Is Honey Vegan? Reasons And Alternatives 

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A person is holding a dipper wrapped in honey. Slices of honeycomb are placed near the honey jar.

Is honey vegan | Reasons to eat | Reasons to avoid | Honey production | Alternatives | bottom line

One of the most controversial debates raging among vegans is whether or not honey is vegan. Although some vegans may choose to avoid honey, others may not feel as strongly about it. 

This article will explore the reasons why some vegans choose to avoid honey, as well as alternative sweeteners that can be used in its place.

Is honey vegan?

No, honey is not vegan. According to the vegan society, [1]The Vegan Society: The honey industry honey is made by bees for bees. Basically, honey is their food.

However, there is a lot of controversy and misconception about honey in a vegan diet. While many vegans avoid honey, others don’t restrict honey in their vegan diet for various reasons. 

Reasons why some vegans eat honey

Some vegans argue that the consumption of honey is acceptable on a vegan diet. Here are the 2 most common reasons quoted to support the consumption of honey on a vegan diet.

1. Belief that veganism applies to animals, not insects

Some vegans believe that since bees are not animals, eating honey is not against their principles.

However, vegan philosophy is against exploiting all sentient beings, regardless of whether they are considered animals. So, this argument is not particularly strong.

2. Belief that honey bees overproduce honey

Another common argument is that bees overproduce honey, and only the excess is taken from them. This argument fails to consider that bees are explicitly bred for honey production and that their hives are routinely manipulated to ensure high yields.

Additionally, according to the Natural Beekeeping Trust, [2]Natural bee keeping trust: Honey bee colonies produce extra honey to warm their hive in winter. This means even though bees sometimes overproduce honey, it is to ensure their survival and not for human consumption. Therefore, this argument does not hold up either.

Reasons why some vegans avoid honey

Vegan society strongly recommends that honey should not be consumed for the following reasons:

1. Honey production exploits bees

Bees are killed in the honey production process. Although there are several methods for harvesting honey, commercial honey production uses crushing and straining methods.

This involves opening the beehive, removing the honeycomb frames, and crushing the bees.

This process is incredibly stressful and often results in the death of bees. Honey production is cruel and exploitative, and it’s not something most vegans support.

2. Harms bee health

Honey provides carbohydrates and other essential nutrients to bees.

When humans harvest honey, they take this food source away from the bees. Beekeepers often replace honey with sucrose syrup or high fructose corn syrup, but this is not a natural or healthy food for bees.

Additionally, during the production of honey, the wings of queen bees are clipped so they cannot fly away from bee colonies.

As a result, a queen bee suffers from a shortened life span and cannot mate with other bees, which harms the genetic diversity of the bee colony.

3. Not safe for eco-system

The primary purpose of bees is to pollinate plants. However, to produce honey, bees are often kept in monocultures, where they’re only exposed to one type of plant. This limits the variety of pollen they’re exposed to and could potentially harm the ecosystem.

Additionally, pesticides and other chemicals in commercial beekeeping operations can harm bees and the environment.

Thus, large-scale honey production is not sustainable or safe for the ecosystem.

Note: Most local honey beekeepers leave the honey intact during winter and harvest it in the spring when the bees no longer need it for consumption.This provides them with natural immunity and assists in the growth of biodiversity among wild bees and promotes the restoration of the bee population.

How is honey produced?

Bees produce honey from the nectar of flowers. The bees collect the nectar in their mouths and take it back to the hive, where they deposit it into honeycomb cells.

Enzymes in the bees’ saliva break down the complex sugars in the nectar into simpler ones, which the bees then fan with their wings to evaporate some of the water content. This process continues until the honey becomes thick and dense.

Once the honey is made, bees seal off the honeycomb cells with a wax cap. The hive is then left alone until the beekeeper removes the honey.

Beekeepers first remove honey from the hive and then strain it to remove any impurities. This is called raw honey. However, raw honey is then often processed and pasteurized and then sold.

Vegan alternatives for honey

There are plenty of vegan honey alternatives available on the market.

Here is the list of the best vegan alternatives:

1. Maple syrup

Maple syrup is made from the sap of maple trees. It has a sweet, rich flavor that pairs well with pancakes, waffles, and oatmeal.

According to a study [3]National Library of Medicine: Chemical Compositional, Biological, and Safety Studies of a Novel Maple Syrup Derived Extract for Nutraceutical Applications on the composition of maple syrup, it is nutraceutical in nature and contains phenolic compounds, which are known to have health-promoting properties.

2. Blackstrap molasses

Blackstrap molasses [4]ResearchGate: Enhancement of Iron Absorption in Black Strap Molasses Using Vitamin C -an Invitro Study is a black viscous liquid obtained as a byproduct from the third boiling of the sugar syrup of sun-ripened sugarcane. It contains minerals like iron and some water-soluble vitamins. This natural vegan sweetening agent is also devoid of oxalates.

3. Coconut nectar

Coconut nectar is a syrup made from the sap of coconuts. It has a caramel-like flavor and can be used as a 1:1 replacement for honey in recipes.

Additionally, coconut is known to have a lower glycemic index than other sugars, making it a good choice for those with diabetes or blood sugar issues.

4. Brown rice syrup

Brown rice syrup is made by breaking down brown rice starch into simple sugars. It has a milder flavor than other syrups, making it a good choice for recipes that need a subtle sweetness.

5. Barley malt syrup

Barley malt syrup is made from sprouted barley grains cooked down into thick syrup. It has a deep, malty flavor that works well in baking recipes like cookies and pies.

6. Date syrup

Date syrup is made by blending dates into a smooth paste. It has a rich, caramel-like flavor that goes well with desserts and baked goods.

7. Agave nectar

Agave syrup is made from the sap of the blue agave plant. It is sweeter than honey and has a lower glycemic index. However, some vegans avoid agave nectar because it is processed with enzymes that may be derived from animals.

The Bottom Line

Ultimately, the decision of whether or not to eat honey is a personal food choice. However, vegan society strongly believes that honey is extracted in unethical ways, and vegans should restrict honey in their diet. There are many vegan alternatives you can try that give you the same sweetness without harming any animals.

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