Honey is by definition not vegan, since it a bee product, and bees are animals. Bees gather nectar from flowers, partially digest it, and then regurgitate it into open honeycombs once back in their hives. Worker bees then seal the beeswax honeycombs, and the honey serves as an imperishable food source that enables the hive to get through winter.
Here’s a nuanced article I wrote about how the ethical issues surrounding this sweetener fit into the broader concept of vegan living.
Reasons to Avoid Honey
Whether or not you’re vegan, there are a number of compelling reasons to choose alternative sweeteners.
- Most honey from large-scale producers comes from hives treated with antibiotics.
- Beekeepers often respond to disease outbreaks by burning their hives—killing all bees inside.
- A large-scale study published in Science found that 75 percent of honey samples taken worldwide were contaminated with insecticides.
- It’s a raw deal to the bees to steal their food and replace it with industrially-processed corn syrup, which is what most commercial beekeepers do.
- Hive design for commercially-kept bees, as well as common beekeeping practices to combat parasites, can subject the bees to unnatural levels of cold and substantial discomfort.
- You may not be eating what you think you’re eating; fraud and mislabeling are rampant in the industry. Honey is the world’s third-most adulterated food product, after milk and olive oil.
- The act of harvesting from commercial hives inevitably crushes or injures some of the bees.
- Much of the world’s honey comes from bees that pollinated monoculture crops, and is therefore prone to contamination by pesticides and herbicides.
With all these issues considered, even if you’re not vegan it makes sense to choose a vegan sweetener. A top-quality brand of organic unrefined sugar actually costs less than most brands of honey.
Vegan Honey Alternatives
In contrast to foods like yogurt, ice cream, and hot dogs—for which dozens of vegan brands exist—demand for vegan honey alternatives is apparently tiny. It’s a niche product made by only a few small companies. Seemingly every time you turn around one of these companies goes out of business and is replaced by a new entrant. As I update this page, here are two companies currently shipping product.
As with every other vegan niche, advanced R&D is happening within the honey segment. A company called MeliBio has released a “molecularly identical” vegan honey called Mellody. Availability currently appears spotty, but you can follow its progress on the product’s website.
Rather than buy a product that seeks to mimic the flavors of honey, you might prefer maple syrup, which delivers comparable sweetness while offering (to me, anyway) a more interesting flavor. And for many uses, plain old sugar will do the job perfectly at a tiny fraction of the cost. If you want your sweetener to have a distinctive flavor, I think the natural cane flavors present in Sucanat® or rapadura sugars are lovely.