“C & H…pure cane sugar…from Hawaii…growin’ in the sun.” I still remember this commercial jingle from my youth. You may too. How natural, how beautiful. But just how does that sugar go from its natural brown to that bleached white color we’re all so familiar with?

Sadly, the answer is cow bones. Thousands and thousands of them. About 7,800 cows’ bones the Vegetarian Resource Group estimates per each commercial sugar filter.[1] Each sugar refinery may have several sugar filters, and this “bone char” needs to be replaced about every five years. Called “natural charcoal” by the sugar industry, cow bones are incinerated at 700 degrees Celsius for twelve hours or more, producing a granular substance. When used as a crude filter for raw sugar, it bleaches it white.

There are alternatives to bone char for sugar filtering, such as reverse osmosis and ion exchange. Yet they aren’t cost effective at the moment.

Not all sugar is processed with bone char. C & H makes two types that aren’t: “Pure Cane Washed Raw Sugar,” and “Pure Cane Certified Organic Sugar.”

Beware the commercial brown sugar. This just has molasses added to the bleached white sugar. Other bone char filtered sugars include confectioner’s or powdered sugar (refined white sugar with cornstarch), invert sugar, and even some fructose.

Your safest bet if you want to spare the cow and eat cruelty-free sweets: organic sugar of any type. It is never filtered with bone char. Other possibilities, though they will likely contain harmful pesticides and other chemicals are turbinado sugar, 100% beet sugar, molasses, raw sugar, evaporated cane juice, granulated maple sugar, and Sucanat. Non-sugar sweeteners such as honey, agave nectar, brown rice syrup and stevia can also be used.

Bone char-free sugars that Down to Earth Hilo sells are “Hain Organic Brown Sugar” and “Hain Organic Sugar”, Wholesome Sweet “Organic Powdered Sugar”, Naturally Blonde “Sugar in the Raw”, and Repunzel “Organic Whole Cane Sugar”. So you have a variety to choose from.

Other resources on bone char: