The debate about whether or not honey is a vegetarian food has been going on for years, and there are plenty of passionate opinions on both sides. As with many items in the food world, it really depends on what kind of vegetarian/vegan you are. People often claim that because honey is an animal byproduct, it cannot be included in a strict vegetarian or vegan diet. However, things are not as simple as that.
The answer to “Is honey suitable for vegetarians and vegans?” is yes—and no.
Is honey vegan?
Let’s start with the vegan side first.
If you’re a strict vegan, the answer is clearly no: When vegans say honey isn’t vegan, it’s usually because they don’t want to contribute to the production of anything made from animals.
Here are a few things to consider when deciding whether to include honey in your vegan diet:
Is it a plant-based product? Yes, but bees are involved in the production of honey so it’s not plant-based.
Do vegans eat animals? No, they only eat plant-based products, and honey is not one of them.
Is honey an animal product? Technically yes—it comes from bees—but many people consider it a plant-based food because it’s made through the process of pollination rather than being directly harvested from an animal (like milk or eggs).
Is it vegetarian though?
Now to the vegetarian side.
According to the Vegetarian Resource Group, “Honey is acceptable for vegetarians.” They explain that “the pollen in honey is not considered meat” and so vegetarians do not need to worry about accidentally consuming any animal products.
Since bees are not harmed at all, in the production of honey, it is indeed considered vegetarian. You may have heard honey referred to as an “animal product,” and it’s true that bees are animals. But the reason honey is considered vegetarian is because bees are not harmed during the production of honey.
Many vegetarians understand that beekeeping is a harmless craft and consider honey-making a traditional way for humans to coexist with nature in a peaceful manner. Honey has been used for centuries, and even Aristotle documented how he believed the substance was made in his book History of Animals.
The Bottom Line:
It’s up to you to decide if consuming honey is the right choice. Many vegetarians consume honey whereas many vegans do not.
The process of honey-making has long been understood as something that can be done without harming bees, so if you’re comfortable with other parts of your diet, feel free to enjoy some delicious raw honey—your body will thank you!