Vegetarian and vegan diets are increasing in popularity, and are typically associated with a healthier, more humane, greener, more environmentally friendly lifestyle.
While the terms are often used interchangeably, veganism is a much stricter form of vegetarianism, and shuns the consumption of any animal products. That means no dairy, no eggs, no leather, and often no honey. While vegetarianism may include animal products, but eliminates products that come from killing animals. So for vegetarians, eggs, dairy, honey, etc., are just fine.
Vegetarian, and veganism in particular, can be a challenging diet, since animal products are often hiding where you wouldn’t expect. For instance, some shortenings have animal fat, and some hair conditioners, lipstick, makeup, and other beauty products use processed animal fat as well. Even sauces like Worcestershire sauce have fish (anchovies) as an ingredient (who knew?), and of course southeast Asian food has the ubiquitous fish sauce, which literally contains fermented fish (no, duck sauce does not contain ducks, we checked).
Because it can be challenging to eliminate animal products from your diet, we often get the question, “Is my hot sauce vegetarian or vegan?” As with many food products, it’s not an easy answer, and depends on a number of factors.
There are some sauces on the market that are unapologetically non-vegetarian, and directly incorporate animal products like bacon (Voodoo Chile Porcus Infernum), cream, fish such as anchovies (Pallotta Chili Moon) and shrimp (Clark + Hopkins Laos), and even insects such as ants (SoCaliANTe) and termites. Obviously these sauces wouldn’t be friendly for either vegetarians or vegans, so they’re easy to check off the list.
For vegans who don’t want any animal products in their hot sauce, they also have to eliminate any sauces that contain honey as well. That means many sauces like PexPeppers Cherry Popper, Karma Sauces Smokey Karma, Burns & McCoy Devorandum, Hellfire Blueberry Hell, and many others, are also off limits.
But, if a hot sauce doesn’t have any animal products, and just uses sugar, it should be cool for vegetarians and vegans, right?
Unfortunately, that’s not always true. Many off-the-shelf cane sugars are actually processed using bone char. Bone char, as the name would imply, is a porous, black, filtering material that is produced by charring animal bones, usually cows. Yes, that little packet of sugar you put in your coffee this morning was probably processed using the bones of dead cows. Yeah, pretty gross.
As you probably know, cane sugar comes from sugarcane, a tall, stalk-like plant that is crushed and juiced. The juice is heated and crystallized, and then filtered and bleached using bone char (though some brands use other carbon products), which produces that iconic white bowl of sugar you heaped on your cereal as a kid.
The sugar doesn’t actually contain any of the bone char, but it did come in contact with it during the refinement process, which is still verboten for many vegetarians and vegans. This can also impact some kosher diets as well, since coming into contact with bone, and mixing dairy, is also a no no.
Depending on how strict your dietary limitations are or your feelings about animal treatment, this may not be a concern for you, since the sugar doesn’t contain the bone char, but just touched it at some point. For many, that's enough to make processed sugar something they can do without.
There are a growing number of sauce makers who are sensitive to the needs of vegetarians and vegans, and have created sauces that can be enjoyed by a wider audience. However, if a vegan diet is important to you, you'll probably want to avoid some of the off-the-shelf sauces you see at the supermarket, or your local Mexican joint.
Some sauce makers have opted to use organic sugars that don’t use bone char in their refinement process (e.g., Burns & McCoy, Kitchen Garden Farm, Yellowbird); while others use alternative sweeteners like beet sugar, agave (High River Hellacious, Angry Goat Hot Cock, Sh’ That’s Hot! Fresno, Burns & McCoy Exitium, and Heartbreaking Dawns Reapercussion); maple syrup (Butterfly Bakery of Vermont); or no sugar at all (Syracha’Cuse 1911 Honeycrisp Habanero and Ommegang Abbey Ale, and Bravado).
If you’re concerned about whether a sauce is very strictly vegan or vegetarian, be sure to read the ingredients (we list the ingredients for all of the sauces we sell). Look for alternative sweeteners such as agave and maple syrup, those listed as organic (they don’t use the bone char in their processing), sugar from beets, or unrefined sugar. Or if you have a question, please feel to contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org, we'll be happy to help you with your search.We’ve also pulled together a convenient selection of Vegan Hot Sauces here!
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