Is Honey Vegan Friendly? My Thoughts

Honey is a sweet, sugary liquid that bees make using nectar they collect from flowers. It is an incredibly popular product that can be consumed on its own, as an ingredient in an almost limitless number of dishes.

Not only does honey have a unique and enjoyable flavor, but it also has a long history of human collection and consumption. While honey is enjoyed by different cultures all around the world, the question remains – is honey vegan friendly?

Is Honey Vegan Friendly?

This question often causes a great deal of confusion amongst vegans. One of the most common dietary mistakes vegans make is including natural honey in their diets. This is because there is a common misconception within the vegan community that honey is made by primitive insects and is, therefore, vegan friendly. As this guide will explain, this could not be further from the truth.

Whether you are new to a vegan diet, or you have been practicing a vegan lifestyle for many years, it is of vital importance that you fully understand the true purpose of veganism. Fundamentally, veganism is a way of living that aims to decrease animal exploitation and cruelty as much as possible. This relates to all animals, not just larger ones we find cute and cuddly.

The reality is that honey bees are living, breathing creatures that deserve our respect. The honey bee does not make honey for human consumption. When honey is harvested by a beekeeper for human consumption, it can put the entire health of a bee colony at risk.

Furthermore, harvesting honey does not conform to the very definition of veganism. Any food or product that involves the exploitation of an animal during any phase of its creation is anti-vegan.

Credit: Jaël Vallée

What Is Natural Honey and Why Is It Unethical to Take It?

Honey functions as the energy source for honey bees and similar insects. Essentially, without honey, these hardworking insects starve and die. Honey is collected and stored so that honey bees can survive throughout colder months. Collector bees will visit hundreds of flowers to gather enough nectar to create honey. The raw nectar is processed by worker bees and turned into what we recognize as honey.

The honey is shared throughout the hive to make sure each member of the colony has enough to survive. Without honey, bees cannot feed themselves, or their young, and the entire colony cannot survive. Unlike humans, bees cannot live without honey in their diets.

Remember, not only are insects animals, but they play an important role in maintaining balance in the natural world. Without insects, ecosystems would completely collapse. If you want to live an honest vegan lifestyle, you must respect every type of animal, even insects.

Bees and other pollinating insects should have the respect of all vegans. Not only are they living creatures, but a vegan diet would also be impossible in a world that did not have plants that were pollinated by animals. All of the delicious vegan foods we enjoy require pollination and more often than not, it is bees that carry out that process.

Why Honey Farming Is Cruel

When it comes to harvesting honey for human use, beekeepers aim to maximize their ‘crop’ by extracting the greatest amount of honey they can from each hive. To keep the honey bees alive, when farmers cruelly remove the honey, they replace it with an inferior sugar substitute, which is significantly less nutritious.

Starved from the food source they worked so hard to create, these bees will live shorter and less healthy lives. There is also the cruel reality that commercial beekeepers will cull hives that they no longer deem productive.

Some people even argue that honey bees produce an excessive amount of honey, so it is reasonable for us to take some for ourselves. However, you have to ask yourself, who are we to determine what can be considered excess honey? The bottom line is that humans do not need honey, but bees do. Stealing honey from hardworking honey bees is cruel and exploitative.

Credit: Annie Spratt

The Dangers of Beekeeping and Honey Farming

Not only does the honey industry exploit and rob honey bees, breeding practices impact the wild honey bee population. As with any form of livestock, farmed bees are selectively bred and pumped with antibiotics.

Since bees produce honey that can be sold for a profit, bee farmers consider them commodities. Like all valuable economic goods, the bees are treated like objects, rather than living creatures. Selective breeding and the administration of antibiotics and other drugs are carried out to increase productivity and honey yields.

This unnatural genetic manipulation narrows down the gene pool and increases the susceptibility the bees have to disease and congenital defects. As these manipulated genes inevitably find their way into the wild bee population, the entire species becomes more vulnerable to premature death and disease.

