Health

Why honey isn’t vegan and the surprisingly cruel process some honey bees go through

Summary List PlacementHoney is a delicious condiment that can add some natural sweetness to your favorite foods and beverages. But for most vegans, including the Vegan Society, this bee-harvested sweetness is off-limits. Luckily, there are plenty of vegan-friendly alternatives to satisfy your sweet tooth. Is honey vegan?  "In the strictest definition of veganism, honey is not considered vegan because it comes from an animal," says Dena Champion, RDN, a dietitian at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center, who is vegan herself. In addition to being an animal product, commercial honey is also known to involve mistreatment of bees — a definite...

honey bee

Summary List Placement

Honey is a delicious condiment that can add some natural sweetness to your favorite foods and beverages. But for most vegans, including the Vegan Society, this bee-harvested sweetness is off-limits. Luckily, there are plenty of vegan-friendly alternatives to satisfy your sweet tooth.

Is honey vegan? 

“In the strictest definition of veganism, honey is not considered vegan because it comes from an animal,” says Dena Champion, RDN, a dietitian at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center, who is vegan herself.

In addition to being an animal product, commercial honey is also known to involve mistreatment of bees — a definite no-no for vegans who are concerned with animal rights. 

Champion says that some large-scale producers of honey use the following methods:

  • Clipping the queen bees’ wings
  • Removing the honey the bees normally eat to survive and replacing it with sugar water, which is less nutritious and, according to a 2014 study, weakens the bees’ immune systems making them more susceptible to pesticides.

Champion says that vegans who do decide to consume honey typically will get theirs from smaller-scale honey producers, who tend to treat their bees in a more ethical fashion.  

However, harm may still come to the bees at these smaller production facilities. It all varies based on the manufacturer, Champion says. 

Vegan honey alternatives

If you decide, as a vegan, that honey isn’t for you, no worries. There are uncontroversial options in the vegan community that are still delicious. 

Since the goal of using honey is typically to add sweetness, Champion says that any of the following substitutions can get that job done as well — just be sure to use these in moderation as they’re high in calories and sugar:

  • Maple syrup: Maple syrup comes from the sap of maple trees. As a bonus to tasting delicious, it also contains some vitamins, minerals, and amino acids
  • Agave nectar: Agave nectar, or agave syrup, comes from the agave plant. Some people opt for this because it is lower on the glycemic index than sugar and therefore, a good option for people trying to maintain stable blood sugar levels.
  • Cane sugar: You can always go back to basics and stick to regular sugar as a sweetener. 
  • Vegan honey alternatives: There are vegan imitation honey options out there, too. These are commonly made from dandelions or apples, Champion says.

Insider’s takeaway

According to most experts, honey is not vegan — but it comes down to your own personal choice. 

“Honey still comes from an animal, so it would still not be considered vegan although some make exceptions,” says Champion.

If you do decide to consume it, you may want to look into small businesses for more ethical honey. Or if you prefer to steer clear of honey altogether, there are great guilt-free and tasty alternatives.

Kickstart your week with this healthy vegan meal plan recommended by a registered dieticianHow to boost healthy, plant-based eating without sacrificing meat with the flexitarian dietHow to get protein as a vegan from fresh, whole foodsA beginner’s guide to the paleo diet, including how to do it and what to eat

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