Why do some vegans have ethical issues with eating white sugar?
It might seem that sugar is one of the few gustatory vices allowed to strict vegans. It's an all-natural, vegetable-derived food, right? Well, only sometimes. First of all, there are two types of commonly available white sugar: cane sugar and beet sugar.
To whiten cane sugar, it must be filtered; the filters used in this process are commonly made of bovine bone char. Although none of the char actually becomes a part of the sugar, the two come into contact during processing, which may preclude strict vegans from consuming sugar. Not all cane sugar is processed in this way; however, it is often difficult to determine whether or not any given brand of sugar has been whitened with bone char.
Turbinado sugar, although it is a form of granulated cane sugar, is not processed with bone char. Rather, it is "washed" with steam, and is therefore vegan. Turbinado sugar is not decolourised, and therefore retains some of the look and taste of raw sugar.
Beet sugar, which is produced in the midwestern United States, is not filtered using animal products, as it needs much less whitening than does cane sugar. According to Action for Animals1, sugar made by the Amalgamated Sugar Company (White Satin and Fred Meyer's, among others) is entirely composed of beet sugar and is thus bone-char free. Beet sugar and cane sugar are nutritionally identical and taste exactly the same (they're both sucrose, after all).