida Crystals® and Domino® Sugar. Florida Crystals sugar, both conventional and USDA Organic varieties, has not been processed through cow bone char. It is widely available in both large and small quantities.
Comparatively speaking, Florida Crystals® is more expensive than other sugar brands. For example, in January 2013 The VRG noticed several online stores selling their own store brand conventional sugar for approximately $3/4 lbs. while Florida Crystals® sugar sells for approximately $6/4 lbs. http://shop.floridacrystals.com/Natural-Sugar
Similarly, large quantities of sugar differ significantly in price. Conventional cane sugar at several online stores sells for approximately $23/50 lbs. while Florida Crystals® cane sugar sells for approximately $36/25 lbs. Florida Crystals® Demerara Sugar costs approximately $58/50 lbs.
The VRG spoke with Shannon, a customer service representative at Domino® Sugar. She explained that although most Domino® Sugar has been processed through cow bone char, it is possible to tell from the sugar bag label whether is came from one of two of its nine North American plants in which processing does not involve cow bone char. One of the plants is located in Yonkers, NY and the other is in Orlando, FL.
The first number/letter on the package code reveals the plant in which the sugar was processed. The number “1” identifies the Yonkers plant as the processing location. The letter “X” means that the sugar was processed at the Orlando plant.
The second number refers to the year in which the sugar was packaged (“2” for 2012). The third refers to the week in that year when the sugar was processed (“8” means the eighth week). The following number refers to the day of the week on which the sugar was processed (“2” refers to Tuesday). The following “A, B, or C” indicates the shift (morning, afternoon, or night) when the sugar underwent processing. The last number identifies the machine on which the sugar was processed.
Shannon could not specify whether sugar is only sold close to its plant of origin or whether it may travel long distances before being sold. Therefore, we cannot say that only stores close to Yonkers or Orlando carry Domino® Sugar that has not been processed through cow bone char.
In December 2012, The VRG reported that Australia has not used cow bone char to decolorize its sugar since 1990. Instead, Australians use non-animal activated carbon filters. The major Australian sugar company told us that they do not distribute to North or South America. http://www.vrg.org/blog/2012/12/19/non-animal-coal-filters-used-to-process-cane-sugar-in-australia/
The contents of this article, our website, and our other publications, including The Vegetarian Journal, are not intended to provide personal medical advice. Medical advice should be obtained from a qualified health professional. We often depend on product and ingredient information from company employees or company statements. Information does change and mistakes are always possible. Please use your own best judgment about whether a product is suitable for you. Further research or confirmation may be warranted.
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