I’ve touched on sugar, mostly brown sugar, in the past “Pantry 101 – Baking and Spices 6-12” but we just got a question from Debbie in California asking what is the difference between cane sugar, corn sugar, and beet sugar, so we’ll go into depth to answer that question here.
Sugar is a term for a class of edible crystalline carbohydrates, mainly sucrose, lactose, and fructose, characterized by a sweet flavor. In food, sugars refer to all monosaccharides and disaccharides present in food, but excludes polyols, while in its singular form, sugar normally refers to sucrose, which in its fully refined (or free sugar) form primarily comes from sugar cane and sugar beet, though is present in natural form in many carbohydrates. Other free sugars are used in industrial food preparation, but are usually known by more specific names—glucose, fructose or fruit sugar, high fructose corn syrup, etc. Currently, Brazil has the highest per capita production of sugar.
C&H’s web site says this about cane sugar:
“How Cane Sugar is Better
Not all sugars are created equal. Lots of us have been brought up thinking that all sugars are—well—pretty much the same, and that the kind of sugar we use won’t make much difference. Even today, most people don’t know that some grocery stores carry two different kinds of sugar: cane sugar and beet sugar. Pure Cane Sugar, the kind C&H uses exclusively, is refined from sugarcane plants. The first cultivated sugar crop, sugarcane is grown above ground, nurtured in fresh tropical breezes under warm sunshine. Beet sugar, found in some store brands and in other makers that often don’t specify the source, is extracted from beets grown underground as a root crop. Cane sugar contains trace minerals that are different from those in beet sugar, and it’s these minerals that many experts say make cane sugar preferable to use. As professional bakers have long noticed, cane sugar has a low melting-point, absorbs fewer extraneous and undesirable odors, blends easily and is less likely to foam up. And that can be very important when you’re caramelizing a syrup, making a delicate glaze, baking a delicious meringue, or simmering your family’s favorite jam recipe.”
Domino Sugar, Dixie Crystal and C&H are all cane sugar and say so on the label
Holly Sugar, which acquired Spreckles, is beet sugar
Chemically identical to cane sugar 99.05 percent. But that .05 percent makes a big difference when cooking. Beets are harvested in the fall and are usually grown much further from the processing plant than sugar cane, requiring a higher transportation cost. Beets are a root vegetable and more processing is required to clean them and separate the greens. Also important to note is that beets are a rotational crop while sugar cane is a mono crop. Rotational crops require 4 times as much land to grow as mono crops. To learn more about how beets are turned into sugar go here. For all practical purposes the only difference between beet and cane sugar may be how they react to heat.
Corn sugar is better known as corn syrup. Yes, just like the corn syrup in your pantry. Now, the difference is that corn syrup has no fructose as opposed to cane sugar or beet sugar. Table sugar from sugar beets or sugar cane is composed of 50 percent fructose and 50 percent glucose. For a lot of reasons I won’t get into now, but can be found in the movie “King Corn“, corn syrup is much cheaper to produce than cane or beet sugar, but it doesn’t taste the same. In step the scientists to “fix” that problem. Scientists found a way to chemically alter corn syrup to create a cheap liquid sugar by adding fructose, hence the name high fructose corn syrup. The corn syrup is high in fructose relative to other corn syrup, not to sugar. HFCS-55 has a similar fructose ratio to honey and is composed of 55 percent fructose and 45 percent glucose and is used in soft drinks. There is also a HFCS-45, which is less sweet than sugar and HFCS-55 and is used in many baked goods, jams, jellies, and cereals. HFCS-45 contains 45 percent fructose and 55 percent glucose. It is widely believed that because HFCS has been chemically altered that the body doesn’t react to it in the same way as sugar, but that has yet to be proven.
Many believe that caramel made with beet sugar will crystallize and never form caramel where cane sugar works well. Cane sugar on a creme brulee caramelizes while beet sugar burns. Boiled icing is said to be a mess made with beet sugar. If the package of sugar doesn’t say cane, it’s beet. Some brands mix the two.
Happy baking and keep on Farming you Fat Farmers- Jughandle