Because bees play a critical role in the pollination cycle for many plants, any problem impacting bees will have an immensely negative impact on the entire environment.

As with all commercial livestock enterprises, the honey industry puts profits ahead of animal welfare. No matter how you look at it, honey farming exploits animals, which, therefore, means honey is absolutely not vegan.

It is also important to remember that honey bees do have a central nervous system. This means that they experience pain and suffering, just like larger animals do. Assuming that their suffering does not count because they are only insects is just plain immoral.

Is It Ethical to Buy Honey From Small-Scale, Local Beekeepers?

You might be wondering if there is a more ethical way to purchase honey that does not involve harming honey bees. After all, a local farm that values organic farming practices would surely respect animal welfare more than a large scale factory farm, right?

While they may use less destructive honey farming techniques, the harvesting of honey will always involve an exploitative relationship. Honey bees harvest nectar and create honey for themselves, so the extraction of that honey is not compatible with vegan values.

Whether it is a commercial honey operation, or harvested by small, local beekeepers, the result is always the same – stealing something from animals that do not belong to us. Unfortunately, no matter how you collect it, honey is not a vegan-friendly food.

Credit to: Boris Smokrovic

Avoid Honey and Bee Derived Products

To truly adhere to a vegan lifestyle, you must make sure none of the products you eat or use involves animal suffering or exploitation. While it should be clear by now that it is not appropriate for vegans to eat honey, you should also make sure you are not using other bee products.

Honey is not just a common ingredient in many seemingly vegan-friendly food items; honey and beeswax are also present in a variety of non-edible consumer products. Make sure you are not purchasing beeswax candles, skincare products, or any other product that contains honey or beeswax. These products involve the same level of animal exploitation that occurs when consumable honey is harvested.

Do Vegan-Friendly Honey Alternatives Exist?

While bees need honey for their survival, humans can get by just fine without it. That being said, honey does have a unique flavor that many vegans still crave.

Luckily, there are a whole host of delicious, vegan-friendly honey alternatives that can satisfy vegans that want to keep that signature honey flavor in their diets.

Not only are many of these vegan honey alternatives delicious enough to enjoy on their own, but they can also be used to help vegans adapt any recipes that call for honey.

The fact that honey is a common ingredient in many baking, cooking, and cocktail recipes has been a frustration for many vegans for a long time. With vegan-friendly honey alternatives, vegans no longer have to worry when a recipe calls for a tablespoon of honey.

So, whether you have a sweet tooth and want to enjoy a spoonful of delicious syrup on its own, or need a honey replacement for a vegan-friendly recipe, the vegan honey alternatives listed below will help you meet those needs.

Agave Nectar:

Agave nectar is a vegan-friendly syrup that is made from a commercially produced sweetener. The sweetener is derived from several species of the agave plant, which are grown almost exclusively in Mexico. The process of harvesting agave syrup is actually similar to how maple trees are tapped during maple syrup harvests.

The liquid syrup that is extracted from the cactus-like plant is heated so that its complex carbohydrates are transformed into simple sugars. These are then bottled and sold around the world.

Agave syrups and nectars tend to have a subtle flavor that is slightly less intense than natural honey. However, like non-vegan honey, agave syrups are available in a wide range of styles and flavors. They can range from dark ambers to light shades that are far more transparent. Each variety has a distinct flavor. Just like how you can find honey that comes from different types of pollen, you can find agave syrups that are derived from other types of agave plants.

Agave based sweeteners tend to have a sweeter taste than natural honey, and they are usually more viscous. That being said, agave nectar is a plant-based product that can be used as a vegan-friendly alternative to honey in most recipes.

Many vegans find that agave nectar works well as a honey substitute in baked goods. Agave nectar is an almost foolproof honey alternative because you can substitute it in equal measure. One cup of agave nectar = one cup of natural honey.

