Cane sugar vs. beet sugar

Once when I was at the grocery store, I noticed a certain brand of sugar (C&J, I think) whose packages proclaimed that it was just cane sugar and contained no beet sugar. So I wondered if there was any difference and which kind was better, if one kind was better.

They’re identical. Assuming their sugar is pure (ie, 100% sucrose, and there’s no reason to think it isn’t) then there is no difference. Sucrose from sugar cane is the same as sucrose from beets which is the same as sucrose from any other source.

Marketing is the difference. “It came from beets! That’s gross!”

Being from a big sugar beet state, it’s odd that most of the sugar that is available in my stores seems to advertise the fact they’re 100% cane sugar. I try to seek out the local stuff (Pioneer).

Actually, it isn’t. There are traces of other substances in commercially produced sugar - the refining process isn’t perfect. Lab tests can distinguish cane sugar from beet sugar, and I believe it is on the basis of what traces of other stuff are present. Still, we are talking about traces at such low levels that it is very debatable as to whether they make any difference in any practical sense.

Sugar beet requires less water than sugar cane, so it’s possible that it would be preferable from a water conservation standpoint. It’s also possible that one crop receives higher subsidies than the other.

Reading Wikipedia, it looks like cane sugar and beet sugar are chemically distinguishable, but not to the extent that you would be likely to tell the difference if you’re just cooking with it.

Ah, thanks. I didn’t think there was a difference, but I wasn’t sure.

Edit: so it’s not a human-taste-detectable difference.

Ask some bakers the question, and they’ll tell you there IS a difference. Not being a baker, it seems to relate to how items brown and crust.
The preference being for cane.

I noticed recently that the stuff sold as “berry sugar” here is actually the stuff cookbooks call “superfine sugar”. I.e., the crystals are smaller than regular sugar. Maybe beet sugar also has a different size of crystal?

Here is a link for the C&H site which is the company that has been diligent in promoting 100% pure cane sugar from Hawaii. I’m going to bet that Hawaii financed promoting pure cane sugar and pineapple too.
How pure cane sugar is better.

A 1999 article from the Food section of the SF Chronicle claims there is a difference in baking - Cane and beet sugar share the same chemistry, but act differently in the kitchen.

There it is! Thank you. So much to read, so little memory.

Sugarcane is a labor-intensive crop. The stereotypical sugar plantation was owned by a wealthy white man, the labor was done by slaves. Even after slavery was abolished, countries whose economies were dependent on sugar often had appalling human-rights records.

Beet sugar is supposedly much friendlier to the laborers.

They’re also grown in different climates. Sugar beets can be grown in many places in the US, but sugar cane isn’t economical (except in Hawaii). So any cane sugar you buy has to be shipped longer distances.

As for that Chronicle article, I’ll believe it when I see a variable-controlled double-blind study, with a statistically large sample, over multiple test kitchens. Even if the different brand of sugar made a difference in the recipe (of which I’m skeptical), it’s more likely due to grain size and shape than to plant of origin.

“Ask some bakers the question, and they’ll tell you there IS a difference. Not being a baker, it seems to relate to how items brown and crust.”

Unless this was done with proper double blind trials, you’d have to wonder if this is just folklore rather than something actually observable in practise.

Yes they did blind taste tests in the article linked above but theres still all sorts of expectancy effects you can get with that if the person actually supplying the food to the tastee knew which was which.

Edit: Rats, too slow!


Didn’t Mike Rowe work at a sugar refinery in Louisiana?

I don’t know about that, but according to Wikipedia, the refineries are generally located near the consumers, not necessarily near the fields. A sugar refinery in Louisiana would presumably be importing raw sugar from the Caribbean.

You may be right, but I would think that shipping a raw product like sugar cane would be cost-prohibitive.

Further research is indicated.

My father was an accountant who worked at Dr Pepper headquarters in Dallas; he was one of the few people who knew exactly what went into Dr Pepper. That is to say, he knew the contents but NOT the recipe. IIRC, it was during WWII that they began using beet sugar and he absolutely hated the change in taste. There are still a few (or less) bottling plants that use cane sugar and he was ecstatic when he could buy their products. He did love him some Dr Pepper but only the “pure” thing. Personally, I wouldn’t drink Dr Pepper for pay, mostly because I was never allowed to have anything else as a child.

The “berry” in “berry sugar” denotes from the fact that it can be sprinkled on berries.
The “beet” in “beet sugar” denotes the fact that it is derived from sugar beets.

I don’t know about the raw sugar cane, but there are, I believe, seven very wealthy families in Florida who would not do nearly so well if the US Government didn’t provide them with price support. If the US imported sugar (raw or cane) from Cuba*, I believe (IIRC) that the price we pay in the grocery store would be cut in half, or less, as a result.

*I believe there are a few small producing countries who would love to export to the USA but I believe Cuba has the most production.