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?

  • 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
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    @slim, my economics professor described buying more expensive domestic products as "misguided charity" rather than patriotism. :) – Neil G Mar 9 '11 at 18:48
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    it's not typically more expensive though. – slim Mar 10 '11 at 13:02
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    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 '15 at 19:24

13 Answers 13


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 caramelization. Reportedly, cane sugar will caramelize 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


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 :)


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.

  • 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. – Cascabel Jul 29 '15 at 20:14

Yes. There are some reasons.

  • Commercial sugar beets used for beet sugar these days are genetically engineered.* A lot of people like to have 100% GMO-free food. Although they may be trying to get GMO cane sugar on the market, I don't believe it's a thing currently.
  • The taste/smell. They do taste/smell different to some people, including me. I prefer cane sugar personally (but that's just my personal preference). This is a personal and social observation (not a scientifically studied one; so, a human capacity to smell sugar or sugar impurities would need to be validated by studies). Beet sugar is easier for me to identify than cane sugar (which has a very faint smell).
  • Allergies. Some people may be allergic to sugar beets, but not sugar cane. If you're allergic to such as amaranth, then you may be allergic to beets, too, since they're related. (I don't tend to digest amaranth well, personally, but I don't think I'm allergic. Regular beets make me feel uneasy when I eat them—I love the way radishes, which are not closely related to beets/amaranth, make me feel, though. So, avoiding beet sugar just might be a little healthier for me in that regard—but maybe not. Whatever the case, it would be safer for a highly allergic person to avoid beet sugar.) I personally don't know that a dangerous sugar beet allergy exists, nor whether it affects what sugar you should eat (but, generally with allergies, being careful is a good idea). Allergy to sugar cane is another consideration here, though. Sugar cane is related to wheat and other grass family grains.
  • Psychological reasons. I image others, such as myself, learned about sugar cane and how it's sweet raw, and then learned that sugar beets are totally not sweet until you process them into sugar. Thus, sugar cane seems more romantic (in the old sense), since you can relax and enjoy it fresh. Really, this doesn't impact the sugar, but if you're thinking about smelly sugar beet factories (I'm familiar with the smell) and non-sweet beets vs sweet canes you can taste right off the bat, you might be more inclined to choose 100% cane sugar.
  • Some people care about what kind of work went into their food. I mean, they might want to know which industry profits from it.

I'm sure there are other reasons, too.

*It should be noted that people tend to claim that sugar from GMO sugar beets contains no GMOs, since they claim it's just sugar or some such. So, they may use that to get out of the GMO labeling argument (and some people may still want to avoid sugar derived from GMOs; so, the sugar cane labeling is useful in order for them to avoid such sugar).

  • Just FYI sugar is odorless. There are no olfactory receptors for sugar. – Neil G Dec 30 '16 at 5:45
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    You know what I mean. I don't just mean the sugar. I mean the entire product that is called the sugar, which may include lots of trace proteins and other stuff, which impurities (not necessarily proteins) may indeed have a smell, whether or not people can smell sugar. Whatever the case, I definitely can smell the product we call sugar (impurities included). – Brōtsyorfuzthrāx Dec 30 '16 at 5:47
  • Refined sugar is 99.9% sucrose. Maybe you're right that you can smell the 0.1% (which is probably mostly water), but I think it's more likely you are smelling whatever you mix the sugar with. – Neil G Dec 30 '16 at 5:50
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    @NeilG : No way smelling the other ingredients mixed with the sugar. If you stick your face in a canister of sugar, and it has that rank dirty feet smell, "o-m-g" you will not be able to ignore it. I don't have super-nostrils, and can't smell it in the finished dessert. Can't really be certain it was even beet vs. cane, but it certainly wasn't a hallucination. "Dirty feet" describes it exactly. – Lorel C. Mar 21 '17 at 14:45
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    @LorelC. That's not the phenomenon I was talking about, but I've experienced that, too. It's good to hear another person describe it. I'm not sure which kind of sugar it was, but it was old. I still ate it, though (cooked), and survived. Yes, I know that sounds disgusting (I was certainly uncomfortable with it), but when not everyone can smell it (not for lack of a scent), it's hard to justify throwing it away to them. I think it was some kind of sugar-resistant yeast or fungus that crept in from the lid being loose or open too much over the years, personally (hence why I cooked it). – Brōtsyorfuzthrāx Mar 22 '17 at 10:05

under a microscope, cane my sugar is translucent and less geometric; it looks fractured. The granulated is crystal clear and very cubical; it LOOKS manufactured. Think, quartz shards versus glass crystals. There is clearly a different manufacturing process.

  • Yeah, I do think they have a different texture. What you say would explain it. – Brōtsyorfuzthrāx Mar 22 '17 at 10:16

I CAN smell the differences in the sugars- cane vs beet, when I open the bag, and after I measure out the sugar and allow it to set in an open measuring cup. Beet sugar to me smells like dirty feet. Cane sugar has very little smell. I can even tell the difference in the smell of, say sugar cookies- in cooking, as it were, if there is not a lot of scent added to the product. The TASTE is roughly the same, however. Its the dirty feet-smell I cant get past. I have a very sensitive nose, compared to most other folk. So, whether or not the body has receptors for Sugar-smell, it certainly CAN tell the difference. I am proof. But then. again, I can also smell coffee brweing in a home or cafe quite often as i drive down the freeway, too.


Beet sugar dissolves a little faster in liquid. Why I don't know.


I've traveled and lived in a lot of places (a military life). I've noticed that Beet Sugar does not clump/harden like Cane sugar while setting in a canister or sugar dispenser/bowl.


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 '15 at 15:46
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    How does sugar spoil? – Neil G Nov 16 '15 at 17:53
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    I don't know about 'spraying' sulfites, but this link has something to say about sulfites added to sugar: livestrong.com/article/108427-list-foods-sulfite-allergies I've also heard they can add enzymes (not required to be listed in ingredients) to oil and sugar (not particularly beet sugar). Anyway, we don't know that the sulfites are added as a sugar preservative. They may have another purpose. Maybe it's to preserve the baked goods people make with it, because of agreements between industries. Or so dried fruit with sugar added doesn't have to list sulfites in ingredients. – Brōtsyorfuzthrāx Mar 22 '17 at 10:34

I use white granulated sugar mainly for tea and coffee. Cane sugar seems harder and takes longer to dissolve. Beet sugar seems softer and dissolves more easily. Also, beet sugar seems to taste sweeter so I have to use a little less or ruin my cuppa.


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

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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