However, you should keep in mind that agave nectar is slightly more sensitive to heat than the sugars found in honey. This means you will want to reduce baking temperatures so that the agave nectar will not burn. Usually, a reduction in heat by about 25 degrees Fahrenheit will do the trick.

Aside from the fact that agave nectar is entirely vegan friendly, one of its main selling points is its low glycemic index, which is much lower than natural honey, or even maple syrup. This means agave nectar will not cause a spike in blood sugar levels, so you will not experience the same ‘sugar crash’ we often associate with consuming sugary foods.

Agave nectar also dissolves easily in both hot and cold beverages. This makes it the perfect addition to a hot tea on a cold day, or a cold cocktail when you are enjoying some sunshine. Many beverages call for honey, which means agave nectar can allow vegans to enjoy these sweetened drinks, too.

Whether you want to use agave nectar to create vegan-friendly versions of honey-based recipes or want to enjoy it in a sweetened beverage, the choice is up to you. Some agave nectars pack enough delicious flavor that you can even drizzle them over toasted bread and fruit, just like you would with natural honey.

Barley Malt Syrup:

Barley malt syrup is a sweetener that is derived from grains. Barley malt syrups have a dark brown color and a thick and sticky consistency that is reminiscent of natural honey.

The syrup is created using the traditional process of malting. Essentially, the grain is spread out and steeped in water. After the steeping process, the barley is allowed to germinate and sprout. It is during this germination process that enzymes and carbohydrates are released and then converted into sugars. When sugar levels are at their optimal point, the sprouted grain is kiln roasted to create an attractive color and flavor.

The entire process takes over 30 days to complete, and the resulting product is a uniquely flavored honey substitute that has a similar appearance and consistency to blackstrap molasses.

When you choose barley malt syrup, you are getting a whole grain sweetener that has less sugar than natural honey but possesses a similar consistency, color, and flavor. One of the great things about barley malt syrup is if you desire a lighter flavor and color, you can dilute it with water.

While barley malt syrup is a little too distinct to use in most recipes as an exact replacement for honey, many vegans find it is really enjoyable on its own. If you are craving the sweetness of honey, but do not want to compromise your vegan values, you can quickly drizzle barley malt syrup on just about anything people would normally top with honey.

This means barley malt syrup is a vegan alternative topping for cereal, baked goods, toasted bread, mixed berries, glazed carrots, and even salads. In fact, some brewers will even use barley malt syrup instead of honey to make vegan-friendly, sweetened beers.

While the flavor is not identical to honey, it will satisfy your sweet tooth in much the same way. It also has some unique nutritional benefits that are absent from natural honey.

Brown Rice Syrup:

As the name suggests, brown rice syrup is derived from brown rice. Essentially, cooked brown rice is exposed to enzymes that break down the starches and turn them into simplified sugars. Any impurities that were present in the rice are filtered out.

The result of this process is a thick, sugary syrup with a unique flavor that can act as a substitute for honey. You can find jarred brown rice syrup in most organic and health food stores.

If you are like most vegans and are regularly checking ingredient lists on the products you purchase, you may have noticed brown rice syrup listed as an ingredient in many vegan-friendly breakfast cereals and snack bars.

One of the best ways brown rice syrup mimics natural honey is in its smooth texture and golden color. A jar of organic brown rice syrup looks almost identical to a jar of honey. For some vegans, it can be comforting to buy vegan substitutes that closely mimic the appearance of the non-vegan product they aim to replace.

Just like natural honey, brown rice syrup can be used in plenty of baking recipes. It also is enjoyable on its own and many vegans have found it to be a delicious topping for vegan ice cream and other desserts.  Just like agave nectar, brown rice syrup dissolves well in liquid and can add plenty of sweetness to teas and coffees.

Brown rice syrup tends to be a little sweeter than honey, so you can usually get away with using less of it in most recipes. A safe estimate would be to use about one quarter less brown rice syrup than you would use honey.

