Oh, Sugar! Is it suitable?

Do you like one or two spoons in your daily brew? Whether you like your tea or coffee sweet or bitter, chances are, a bag of sugar sits in your cupboard awaiting use. White or brown, granulated or caster, sugar has transformed our food and palette. ‘King Sugar’, as it became known, was a driving force in the expansion of Empire, and not just Britain’s. And it still reigns supreme. But not all varieties are vegetarian or vegan. Are you falling into the sticky trap and buying sugar which isn’t suitable?

What makes some sugar unsuitable for consumption by vegetarians and vegans is a bleaching process involving the use of bone char, charcoal made from animal, specifically cattle bones. PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) provides some of the most concise and accurate info on this topic. According to them, countries like Argentina, Afghanistan, India (shocking) and Pakistan sell the bones onto traders in Scotland, Brazil and Egypt who then sell them back to the sugar industry. Bone char is often referred to as a ‘natural carbon’ which is used by the industry as a decolourising filter, giving sugar cane that very crisp and white colour associated with white sugar. It’s not vegetarian or vegan at all in other words.

For us at Veg Rev this is particularly frustrating because it’s so unnecessary. There are a plethora of other suitable alternatives which produce exactly the same effect through the use of sulphur dioxide and a granular or ion-exchange system. In fact, a large proportion of sugar is whitened, or bleached, by this process. Which begs the question: why not all?

You might think by opting for brown sugar that you’re safe. Sadly, you’d be wrong. Companies who use bone char in the filtering of white sugar will use the same process on what will become brown sugar. The main difference between brown granulated sugar and white sugar is the colour. Molasses has been added to brown sugar to give it a different colour. Sugar that is specified as Demerara usually involves no tampering with animal products, with larger sugar crystals and a naturally darker colour due to the presence of molasses. That seems to be the safest bet, but not in all cases.

So what’s the solution? Contact the sugar companies and get more information. Veg Rev has identified some large UK sugar brands and done some digging to find the veggie goods (or lack thereof).

Tate and Lyle

All of Tate and Lyle’s sugar products are suitable for vegetarians and vegans (bar one) and are Kosher. The one exception is their Tate & Lyle Traditional Royal Icing Sugar, which contains egg white. This is good news as it’s very reasonably priced and popular. You can pick up a 1kg bat at Tesco’s for 98p.

Silverspoon Sugar

Although Silverspoon provide a large array of other confectionary products their sugar is probably best known. According to their website, all sugar and sweetner products are suitable for vegetarians but, once again, their Royal Icing sugar contains dried egg white and therefore would not be suitable for lacto-veggies or vegans. However, it doesn’t specify that all of their sugar and sweetener products are suitable for vegans, they only specify vegetarians there. That’s something to question further.


Billingtons is much the same story: all of their sugars are suitable for vegetarians and vegans as you can see here. However, their Golden Icing is produced in a factory which uses egg so should be avoided by Vegans.

So the brands we looked at have stacked up really well here in being veggie and (mostly) vegan friendly. Tate and Lyle and Silverspoon Sugar, in particular, hold a large portion of the sugar market in the UK. Just look at the supermarket shelves! Which is why Veg Rev is happy that they passed our scrutiny.

What about the supermarkets?

They need a bit more investigation. When you search online on their websites you’re able to see their own sugar products but they don’t seem to specify whether or not their sugar is suitable for vegetarians or vegans.

What about everywhere else?

What about vegetarian sweet treats? Where do the big brands like Cadbury and Nestle source their sugar from? And the coffee shops crammed onto every street corner? I know for sure that I don’t want to be eating sugar which has been dyed by dead animal bones! It’s just creepy. It totally ruins the idea of a little treat and indulgence, which is why Veg Rev will continue the sugar investigation further.

Why is it a big deal?

Well, if you’re veggie and vegan it’s pretty self-explanatory. But, as I mentioned above, Veg Rev is thinking of the bigger picture here. For instance, in America (2008), on average each person consumed a total of 136.2 pounds (or 61.9 kgs) of sugar and sweeteners. We want to know how much of the sugar out there is suitable for vegetarians in the UK considering how much of it we all consume! So, watch this space!

Veg Rev