Sugar: Startling Facts About How It's Made Featured

Authors: Registered Dietitians

sugar, how it's made

( Sugar: We all know we shouldn't eat too much, but is that all we need to worry about with sugar? Well, not really. It turns out there  are some big differences in the raw ingredients used in sugar, and the processes made to refine it, that may cause some people to want to change their brand - including people with certain allergies, people who avoid GMO foods, and even vegans. Here's what you should know.

Sugar Cane Vs. Sugar Beets

Regular white sugar is made from either sugar cane or sugar beets. Both are plants that naturally contain large amounts of sucrose, which is refined into the sugar we use for baking and sweetening coffee and tea. So why should you care whether your sugar is made from sugar cane or sugar beets? As of 2009, sugar beets are primarily a GMO crop in Canada. They are modified to be resistant to Monsanto's Roundup and are mostly grown in Southern Alberta.

A Startling Find: Not All Sugar is Vegan!

Last year, I baked some holiday cookies for my daughter's class. When I took them in, the teacher asked me if I had used Rogers sugar. I wasn't sure why she was asking, but it turns out that she is allergic to Rogers sugar. Why? Because it is processed with animal bone char, which triggers her allergy.

Bone char is a type of charcoal made from animal bones. It is used in the cane-refining process to help make sugar white. But it is not used in all factories in Canada. For example, Rogers Sugar's parent company Lantic does not use bone char in their Montreal cane-refining factory.  So, how do you know if your sugar was processed with bone char? That's a good question, because it won't say on the label.

How to Tell Which Rogers Sugar Is Refined from GM-Beets or Cane? With Bone Char?

If you buy organic sugar, you don't need to worry about whether it is made with GM-sugarbeets because organic products cannot come from GMO sources, and none of the organic varieties I've found use bone char, so they are safe for vegans. Rogers has an organic sugar product, but my favourite is the sugar from Wholesome Sweeteners. It's all organic, and it's available at most grocery stores in Vancouver. 

You can also look for other brands that specifically say they use only sugarcane, like Red Path. Red Path also uses natural chalk instead of bone char to refine their sugar, so it is suitable for vegans.

If you're buying regular Rogers sugar, you can look at the ink jet numbered code printed on the bag. If the number starts with 22, it comes from the Taber, Alberta plant, and it is made from GM sugar beets. If the number starts with 10, it was made at the Vancouver plant, and it is made from sugarcane.

Sugar: Startling Facts About How It's Made

The following statement was captured on the Rogers/Lantic website:

bone char statement from rogers website

So, if you buy Rogers sugar with a code starting with 10, you're getting sugarcane rather than GM sugar beets. However, the Vancouver plant uses bone char. So if you are vegan, or just don't like the idea of your sugar being processed with animal products, you should not buy that Rogers sugar made in Vancouver.

Tell Us: Which brand of sugar do you use?

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