A guide to vegan sweeteners

Is refined sugar vegan? It depends on your definition of “vegan.” While refined white sugar does not contain any animal products, some refineries do use animal bone char; a charcoal used to remove color, impurities and minerals from sugar. It really comes down to personal belief and preference when deciding whether to forgo refined sugar as a vegan.

There are a bevy of sweet vegan alternatives to white sugar. These products can easily be used to replace sugar in any recipe. Here is a great reference chart for proper usage of vegan sweeteners.

SweetenerAmount = 1 cup SugarUse
Agave nectar 1/2-2/3 cup         all-purpose
Maple syrup1/2-3/4 cup          baking, desserts, sauces
Maple sugar           1/2-1/3 cup          baking, candies
Brown rice syrup   1-1 1/3 cups       baking, cakes, sauces
Date sugar               2/3 cup               breads, baking, candies
Coconut sugar          1 cupall-purpose
Stevia                     See manufacturer’s label for quantity and usage, as they vary

Let’s have a look at how each alternative is produced. Give them each a try and see which works best for your culinary endeavors.

Agave nectar – Agave is a syrup-like sweetener made from the sap of a succulent plant. The sap is cooked down until all the excess water is removed, producing a light or dark syrup, depending on processing length.

Maple syrup -Made by tapping into the trunks of maples trees to exude sap, maple syrup is produced by heating the collected sap to evaporate excess water, leaving a concentrated syrup.

Maple sugar – Maple sugar is what remains after the sap of a maple tree is boiled to the point where no water remains, leaving the crystallized product. This sugar is about twice as sweet as table sugar.

Brown rice syrup – This sweetener is made when cooked brown rice is cultured with enzymes, breaking down the starch and leaving a sweet, thick liquid. Brown rice syrup is as sweet as table sugar and has a butterscotch taste to it.

Date sugar – Date sugar is simply created by finely grinding dried dates. It is minimally processed and the result is much sweeter than table sugar.

Coconut sugar – Coconut sugar is produced from flower buds of a coconut tree. The sap is collected and once again the water is boiled out of the sap to create a crystallized product.

Stevia – Stevia is a naturally sweet tasting herb that is crystallized and turned into powder or liquid for use. It can be up to 15 times sweeter than table sugar, so be sure to use Stevia according to product recommendations.