Thursday, January 19, 2017

Is Domino Sugar Vegan?

Before I start, I want to thank Domino Sugar for being so forthcoming and detailed in all of their responses.  I really appreciate the thoroughness of their answers and willingness to quickly respond and address every single question I have asked them.  (For the record, I emailed them.  No one asked me to write anything.  I sought out the information on my own, and of my own accord decided to share my compiled information with you.)

The Mostly-Short Answer:

Domino Sugar processed at their Baltimore, MD, Yonkers, NY or South Bay, FL refineries are vegan.  

They use a process called ion exchange resin, which, according to my father, a retired chemist, which a PhD in Organic Chemistry who's been published in journals and patented things I can't begin to understand (just to say, he's very smart and knows what he's talking about), this process has nothing to do with animals or animal by-products, and is completely vegan.  Also, their Demerara Washed Raw Sugar and their pure cane, certified Organic Sugar are also vegan, as they are crystallized from pressed/filtered cane juice and not filtered via bone char.

The Very Long Answer

My Summarized Question:  

I emailed to find out if they do use bone char, or any other non-vegan to process their sugar, and what products to they offer that are vegan-friendly.

Their Response:

Thank you for your interest in the processing of our products and for taking the time to contact Domino Sugar.  This email is in response to your inquiry regarding our current use of animal-derived natural charcoal (aka “bone char”) in our cane sugar refining process, natural charcoal has been used for over 175 years to manufacture sugar and over the past 10 years to filter and demineralize water. At American Sugar Refining, Inc. we utilize natural charcoal to remove the color and impurities from the sugar liquor at our Chalmette (LA) and Crockett (CA) refineries. Natural charcoal is not used for decolorization at our  Baltimore (MD) and Yonkers (NY) refineries. 

The charcoal does not transfer impurities or anything else to the sugar solution.  Hence, we consider natural charcoal to be a completely safe processing aide.  In addition, this natural charcoal product is not soluble in either water or liquid sugar.  Subsequent processing operations after decolorization include evaporation and further purification by crystallization and drying.  The extremely high-quality, pure refined sugar products manufactured from our process do not contain any actual impurity from the natural charcoal. 

We also market a pure cane Demerara Washed Raw Sugar and a pure cane, certified Organic Sugar which are crystallized from pressed/filtered cane juice and not filtered via natural charcoal. These delicious sugar products are favored for their granular texture and rich subtle molasses flavor.

My Summarized Question:  

If the Baltimore, MD and Yonkers, NY refineries do not use bone char (aka natural charcoal), what process do they use, and is it vegan-friendly?  Also, how would you know what plant the sugar was processed at?

Their Response: 

Your inquiry below was forwarded to my attention.  To answer your questions more specifically, bone char is utilized at our Chalmette, LA and Crockett, CA facilities only.  Our other refineries (South Bay, Yonkers and Baltimore) use ion exchange resin in place of bone char.  Please see the attached statements with regard to same. 
In order to determine where your products are being produced, you may refer to the lot code on the packaging.  Attached is our North American Lot Code explanation which will assist you in determining where the product came from.  

As a quick reference, if the lot code begins with the following numbers, it came from the following corresponding location:

1 = Yonkers, NY;
4 = Baltimore, MD;
5 = Chalmette, LA;
6 = South Bay, FL;
7 = Crockett, CA

My Summarized Question:

My chemist father was surprised by the use of bone char, since at his lab, they only used coconut charcoal, which is both cheap and very effective.  He was also surprised that companies wouldn't simply use the spent sugar cane to make charcoal.  Is there a reason Domino Sugar uses bone char at some of your refineries as opposed to coconut or sugar cane charcoal? 

Their Response:  

Bone char, which is sourced from animal bones, had been the material of choice for decolorization in the sugar industry for well over a century.  The material was readily available, inexpensive and could be regenerated, by washing and kilning, at a refinery.  Bone char is an older technology that is being slowly replaced.  

As facilities have removed bone char and replaced this process with the newer ion exchange technology they have also added granular activated carbon (GAC) as a decolorizing process.  GAC can be made from a variety of materials including coconut, wood and other materials.  For our industrial application and industry specific needs, wood based GAC is superior to other sources.  As with bone char, the material is washed, regenerated at very high temperatures, and reused multiple times.  This is significantly different from a one-time laboratory application.

The sugar cane residual, known as bagasse, is a plant material and not suitable for the manufacture of charcoal.  The material is utilized as an alternate fuel for boilers and is utilized to generate steam and/or power.  This allows for a dramatic reduction in the carbon footprint of agricultural operations and the mills where the sugarcane is processed.   These operations can be verified as carbon free and represent an excellent example of a renewable energy source.     

I trust this should answer your questions.

In Conclusion

Let me say again how I really appreciate that Domino Sugar replied quickly and seemed to be very transparent in their practices.  I also appreciate that they weren't cut and paste responses.  

It's great they replaced the older technique of using bone char with the newer ion exchange technology as some of their refineries, and she seemed to imply they would be slowly making the switch at their other refineries.  It sounds like they are using, and trying to use even more sustainable resources, from reusable wood based GAC to using spent sugar cane as an alternative, carbon-free fuel. 

I know some people will say they still don't want to buy Domino Sugar even if the East Coast refineries are not using bone char because they don't want to support a company that maintains non-vegan practices.  I understand and appreciate that viewpoint, but I can't agree with it.  I don't shop at an all-vegan grocery store, many commercially available vegan products have non-vegan parent companies, and I'm still buying gas from companies that are happily destroying the planet.  It is what it is, and I am doing the best that I can.

I am also aware there are vegan companies putting out sugar, but I take issue with them in the same way that I take issue with Kosher products.  They are aware they have consumers without a lot of alternate options, so they are charging more, often exorbitantly more, for their versions, and that's crap.  I also hate companies promoting the idea that only rich people can be vegan.  There is no excuse for vegan sugar to be twice the price of regular sugar.  I have been a Domino Sugar customer for a long time, and as transparent as they were with their answers, I am happy to use sugar processed with the vegan-friendly ion exchange resin method.

I hope that clears things up, and makes sugar buying a little easier for all my fellow vegans.