Do vegans eat honey? It’s a very common question people ask themselves when they are starting to explore their vegan journey.
Honey isn’t out of place on breakfast tables around the world and in almost every kitchen cupoboard in the USA. Kids and adults spread it on their toast, over cereal or pour it onto pancakes. It’s even recommended amongst medical professionals to be used for getting better when suffering from a cold or flu. But if you are going vegan, you have to ask yourself.. Should I eat honey? If I eat honey, can I call myself a vegan? Let’s take a deeper look and offer you some amazing alternatives.
What is honey?
Honey is made from nectar that bees extract and collect from flowering plants. It’s an important energy source for bees, and without it, they wouldn’t survive.
The nectar is collected using a bee’s long, tube-shaped tongue and stored in its extra stomach – which is called a crop. The honeybee has to visit up to 1500 flowers to collect enough nectar to fill its crop.
While the bee makes its way back to the hive, the nectar slooshes around in the crop and mixes with enzymes that break it down to transform its chemical composition and pH. This makes it suitable to be stored.
When the honeybee returns to the hive with the nectar, it passes it to a house bee, via regurgitation. Yes, this is why you may hear people call honey, ‘bee vomit’!
Eventually, the nectar is deposited into a honeycomb. But their work is not complete. Then the bees must fan the liquid to help evaporate the extra water in the nectar. When most of the water is evaporated, the bee seals the honeycomb and it eventually hardens into beeswax.
The hive works as a cooperative. It provides each member with an adequate supply of energy over the winter months when the honey production is low.
You can already start to see how much effort bees go through to get their food supply ready for the winter.
So, why don’t vegans eat honey?
This very question has been a contentious and hotly debated issue amongst vegans. Meat, dairy, and eggs are easy to place in the ‘not vegan’ category. Some vegans feel they are not technically eating an animal, as it is nectar from a plant.
But, The Vegan Society defines veganism as:-
“a way of living which seeks to exclude, as far as is possible and practicable, all forms of exploitation of, and cruelty to, animals for food, clothing, or any other purpose.”
So if you see the definition of Veganism like this, you can understand why honey is not vegan. It is produced by bees, for bees. And their health is sacrificed when it’s harvested by humans. Not only is the harvesting cruel, but commercial honey production can be viewed as exploitation.
However, the issue is not so black and white for some vegans. A few vegans feel that locally produced raw honey from a small beekeeper who only removed excess honey is ethical to eat. Whether a vegan who eats honey from ethical sources is still a vegan is entirely down to perspective and making personal, informed decisions.
Here are some of the arguments for why vegans believe honey and other bee products such as honeycomb, bee pollen, royal jelly and propolis can not be considered as vegan.
Most vegans see little difference between commercial bee farming and other forms of animal farming. To optimize profits, most commercial honey production employs practices that are seen as unethical by vegans. These practices include artificially inseminated the queen bee, having her wings removed to prevent her from leaving the hive and colonizing elsewhere.
When the farmers want to sell the honey, they replace the harvested honey with nutritionally inferior sugar syrups such as sucrose or high fructose corn syrup (Sammataro & Weiss, 2013). These don’t provide the beneficial nutrients found in honey for the health of the bees. The farmers are also known to kill entire colonies to prevent the spread of disease, instead of giving them medicine (Underwood, Traver, & Lopez-Uribe).
So, vegans avoid eating honey to take a stand against bee exploitation and farming practices that are thought to harm bee health and the environment.
Vegan Alternatives to Honey
Unlike bees, humans can easily thrive without honey in their diets. Fortunately, there are a whole host of vegan plant-based alternatives for those people with a sweet tooth
1. Maple Syrup
This is made from the sap of the maple tree. The syrup contains several vitamins and minerals and up to 24 protective antioxidants. This is commonly found in grocery stores.
You can find great maple syrups at the Thrive Market here.
2. Brown rice syrup
This is also known as rice or malt syrup. It is made by exposing brown rice to enzymes that break down the starch found in rice to produce a thick, dark-colored syrup. It is commonly found in health food stores and becoming more common in grocery stores.
You can find our recommended Rice Syrup on Amazon here
3. Agave Syrup
Agave is a thick, brown liquid obtained from the agave plant. Found in the desert, the plants leaves have a sap-core, which is boiled to create a sweet liquid. This is our favourite alternative to honey!
You can find a great organic agave syrup at the Thrive Market
4. Barley malt syrup
This is a sweetener made from sprouted barley. It is golden in color and flavor, similar to that of blackstrap molasses.
You can find a popular barley malt syrup on Amazon here
5. Date Syrup
This syrup is a caramel-coloured sweetener made by extracting the liquid portion of cooked dates. This sweetener can also be made at home by blending boiled dates with water.
You can find a great organic date syrup on Amazon here.
There are many vegan alternatives to honey in a variety of flavors, textures, and colors to suit everybody. However, check labels of common sweetened products like granola bars as they usually use honey over the alternatives due to it being commercially cheaper.
Vegans by following their values, avoid or try to minimize all forms of animal exploitation and cruelty. This most definitely includes bees. Consequently, most vegans eliminate honey from their diets and avoid buying any bee related products.
There are many plant-based sweetener alternatives that vegans can implement into their diet and avoid cruelty to our animal population.