Due to its golden, honey-like color and its unique, sweet taste, brown rice syrup is an excellent choice for vegans that want to replace honey in their diet with a similar ingredient.

Coconut Nectar:

Coconut nectar is derived from sap found in the flowers of the coconut tree. The sap is heated to a level that is just high enough to thicken it, without creating high levels of fructose. Limiting fructose levels is essential, especially given how detrimental a high fructose diet can be for your health.

In terms of taste, coconut nectar is quite surprising. It does not have the coconut flavor you might expect and is actually much closer in taste to maple syrup. Due to the fact that the syrup is derived from the flower of the coconut tree, rather than the coconut itself, it actually has a pleasant, floral aftertaste, which is similar to that found in honey. Overall, it tastes like a very light maple syrup that has been combined with small amounts of molasses, which is later followed by a slightly floral flavor.

Coconut nectar tastes great on its own, which makes it a perfect topping for baked goods. Just like you would with honey, you can drizzle coconut nectar on top of bread, muffins, cakes, and donuts. Coconut nectar also works well with breakfast foods.

You can use it in vegan-friendly smoothies, or drizzled over pancakes, waffles, and granola. You can also substitute coconut nectar for honey in most recipes. Most recipes will work well if you use coconut nectar at a 1:1 ratio, which makes things simple.

There are claims that coconut nectar contains some valuable nutrients. Some brands claim their coconut nectars contain high levels of B vitamins, magnesium, and iron. While this may be true, you should always remember that sweeteners should be used sparingly. You do not want to mess with your body’s blood sugar levels.

Overall, coconut nectar is a uniquely flavored vegan alternative to natural honey. You get plenty of sweetness and flavor, without the need to harm bees or compromise on your vegan values.

Molasses:

 You have probably already heard of molasses. It has a long history of use in cooking and baking, especially in the southern United States. Due to the fact that this traditional sweetener contains no animal products, it is entirely safe to include it in a vegan diet.

It is a thick, dark syrup that is a byproduct of the sugar industry. Depending on the type of molasses being made, the first step is crushing the sugar cane or sugar beets. The resulting juice is boiled down until it forms sugar crystals, which are removed from the liquid. These crystals are used to create various forms of granulated sugar. The thick, brown syrup that is left behind is turned into molasses. Molasses can come in a variety of different shades, flavors, and thicknesses.

Lighter varieties of molasses, which result from shorter boiling periods, tend to have less flavor. These lighter shades of molasses can be used to replace less flavorful kinds of honey you might see on a typical grocery store shelf. You can combine light molasses with peanut butter to create a simple, yet delicious sandwich. Or you can use it as a replacement ingredient in recipes that call for a hint of honey, such as cakes, pies, and cookies.

Darker types of molasses result from second and third boils. They are much thicker and have a significantly less sweet taste than lighter varieties. While they are less sweet, they do pack a strong and unique flavor. Dark molasses is less suited as a direct honey replacement on its own, but it can replace honey in cooking recipes. It is ideal for making barbeque sauces and marinades that would typically call for honey.

One of the advantages of using molasses as your vegan-friendly honey substitute is how affordable it is. Some types of vegan honeys can be quite expensive, while molasses is available at any grocery store and is usually very cheap.

Maple Syrup:

Maple syrup has its own distinct flavor, so it is not the best direct substitute for honey. However, if it is just a craving for sweetness that you are trying to satisfy, maple syrup can be a perfectly safe ingredient for vegans.

Maple syrup is completely vegan friendly and comes from the sap of maple trees. The type of maple tree and the boiling process can significantly alter the flavor of maple syrup.

Most commercial maple syrups are not authentic maple syrup. They only contain trace amounts of boiled tree sap and are mostly just sugar and preservatives. Real maple syrup can have complex and delicious flavors that can have far more applications than covering instant pancakes.

Vegans should consider trying some higher quality maple syrups and see if they can find one that they enjoy. Maple syrup can breathe new life into your vegan baking recipes and works really well as a glaze on roasted root vegetables.

