Vegan peanut butter is peanut butter made without animal byproducts or other ingredients prohibited by the vegan diet, like honey and some refined sugars. Most peanut butter is technically vegan because it does not contain any animal-derived ingredients, but because many vegans also avoid honey and sugars refined with bone char, some peanut butters do not conform to their dietary preferences. If a peanut butter contains sugar, it can be difficult to determine if it was refined with bone char. As a result, vegans will seek out peanut butter without sugar or a brand that is explicitly labeled as vegan.
Traditional peanut butter is a simple food product made with few ingredients. Roasted peanuts are mashed into a paste with salt, a sweetener, and oil. Major commercial brands often contain partially hydrogenated vegetable oil to prevent separation. Natural and organic varieties will omit the sugar, substitute palm oil for the partially hydrogenated vegetable oil, or reduce salt.
Vegans do not consume animal products or byproducts, including honey, eggs, and dairy milk. As a result, most traditional peanut butter is also technically vegan peanut butter if the term vegan is defined strictly by the absence of animal products. Peanut butters that use sweeteners like honey and refined sugar can still run afoul of the vegan diet nonetheless, although for many vegans, consuming or avoiding these products is a matter of personal choice.
Honey is avoided by many vegans because it is a product made by bees. As an insect, a bee is a living being, so its products are not traditionally considered to be vegan. Some vegans are not against using insect products like honey or silk because they do not think that insects are conscious of pain. Additionally, such vegans argue that producing honey does not cause bees any more pain than the collateral insect deaths that result from harvesting and transporting fruits and vegetables. Agave nectar is a common vegan substitute for honey.
Many commercial brands of peanut butter contain refined sugar. Although refined sugar is not an animal product or byproduct, some brands are processed using animal bone char. Bone char is a filter that removes impurities, color, and minerals from sugar. As bone char is made of charred animal bones, some vegans will not eat refined sugar because it was made with an animal product. Vegans who eschew refined sugar will use an alternative like raw, turbinado, or beet sugar.
If a brand of peanut butter contains refined sugar or honey, it may not be suitable for all vegans. Most labels do not specify what type of sugar the product contains, making it difficult to determine if a peanut butter is truly vegan. To avoid this dilemma, many vegans will make their own peanut butter or purchase a brand without sugar or one that is explicitly labeled as vegan peanut butter. Vegan peanut butter can be served and consumed just like any other kind without any detectable difference in taste or texture.
Like most peanut butters, vegan peanut butter offers health benefits as well as potentially negative effects if consumed in large quantities. Two tablespoons (32 grams) of smooth peanut butter without salt contains 188 total calories, 135 derived from fat. A good source of niacin and manganese, peanut butter also provides protein. Some peanut butters contain partially hydrogenated vegetable oils that keep the peanut oil from separating and rising to the top of the jar. These oils are trans fats that can have adverse health effects, including increased inflammation and low-density lipoprotein, or bad cholesterol levels.