Bone Char & Refined White Sugar

Posted by Douglas on

In our examination of refined sugar for hummingbird nectar we found the below information which may be interesting to some.

We have sourced all our ingredients from non-bone char sugar manufacturers.

Are Animal Ingredients included in white sugar?


Bone char, which is used to process sugar, is made from the bones of cattle from Afghanistan, Argentina, India, and Pakistan. The bones are sold to traders in Scotland, Egypt, and Brazil who then sell them back to the U.S. sugar industry. The European Union and the USDA heavily regulate the use of bone char. Only countries that are deemed BSE-free can sell the bones of their cattle for this process. Bone char—often referred to as natural carbon—is widely used by the sugar industry as a decolorizing filter, which allows the sugar cane to achieve its desirable white color. Other types of filters involve granular carbon or an ion-exchange system rather than bone char.

Bone char is also used in other types of sugar. Brown sugar is created by adding molasses to refined sugar, so companies that use bone char in the production of their regular sugar also use it in the production of their brown sugar. Confectioner's sugar—refined sugar mixed with cornstarch—made by these companies also involves the use of bone char. Fructose may, but does not typically, involve a bone-char filter. Supermarket brands of sugar (e.g., Giant, Townhouse, etc.) obtain their sugar from several different refineries, making it impossible to know whether it has been filtered with bone char. 

If you want to avoid all refined sugars, we recommend alternatives such as Sucanat and turbinado sugar, which are not filtered with bone char. Additionally, beet sugar—though normally refined—never involves the use of bone char and Edward & Sons Trading Company has developed a vegan confectioner's sugar which should be available in health food stores soon. 
It would be virtually impossible for PETA to maintain information on the refining process used for the sugar in every product. We encourage you to contact companies directly to ask about the source of their sugar.

Sugar bleached white by cow bones? You betcha!

by Shelly Wilkinson

February 25th, 2010

“C & H…pure cane sugar…from Hawaii…growin’ in the sun.” I still remember this commercial jingle from my youth. You may too. How natural, how beautiful. But just how does that sugar go from its natural brown to that bleached white color we’re all so familiar with?

Sadly, the answer is cow bones. Thousands and thousands of them. About 7,800 cows’ bones the Vegetarian Resource Group estimates per each commercial sugar filter. Each sugar refinery may have several sugar filters, and this “bone char” needs to be replaced about every five years. Called “natural charcoal” by the sugar industry, cow bones are incinerated at 700 degrees Celsius for twelve hours or more, producing a granular substance. When used as a crude filter for raw sugar, it bleaches it white.

There are alternatives to bone char for sugar filtering, such as reverse osmosis and ion exchange. Yet they aren’t cost effective at the moment.

Not all sugar is processed with bone char. C & H makes two types that aren’t: “Pure Cane Washed Raw Sugar,” and “Pure Cane Certified Organic Sugar.”

Beware the commercial brown sugar. This just has molasses added to the bleached white sugar. Other bone char filtered sugars include confectioner’s or powdered sugar (refined white sugar with cornstarch), invert sugar, and even some fructose. 

Your safest bet if you want to spare the cow and eat cruelty-free sweets: organic sugar of any type. It is never filtered with bone char. Other possibilities, though they will likely contain harmful pesticides and other chemicals are turbinado sugar, 100% beet sugar, molasses, raw sugar, evaporated cane juice, granulated maple sugar, and Sucanat. Non-sugar sweeteners such as honey, agave nectar, brown rice syrup and stevia can also be used.

Is Your Sugar Vegan?

By Jeanne Yacoubou, MS

In 1997, The Vegetarian Resource Group published an article on sugar refining, focusing in particular on the char derived from cow bones that is used as a filter to whiten cane sugar during the refining process. In this report, The VRG revisits the issue of bone char use in the sugar industry, examines emerging practices for refining sugar, and discusses alternatives to sugar refined with bone char.


Bone char, lat. carbo animalis, also known as bone black, ivory black, animal charcoal, or abaiser, is a granular material produced by charring animal bones. To prevent the spread of mad-cow disease, the skull and spine are never used.The bones are heated to high temperatures - in the range of 400 to 500 °C (752 to 932 °F) - in an oxygen-depleted atmosphere to control the quality of the product as related to its adsorption capacity for applications such as defluoridation of water and removal of heavy metals from aqueous solutions. The quality of the bone char can be easily determined by its color. Black charcoals are usually undercharred bones that still contain organic impurities which may impart undesired odor and color to treated waters. White bone chars are overcharred bones that present low fluoride removal capacity. Grey-brownish bone char are the best quality chars for absorption applications. The quality of the bone chars is usually controlled by the amount of oxygen present in the charring atmosphere. It consists mainly of calcium phosphate and a small amount of carbon. Bone chars usually have lower surface areas than activated carbons, but present high adsorptive capacities for copper, zinc, and cadmium

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