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When is Beet Sugar Okay?

I know, the answer is never.

Nevertheless, I find myself in possession of over five pounds of beet sugar, and using some here and there just isn't putting a dent in it.

Are there categories of recipes that don't suffer too much from the use of beet sugar? For example, I would never use beet sugar to make candy, but I wouldn't hesitate as much putting it in brownies.

Thanks for the help!

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  1. Makes great hummingbird food. Any place where you really are not going to cook with it. Like if you were going to make mint juleps, or some other syrup where texture in a baked product or a caramel is not important. I do find making hummingbihrd food the best use for it. They especially love a 1:1 ratio right now when they are gorging to fly to Mexico and go in to torpor storing up energy for the flight.

    Pei, really do not try to turn out any quality baked goods with this stuff. I know I am most vocal about the stuff. But if you need proof and can afford to be side by side tests where all things are qual except the sugar. You will be able to tell the difference right away

    1 Reply
    1. re: Candy

      I know. I think I just need to realize it's a few dollars down the drain rather than continue experimenting and ruining other ingredients with it.

    2. if the brownie taste good then eat it.

      1. Refined white sugar is 99.9% pure sucrose - the source of the sugar shouldn't make a difference at that point. I'm curious whether the side-by-side tests were double blind.

        If you believe that the sugar will cause problems in baked goods, I'm sure it wouldn't cause any discernible flavor difference in something strongly flavored like lemonade or iced-tea.

        Less refined beet sugar is hard to get - but is a signature ingredient of Belgian beers. Home-brewers pay a premium for the stuff...

        1. While living in Germany, all the sugar was beet sugar - I never noticed any significant difference. I lived with a baking family, and while the overall sweetness of German cakes and confections is much less than ours, I'm sure it's not because of the beet sugar as much as it is that they simply like it that way. What I would give for a slice of Frau Blaich's schwarzwald kirschkuchen now...

          1. Someone brought me a 5 lb bag too - unmarked - and I was right upon looking it up that it was beet sugar.

            Hopefully it will work out for random sweetening of apples in the pie. Someone needs to make a beet sugar cookbook!

            Happy Thanksgiving :)

            1. I grew up baking with beet sugar (many sugar beets raised in Minnesota) and all our baked goods came out just fine. Maybe there are subtle differences in side-by-side tests, though as liegey says, sugar is purified to 99.9% sucrose, so it sure doesn't seem like the source should make a difference.

              Now what can make a difference (I've read, not tried myself) is the size of the sugar crystal. I've read recipes that insist on superfine sugar, or at least pulverizing your regular sugar in the food processor for a while, because it will dissolve more quickly. I can far more readily believe that that's the difference between different brands of sugar than the source.

              1. If I recall other threads correctly, the main place where people have noticed a difference is in the carmelization process. For some reason the transition from carmelized sugar to burnt sugar is faster with beet sugar.

                6 Replies
                1. re: paulj

                  The first time I found a difference was when i was making a caramel sauce. It was not that it caramelIized faster, it was the end product. It glued forks to plates. The stuff stinks too. I had it in a cannister and my husband wanted to know why the sugar smelled like old tobacco smoke.

                  1. re: Candy

                    Is that smell characteristic of all beet sugar, or just a particular batch or brand of improperly processed sugar? I don't see why beet sugar can't be purified to the same whiteness and oderlessness as cane sugar. Cane molasses does smell (though I wouldn't say it stinks).

                    I wonder what sugar beet syrup tastes and smells like. According to the wiki article it is popular in parts of Germany (Zuckerrüben-Sirup).

                    1. re: paulj

                      I only bought it twice, but both times it stank. The odor did not show up in the food but was very noticeable when the cannister was opened.

                      1. re: Candy

                        Was it the same brand? Maybe that brand has poor quality control?

                        Makes me want to go buy two bags of sugar and do a sniff test!

                      2. re: paulj

                        I've never noticed a difference----it is white and odorless to most. Besides I'd rather go local.

