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.


  1. Thank you for such an in-depth and helpful article! I am not a vegan, but many people have asked me to baked vegan scones (I have a very small business baking sweet and savory scones, Fairytale Baked Goods). The information you gave and responses from Domino really helped me better understand! Thanks again! ~Jen

  2. Interesting and informative. Thank you

  3. Thanks! This helps a lot and I am happy to know this before I go ahead and make some icing. I am happy to know the domino's from east coast no longer use bone char. I just bought a box and wanted to make sure, I have heard they didn't use this process anymore but I still wanted to make sure. I am surprised however they still are using this process in other areas, as I mentioned I had heard they stopped completely, but it wasn't clear. I am grateful too this is from this is from this year and is updated info. So thank you! Now I can make my overly sweet death icing cream (jaja) with confidence and knowing there is no bones in my veganized devil cakes jeje ;).

  4. This reminds me a little bit of the Doubt Theory....

    HOWEVER- I DO commend Domino Sugars as well, on the whole, for their willingness, openness, and hopefully, full honesty.... and it IS quite comforting to know that not ALL companies are convinced that Animal Cruelty is the only way to help boost sales.

    Mucho Appreciato Naomi!!

    Now, Can you help me confront ECO bars on their "Sustainable Chocolate" bars??? lol

  5. Thank you for this detailed information. Great that Domino is so forthcoming in describing their processing protocols.

  6. Thank you for this - your posting cleared up a lot of questions. I am making a vegan cake and was wondering about using Domino's powdered sugar. This gave me the answer I needed.

  7. This is such great information, they really took the effort to provide you with honest, accurate and thorough answers I wish all companies would do the same. I always refused to buy their sugar having heard about the bone charring technique, I still would refrain as clearly they have not fully implemented it across all their facilities... But it's great to hear they are developing new ways to get away from the use of bone chart.

  8. This helps me out a lot because I can't always afford palm sugar at seven dollars or whatever it is. From now on I'm just going to look for the lot codes. Since I'm in Connecticut, I'm hoping that whatever is on the shelf locally automatically comes out of the Yonkers facility.

  9. Well done, and thank you! What a great answer to my internet query, "is Domino sugar processed using bone char"

  10. This totally answered my question and I agree that Domino was very helpful and forthcoming. I am not vegan but 90% of what I eat is and my children are vegan with different degrees of "religious fanaticism" about it. I question the issue with by products like bone char to begin with but I understand their use does support the meat industry. The thing is that the animals will be slaughtered for meat and the companies will be profitable whether they sell the bones or not.

  11. can you send me the lot code explanation please and thank you

    1. It's a PDF file they sent me. If you want to email me your email address (assuming you don't want to publicly post it here) I can email it to you.

  12. Very helpful post! I'd love to have the PDF explaining their lot code if you wouldn't mind emailing it. Thanks so much.

  13. Thank you so very much for the info! I have been avoiding Domino Sugar for over 7 years because of the bone char issue. Most of the sugar in my hometown, Baltimore, is processed at either the Baltimore facility or the one in Yonkers. I am a vegan living under the poverty level, but I cook for myself and others, so it's good to have a cheap option. When gifting baked goods I'll still go with a more natural choice even if it's just Moreno sugar. But, for more frequent use I think I'll pay a tenth to a half the price of more expensive sugars. I'll still continue to use dates in place of sugar when I want a slightly healthier version of my baked good.

    I've also felt a little guilty about store and restaurant bought baked goods purchases, knowing that most likely cheap sugar is used for the leavening process of breads and for the sweetening of confections. Now it looks like most sugar processed is vegan.

    Just a note: I'll still avoid palm sugar unless it sustainably sourced due to the habitat destruction in south east Asia.

    The next thing to look into is the fair trade policies by companies like Domino. Slave labor is not a fairy tale or a note out of a history book it is real and continues to occur globally. President Obama worked on an initiative to end the importation of products that from companies that source slave labor. Unfortunately, one of the first things Trump did when entering office was to squash that initiative.

  14. Where is the lot # on the bag of sugar? The only post-production stamped numbers on my bag begin with #3, not listed.


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