This is the first installment of Tangle Chocolate’s look at the sugar industry, an effort to educate ourselves and our customers about this ingredient that is critical to chocolate production and so much more.
Tangle Chocolate is made with just two ingredients, cacao and sugar. We’ve written a lot about the cacao that we use, so we thought we’d explore the other ingredient, sugar.
Sugar comes from either sugar cane or beets. Vegan foods are those that are made with no animal products. Sugar cane and beets are plants. So why isn’t sugar always vegan?
The secret culprit is a product called bone char. Bone char is made from cattle bones and is a de-coloring filter in sugar production. It's used because cane sugar in its natural state is actually light brown (like the so-called raw sugar available in supermarkets). So bone char is what makes white sugar white. Interestingly, bone char is also often used in the process of making brown sugar, because brown sugar is simply white sugar plus molasses.
However, bone char is not needed to process beet sugar. Why? Because beet sugar doesn’t have the same slight brown color that natural cane sugar has; it's naturally white. Therefore, beet sugar is always vegan.
Are there any downsides to using beet sugar? Beet sugar and cane sugar are, chemically speaking, identical––they are both pure, crystallized sucrose. However, a small number of people notice differences in aromas, caramelization, and baking performance. For those highly-sensitive people, beet sugar has a very slight earthy or barnyard odor compared to cane sugar, burns more quickly when caramelized, and is a teeny bit worse for baking.
If you don’t want to use beet sugar for those reasons, know that bone char is not technically needed to process cane sugar. If it’s not used, the sugar isn’t the pure white that many of us are used to. And some people detect a difference in the taste between natural cane sugar and that that has been processed with bone char, and prefer one to the other.
But if you don’t mind the slight color and taste of unprocessed cane sugar, you’ll be able to keep using cane sugar and maintain a vegan diet by doing careful shopping. Look for brands that brand themselves as vegan, or brands that use words like “unrefined,” “natural,” or “raw.” All of these words indicate that no bone char was used in the production process.
If you’re vegan, you might be relieved to know that Tangle chocolate is completely vegan. We do not use sugar that was processed using bone char. However, if this was your first time hearing about bone char and you’re worried that you’ve been consuming an animal product while you’ve been using sugar, it might make you feel better to know that the bone char is essentially a tool used in the production of some white sugars, and isn’t actually in the final product that you consume. Still, for a product to be truly vegan, it needs to use sugar that doesn’t include bone char in the production process.
Many chocolate makers as well as consumers do not know about bone char and may erroneously label their chocolate as vegan when it’s not. As always, if you have any questions about the chocolate you’re eating, call the maker. They should be happy to answer your questions.