If I'm Vegan, Can I Eat Honey?

Plus, vegan-friendly substitutes for honey.

January 27, 2022
Photo by Alpha Smoot

Mix honey with a cup of hot black tea and a lemon wedge for an instant throat relief. Or drizzle over crostini with ricotta and figs. Or toss baby back ribs in a combination of honey and hoisin sauce for a sticky-sweet meal. Needless to say, there’s a lot that you can do with honey—but do vegans eat honey?

Vegans have different opinions about what animal products they are comfortable consuming or wearing, but as a rule of thumb, veganism means eschewing anything that is an animal byproduct. So in short, no, honey is not vegan. But in order to really understand why most vegans don’t eat honey, you have to understand how it’s made.

How Is Honey Made

Picture a beautiful spring day in a field of sunflowers. In the background of every Instagram-worthy short are likely hundreds of bees fluttering from flower to flower. Honey is produced by forager bees, who collect nectar from flowers and break down the sugars. They eventually return to their hive to regurgitate the sugar (I know, I know, but bear with me) and transfer the fresh nectar to younger bees in the hive. Those young bees complete the sugar conversion by turning it into honey. 

It seems like a lot of work for these black and yellow buddies, but it’s a necessary part of life. The bees store honey in the honeycomb, as it serves as a source of food to provide them with energy while also heating the hive during chilly winters. Honey bees naturally produce far more honey than they actually need to survive, which is why beekeepers collect the excess and bottle it for consumers. Vegan Society, however, disputes this fact; they say that each bee produces just a twelfth of a teaspoon of honey in its entire lifetime (a maximum of five years for the Queen bee).

What Do Vegans Think?

Yes, honey is an animal byproduct, which is something that vegans are generally against consuming. But many vegans also argue that the honey industry has grown to such a massive scale that honey bees experience unnecessary stress and a shorter lifespan.

According to Treehugger, the process of removing honey from beehives can cause harm to bees. “Sometimes bees are intentionally killed to control the hive, to halt the spread of disease, or because of economic reasons.” They also claim that many commercial beekeepers tend to replace honey with industrially processed corn syrup, which may affect the immune function of bees.

Vegan Alternatives to Honey

For an equally sweet ingredient that is free from any animal byproduct, try maple syrup, agave nectar, molasses, brown rice syrup, or date syrup. You can also purchase honey from Beeresponsible, which is produced without the use of pesticides or antibiotics and claims to follow responsible practices that respect the environment. While this version of honey may not satisfy all vegans who are opposed to consuming an ingredient that is an animal byproduct, it may provide a more conflict-free honey alternative for other consumers.

If you’re vegan, do you consume honey? Let us know in the comments below!
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Former Food52 Staff Editor