While honey is definitely yummy, it’s considered off-limits by vegan eaters. In this post, we’ll be discussing why so many vegans choose to avoid honey, as well as whether or not this natural sweetener can fit in your diet.
Let’s start at the very beginning and learn everything there is to know about honey.
Humans and Honey: Where’d It All Start?
Ancient societies considered honey a delicacy. Those poor ancient humans probably got stung a bit in their efforts to get that sweet, sweet honey, especially in the ages before beekeeping, but the flavors were worth it.
The earliest records of humans eating honey come from the ancient societies of Sumer and Babylon, all the way back in 2100 BC. Centuries-old cuneiform writing from these societies documents how humans found honey and prized it for its delicious flavor. Later, honey showed up in early writings from Egyptian and Indian societies. Apparently, humans have always had a collective sweet tooth.
Fun Fact: The word “honey” originates from hunig, an old English word. Hunig evolved as it was passed down through different European languages – first Dutch, then German, then English.
Honey and Bee Exploitation
Sure, honey has been around for a long time, but that doesn’t mean that it’s been good for the bees. Beekeeping is the practice of enclosing bees in a sealed space to harvest their honey. To many vegans, the practice of beekeeping – also known as bee farming – is just as unethical as raising larger animals for food.
Vegans who avoid honey stay away from this bee byproduct because of some of the practices employed by many beekeepers. These include:
- Clipping queen bees’ wings to keep them in a hive
- Exterminating sick bees
- Feeding bees “artificial feed” – Beekeepers give their colonies sugar syrups instead of allowing them to eat harvested honey. Artificial bee feed often includes high fructose corn syrup, which definitely isn’t good for the bees. This sweetener is often given to bees for one reason – it’s cheap.
- Preventing bees from getting the nutrients that they need by harvesting the honey that they’d otherwise eat
- The honey industry doesn’t necessarily have a positive impact on the environment.
Because many vegans see beekeeping as unethical, these eaters opt to use alternative sweeteners that come from plants, like sugar-free maple syrup.
Types of Honey
There are multiple types of honey, and each of the varieties is distinct in its color, flavor, texture, and aroma. Beekeepers around the world pride themselves in harvesting specific types of honey, which is then used as a topping for bread or biscuits, stirred into tea, or added to a plethora of other foods and drinks.
The unique characteristics of each type of honey vary based on which flowers a bee pollinates, which can affect the makeup of the honey the bee produces. The type of honey that you’re purchasing will be noted on the label.
The main honey varieties are:
- Clover: With a sweet, floral taste, this is the most commonly found type of honey in the United States
- Lavender: More floral than clover honey, lavender honey is known for its intense aroma and low bitterness.
- Acacia: This delicate honey takes a longer time to crystalize than most other varieties.
- Alfalfa: Alfalfa honey is a bit more bitter than the choices above, with notes of vanilla and mint.
- Chestnut: Far less sweet than the average honey, chestnut honey is known for its bitter, peppery flavor.
- Orange blossom: This type of honey has a mild taste with strong citrus notes, both on the palate and the nose.
- Sage: This honey may have a green tint, and it’s known for its light, floral taste.
Good quality honey won’t have any additives like corn syrup or molasses, and it should have a low water content—less than 18%. This will be noted on the label. You’ll also want to choose a honey that doesn’t have a lot of pollen in it, meaning that it will appear golden and translucent, rather than clouded.
Vegan-Friendly Alternatives to Honey
Now that we’ve established that honey isn’t really vegan, what alternatives (plan “bees,” if you will) to honey are there? Let’s explore a few of the best vegan-friendly sweeteners out there.
Maple syrup is made by drilling a hole into a maple tree to get its sap to pour out. This sap is then collected and boiled down, leaving only the sweetest, thickest leftovers. The boiled sap is then filtered, giving it an even consistency. After collecting the sap, boiling it down, and filtering it, you’ve got maple syrup!
Since it comes from a tree, maple syrup is perfectly compatible with a vegan diet. It’s also got more nutrient content than standard sugar, including the minerals zinc, iron, potassium, and calcium.
Serving for serving, maple syrup contains fewer calories and less sugar than honey, but only by a bit. A teaspoon of honey contains around 17 grams of sugar and about 20 calories, whereas the same amount of maple syrup contains around 13 grams of sugar and 17 calories. That’s not a huge difference, but it can add up in the long run! You can also find sugar-free maple syrup, like the one we carry here at MiiRO, that will fit into your diet even better.
Brown Rice Syrup
Brown rice syrup is a unique vegan sweetener in that it contains mostly maltotriose and no fructose. The syrup is made by cooking down brown rice using enzymes that break down its starches, leaving only simple sugars like glucose, maltose, and maltotriose.
Without rice’s characteristic starchiness, you’re left with thick, sweet syrup that your body treats just like glucose. That means this syrup can be metabolized by your entire body, unlike fructose, which is primarily processed by the liver.
Too much fructose in your diet can be a big problem, so some turn to this sweetener thanks to its glucose-mimicking attributes. However, brown rice syrup isn’t exactly a nutritious food, and it’s still packed with sugar. We recommend using just small amounts of this sweetener if you choose to use it at all!
Date syrup is derived from its namesake fruit, and it primarily contains fructose. Many vegans have given date syrup a try, their interest piqued by the fact that it’s a natural alternative to sucrose, also known as table sugar.
While date syrup does have some notable differences from table sugar, it’s still very sweet. Date sugar contains around a third less sugar per serving than table sugar, but it’s still best used in moderation.
Barley Malt Syrup
Barley malt syrup contains maltose, one of the key sugars found in brown rice syrup. Maltose is made by breaking down starchy grains like barley using enzymes, leaving you with simple sugars.
Maltose contains only glucose and no fructose. Due to the inherent health risks of eating too much fructose, vegans might be interested in giving barley malt syrup a try. However, it’s tough to say whether this sweetener is a better option in the long run – scientific research on it is still a bit limited.
Overall, maltose is generally considered better for your body in the long run than fructose. In addition, barley malt syrup is vegan friendly, making it a great alternative to honey.
To Honey or Not to Honey?
So, what’s the bottom line on vegans and honey?
While some adherents of a plant-based lifestyle still eat some honey from time to time, this definitely isn’t the norm. At MiiRO, we don’t include honey in our vegan desserts and baking ingredients. That’s because we want as many people as possible to have the chance to enjoy our delicious, vegan-friendly treats!
It’s ultimately up to you to decide whether or not honey has a place in your diet. Bear in mind that while it does come from a very tiny animal, honey is technically not vegan. So, to follow a purely vegan diet, you’d need to replace this sticky sweetener with something else. We recommend trying one of the alternatives to honey listed above!
So, Is Honey Vegan?
Since honey is an animal byproduct, it’s not considered vegan. Some plant-based eaters will still consume it, though.
A vegan diet excludes meat and other animal products, including eggs, dairy, and animal byproducts like gelatin and lanolin. Since bees are animals, honey is considered an animal byproduct.
Looking For Great Vegan Sweets? We’ve Got You Covered.
Honey has been around for a long time, and while it isn’t vegan, it can be part of certain plant-based diets. If you’re looking to avoid all animal byproducts or you don’t want the intense sugar hit that comes from the substance, definitely avoid honey. Luckily, there are tons of vegan alternatives that are just as delightful.
If you want to learn more about how to satisfy your sweet tooth on a vegan diet, head over to MiiRO for recipes, articles, and more. You can also peruse our selection of perfectly sweet peanut butter cups and vegan chocolate bars that make the perfect treat, any time of day—after all, who says you can’t have chocolate for breakfast?