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My initial guess was that refined sugar has to be the same no matter its provenance, but now I wonder if cane sugar has a different ratio of sucrose/glucose/fructose than beet sugar. Is there any reason why packages of refined sugar advertise 100% cane sugar?

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I usually buy beet sugar because there are a fair bit of sugar beet farms in my state, so all things equal, might as well buy local (-ish...may well be imported from half way across the country, who knows.) – Nick T Mar 8 '11 at 2:07
In Britain, beet is produced locally and cane is not. So you'd choose beet for reasons of patriotism, or concern for food-miles, etc. – slim Mar 9 '11 at 16:18
@slim, my economics professor described buying more expensive domestic products as "misguided charity" rather than patriotism. :) – Neil G Mar 9 '11 at 18:48
it's not typically more expensive though. – slim Mar 10 '11 at 13:02
I had assumed that the "100% cane sugar" advertisement is simply a marketing ploy by the cane sugar industry, rather than a statement of anything important. (Sort of how P.T. Barnum allegedly sold white salmon by guaranteeing that it won't turn pink when canned.) I'm no sugar expert, but I'm betting that the main differences between brands are attributable to the crystal size rather than the source of the sucrose. – mrog Nov 16 at 19:24

7 Answers 7

up vote 6 down vote accepted

White beet sugar and white cane sugar are virtually identical in composition, but there may be very small differences (~0.05%) which some cooks find affects carmelization. Reportedly, cane sugar will carmelize better than beet sugar in many cases.

The bigger difference is when you look at brown sugars. In beet sugar, molasses is added after refining to make the brown sugar, as the molasses that comes from beet sugar is not fit for human consumption. Cane sugar is simply a less-refined product where the molasses has been left in the product. So when baking with beet brown sugar, often the molasses hasn't fully penetrated the sugar granules and "rubs off".

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In fact, cane sugar based brown sugar is also in practice usually made by adding mollasas back in to the fully refined white sugar. – SAJ14SAJ Nov 3 '13 at 17:25

They are both mostly sucrose, and they are very similar. But like anything else, there are many differences depending on your point of view. If you come from some parts of Europe you will be very familiar with it

The three main sugars of the world are beet, cane, and corn - depending on where you live. Corn is significantly different from beet and cane. See High fructose corn syrup for more sugar differences

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I've noticed a difference in making up meringue for my pies using beet sugar vs. the cane sugar. Seems harder to both get those stiff peak and brown the meringue afterwards using beet granulated sugar than it is using granulated cane sugar.

Either way, I've done enough research now on this cane vs. beet and have come to the conclusion that I prefer cane sugar, and that if the package does not say cane, it is probably beet sugar.

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I don't think the hummingbird part really has anything to do with the difference between the two, but if there was an important point there, feel free to edit it back in. – Jefromi Jul 29 at 20:14

Beet sugar is often sprayed with sulphites to keep it fresh, therefore cane sugar is better for people who have respiratory illnesses or rhinitis.

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Wecome T, do you have a source for that information? You can add to you answer by clicking the "edit" link just below your post. – Debbie M. Nov 15 at 15:46
How does sugar spoil? – Neil G Nov 16 at 17:53

In certain countries, known processing methods for different sugars differ, so the information can be relevant eg to vegetarians wanting to avoid sugar filtered through animal derived charcoal.

Also, it specialty sugars market to the health foodist war on inexpensive pantry staples :)

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I've had the impression that beet sugar has a stronger sweetening effect- I often cut down to 1/2 or less if I am using it in a recipe. Is it just me or...

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I have noticed that some jelly won't set when made with beet sugar.

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Almost all sugar sold in Europe is beet sugar, and our jellies set just fine. – rumtscho Nov 4 '13 at 12:03

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