Modern Commentary

Torah & Spirit
Family Life






The Problem of Sucrose

The two major types of refined sugar produced in the United States are beet sugar and cane sugar. Cane sugar is mainly grown in Florida, California, Louisiana, Hawaii and Texas. Beet sugar is grown in states located in the middle part of the U.S. Much sugar cane is actually imported.

According to beet sugar producers, beet and cane sugar are nutritionally equivalent and one cannot usually taste any difference between them. They are both composed of sucrose. The production and sale of each type of sugar are approximately equal.

Beet sugar refineries never use a bone char filter in processing, because this type of sugar does not require an extensive decolorising procedure. Beet sugar can be refined with a pressure lead filter and an ion exchange system. Beet sugar is popular in the Midwest because it is grown in this area. It is often labeled Granulated Sugar. Beet sugar is becoming more prevalent in the United States because the Federal government subsidizes this industry.

Almost all cane sugar refineries require the use of a specific filter to decolorise the sugar and absorb inorganic material from it. This whitening process occurs towards the end of the sugar refining procedure. The filter may be either bone char, granulated carbon, or an ion exchange system. The granular carbon has a wood or coal base, and the ion exchange does not require the use of any animal products (cf. Refined Sugar Inc.).

Bones from cows are the only type used to make bone char. According to the Sugar Association and several large sugar producers, all of the cows have died of "natural causes" and do not come from the U.S. meat industry. Bone char cannot be produced or bought in the United States.

Bone char is derived from the bones of cattle from Afghanistan, Argentina, India and Pakistan. The sun-bleached bones are bought by Scottish, Brazilian, and Egyptian marketers, who sell them to the U.S. sugar industry after the bones are first used by the gelatin industry.

Bone is heated to an extremely high temperature, which results in a physical change in the bones composition. The bone becomes pure carbon before it is used in a refinery.

Refined sugar does not contain any bone particles and is therefore Rabbinically kosher certified. The bone char simply removes impurities from the sugar, but does not become a part of the sugar.  However, this entails that the sugar, because it has come into contact with something that is metame', becomes tame', and by Torah law is prohibited.

Individual pieces of bone char, like granular carbon, can be used for several years. They must be continuously washed to remove the sugar deposits. Companies that use bone char claim that the char is more economically feasible and efficient than other types of filters.

Many cane refineries use bone char. Domino, the largest sugar manufacturer, uses bone char in the filtration process. The cane refineries of Savannah Foods, the second largest sugar manufacturer, also use bone char. California and Hawaiian Sugar employs bone char filters in addition to granular carbon and ion exchange filters. All these companies use the bone char in the refining process of brown sugar, powdered sugar (sugar mixed with corn starch) and white sugar.

Some cane refineries do not use bone char. Refined Sugar, producers of Jack Frost Sugar, claim to use a granular carbon instead of bone char for economic reasons. Florida Crystals sugar is a cane sugar which has not passed through the bone. Although Florida Crystals sugar has a straw color, the impurities still have been removed.

Some labels on sugar packages seem to indicate that the product is raw sugar, but all commercial sugar has undergone some refining. Genuine raw sugar cannot be bought and sold to the general consumer in the United States according to FDA regulations, as it is considered unfit for human consumption.

Turbinado sugar is a product which is made by separating raw cane sugar crystals in a centrifuge and washing them with steam. According to Domino Sugar, turbinado sugar does not pass through a bone char filter because its brown color is desirable.

Refining sugar involves a series of steps, including clarification and an initial step where sugar syrup is added. The clarifying agents are calcium hydroxide, phosphoric acid, and polyacrylomite. The sugar used in the initial syrup is an intermediate, raw sugar which has not yet gone through the bone char filter.

Refined beet sugar, which never involves bone char, is often labeled fine granular sugar. C & H produces one sugar which has not gone through the bone char. It is labeled Washed Raw Sugar. Cane sugar, which sometimes uses bone char, is distinguished as cane sugar on the package.