Commercial Vegan Honeys:

There are plenty of vegan companies who sell their own packaged vegan honey replacements. As veganism becomes more popular, more and more brands are creating vegan-friendly alternatives to non-vegan foods. Often these products successfully replicate the flavors and textures of the food they aim to replace. Vegan kinds of honey are no exception.

One of the most popular and well-known brands in the vegan honey market is the family-owned Bee Free Honee company. Bee Free Honee replicates the flavor of natural honey, without adding to the suffering of honey bees. The company uses a unique recipe and cooking process that involves apples, lemon juice, and cane sugar. It works well as a replacement for honey in recipes and tastes delicious on its own.

The great thing about supporting vegan companies is their owners tend to be vegans themselves. The owners of Bee Free Honee are not just vegans; they are activists that aim to keep bees and other declining pollinator insect populations by raising awareness about the plight of bees and the dangers of the honey industry.

There are plenty of vegan honey products on the market today. Check your local health food stores and any other business that carries vegan products to see if they sell vegan honey. Remember, it is always helpful to support local vegan companies.

Credit to: Sonja Langford

Making Your Own Vegan-Friendly Honey Substitute

If you do not have a vegan-friendly honey alternative on hand, but would still like to add some sweetness to a recipe, there are some simple ways you can make honey-like replacement syrups.

Recipe 1:

This recipe only calls for two straightforward ingredients that most people already have on hand.

Ingredients:

  • 1 ¼ cups of granulated sugar
  • ¼ cup of water

Instructions:

  1. Dump the granulated sugar and water into a pot and heat over medium heat.
  2. Stir constantly until the sugar has completely dissolved into the water.

You can use this simple recipe to replace honey in your vegan recipes. The mixture will have roughly the same thickness and consistency as honey, without threatening the vegan status of your recipe.

The above recipe makes about ¼ cup or four tablespoons of vegan honey substitute. Just be sure to increase the quantities if you need more.

This simple honey replacement will work well as an ingredient in sauces, glazes, marinades, and baked goods.

Recipe 2:

The second recipe has a more honey-like appearance and color, but contains Medjool dates, which are a less common ingredient.

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup of pitted Medjool dates
  • 2/3 cup of hot water

Instructions:

  1. Place pitted Medjool dates in a bowl and cover them with hot water. Let them soak for at least one hour.
  2. Blend well at high speed until the mixture has a smooth consistency.

The advantage of this recipe is it is still simple, but the result is a syrup that looks and tastes similar to honey. The dates have a natural golden color when they are blended, which is reminiscent of dark honey. The flavor is almost like a hybrid between honey and caramel.

Best of all, the recipe is completely vegan friendly and can be used to add a honey replacement to your vegan dishes.

Other Recipes:

There are plenty of other vegan honey recipes out there, and most of them involve a more complicated preparation process.

Many of the vegan honey recipes will use wildflowers to give the mixture a more realistic honey flavor. Some involve a somewhat lengthy aging process to give the mixture a more realistic honey color.

If you enjoy cooking, you can always explore some of the many vegan honey recipes out there and even add your own twist by adjusting the level of sweetness to meet your own preferences.

Informative Videos About Honey and Veganism

Below you will find some helpful videos that will explain why eating honey is not compatible with veganism, how to make your own vegan honey and the dangers of the honey industry.

Vegan Dandelion Honey Recipe – Delicious Honey Alternative For Vegans

Vegan Honey – Simple 2 Ingredient Recipe For Fat-Free Vegan Honey

The Honey Industry Explained in 5 Minutes

To Summmarise

As we have established, honey has no place in a vegan diet. However, there are plenty of ways vegans can continue to enjoy the sweetness of honey, without encouraging the suffering of innocent insects.

Whether you choose to use a honey alternative, purchase a commercially sold vegan honey, or even make your own vegan honey, you can feel confident knowing that you are not contributing to an industry that exploits animals.

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