As hinted at above, sugar has many different names, when detailed on a food label.  These names refer to specific types of sugar.  The following types of sugar, which one may be find on a food label, do not go through the whitening process:

  • Raw Cane Sugar
  • Unprocessed Sugar
  • Evaporated Cane Juice
  • Sucanat
  • Molasses (any type, except Sorghum)

While these sugars are not whitened (and, hence, are not filtered through bone char), this does not mean they are tahor.  Animal fats are still commonly used as defoamers in the processing of these sugars.  Therefore, these sugars should still be considered tame’.

Molasses can be derived by separating the sugar without bone ash filtration (called 'molasses desugarization'), which is the vegan version, otherwise it may have animal products in the process.  Evaporated can juice does not use the same filtration or defoamer processes.  Beet sugar use gases, evaporation, and screens to purify and filter (http://www.sbreb.org/brochures/SugarCoop/), but is still questionable (http://www.sucrose.com/lbeet.html)   other info: http://food.orst.edu/sugar/beet.html   http://www.sugarsintl.com/examplemodels.htm


Tower Diffuser - A model of a countercurrent cossette mixer, diffuser, and pulp press with press water and juice heaters. The model is designed to allow for frozen beets and to be self adjusting for changes in the beet slice rate.

Cane Factory - A model of a complete cane raw sugar factory starting with milling and including all process steps through crystallization.

Beet Factory - A model of a complete beet sugar factory starting with diffusion and including all process steps through crystallization.

Ion Exchange - A model of an ion exchange process using stations in Sugars to account for the different cycles that occur during ion exchange.

Molasses Desugarization - A model of a molasses desugarization system using a chromatographic separator to separate sucrose from a molasses flow stream and to concentrate the non-sucrose fraction using multiple effect evaporation.

Anything that is truly vegan is also tahor.  However, there is no standard market definition of vegan, therefore the concerned consumer should beware of the vegan label.   Refined sugars do not contain any animal products, and so by an ingredients-based definition of vegan, refined sugar is vegan. However, as noted above, some refined sugar is processed with animal bone char. Thus, by a process-based definition of vegan, refined sugar may not be considered vegan. 

For more information, see the following: (http://www.vegan.org/campaigns.html)   

Sucanat is a "natural" sweetener made by evaporating sugar cane juice, then adding some molasses. It is processed only through evaporation, just like maple syrup, to produce a more concentrated sweetness. Sucanat WILL produce an insulin response, just like sugar, but it is released into the bloodstream a little more slowly. Because Sucanat has molasses added in, and most molasses (unless otherwise stated) is a byproduct of filtering out sugar through bone-char, Sucanat is not permissable.

Caramel color is not a flavor; it is a food coloring agent. Caramel color is used in almost any product that is brown. The top two consumers of the color are Coca Cola and Pepsi. It is also used in rye and pumpernickel bread, cereal, iced tea, syrup, dog food and pancake mixes.

Caramel color is based on a carbohydrate raw material. Most producers of caramel color prefer to use glucose syruvp as the initial carbohydrate. Glucose syrup is almost pure dextrose. While U.S. glucose syrup is usually corn syrup, it can also be derived from potatoes, wheat or other sources.

Caramel color has no animal-derived components. Although lactose (a milk sugar) is one of the permitted raw carbohydrate reactants, according to Sethness, the world's largest caramel color company, lactose is not used by any caramel color producer in the world. Almost all industries begin the process with glucose syrup. Caramel color is exempt from government certification, which means that it is an approved food ingredient that can be added to foods without obtaining government permission.

The initial carbohydrate reacts with chemicals such as food-grade acids, alkalies and salts. It is then heated to a high temperature, put under high pressure, and then processed to burn. The resulting product is a burnt-colored liquid which has a high level of coloring power. For example, according to a caramel color technician, ¼ teaspoon of caramel color would be used in a bottle of Pepsi.

Refined beet or cane sugar can be used to make caramel color, but it is not the preferred method. The only time sugar would be used is Passover, when Rabbanite laws do not permit the use of corn syrup. According to Sethness, products containing caramel color derived from refined sugar are labeled as such.  Therefore, foods containing caramel color are perfectly fine for consumption.

For more information on maple syrup, see our article:  here

For those not interested in delving into the complex world of tahor sugars, there are several tahor alternatives to sugar, such as:

  • Barley Malt
  • Stevia
  • Rice Syrup
  • Corn Syrup