                  2. Don't use it in cake. I've done several recipes both ways and the beet are tough and mealy.

                    1. Julia Child once warned her listeners to avoid beet sugar and only use cane sugar. Not long after that she recanted this statement. After a little education on the subject she agreed that beet and cane sugar could be used interchangeably. It was the only time I have ever heard a TV cook do that. Lord knows, those on TV today say the most outrageous things and never correct themselves.
                      I have used these sugars interchangeably any time I have had beet sugar in my cupboard. The only difference I have noted is that the beet sugar often is a coarser grind.

                      1. Are you kidding me? Beet sugar is always good to use! I've lived in and grew up in
                        Michigan, a primary source for beet sugar and a staple of the agricultural industry --huge market impact. So, in loyalty, I almost only use beet sugar, supporting our local farmers.
                        I have never noticed a difference in 40 + years of cooking between cane and beet sugar.

                        1. Interesting that these 2 year old threads are being dragged out (yay!) even if the search engine says it will only bring back items less than a year old (boo!)
                          Anyhow, this brings to mind a recent post on one of my fave cooking blogs, FX Cuisine, written by a chap named François Xavier in Switzerland, about his visit to a beet sugar factory out there. The results seem like standard sugar and it's what the Swiss use because they don't want to rely on cane sugar:

                          1 Reply
                          1. re: TheSnowpea

                            Snowpea, if you use the search box on the upper right of the page, above the ads and articles, you will get the entire archive, not just the past year.

                            I've generally used cane sugar, but my understanding is that beet sugar is standard in Europe, where it is a local product - as you note, a reliance on cane sugar would be difficult and expensive for Europeans.

                          2. I just checked my sugar bag and no label as to beet or cane. I know we grow sugar beets in Alberta, so somebody's using it!

                            1 Reply
                            1. re: sarah galvin

                              Usually if there is no label indicating the type it is most likely beet sugar. I can't say I've noticed a difference between the two but I don't bake.

                            2. There is a difference
                              But it's more apparent when making caramel, or when using darker sugars

                              2 Replies
                              1. re: rockfish42

                                Notice that they're mostly talking about brown sugars, which are quite different because of the processing. They go on to say, "The effect is less dramatic with white granulated sugar. "

                                I do wonder if the caramelization problem with the white sugar varies with brand or crystal size more than the plant material. After all, most people are using C&H as the cane sugar, so that's pretty consistent, but there are many manufacturers of beet sugar. Has Harold McGee done any tests?

                                1. re: Karen_Schaffer

                                  Just checked my copy of On Food and Cooking, revised edition, pages 670-673
                                  Pretty much lists a bunch of problems with beet sugar, I'm unwilling to type out the specifics though due to laziness.

                              2. Here we go, a great article investigating cane vs beet sugar:


                                Especially down in his conclusion, "Beet sugar versus cane sugar is not the issue. It matters far, far less than granule size and shape," which is one thing I suspected all along. This also suggests that there could be differences between sugar cane brands as well depending on how each brand grades their crystal sizes.

                                However, and this certainly relates to Candy's bad experiences with stinky sugar, Harold McGee says, "Beet sugar in particular sometimes carries earthy, rancid off-odors...This reputation may be an undeserved legacy of the early 20th century, when refining techniques weren't as effective". He attributes the stinkiness to poor storage during which bacteria and mold can grow on the beets and contribute off-flavors, whereas sugar cane is so perishable that it is always processed immediately.

                                Now I grew up in Minnesota where Crystal sugar is headquartered, so that's the brand we used. I remember seeing mountains of frozen sugar beets. Frozen, important word. Maybe Crystal sugar holds their processors to high standards or maybe they're just lucky that the climate cooperates with the storage. But sugar beets in Minnesota are unlikely to have a lot of bacterial or fungal growth in those storage conditions.

                                Bottom line? If I still lived in Minnesota, I'd still be buying Crystal, but I'm on the west coast now, so I'll stick with C&H (for what little baking I do). If I were a regular baker, I'd always buy the same brand, hoping for consistency from them. I'd avoid generic or store-brands, on the grounds that they go with the cheapest wholesaler. I would certainly complain if I ever got a stinky bag. If stinky sugar is a common problem, the industry should insist that offenders clean up their act.

                                1 Reply
                                1. re: Karen_Schaffer

                                  Thanks for a great run down, Karen. Very helpful.

                                2. One major difference I've found between beet and cane is in the making of Swiss and French Meringues...for reasons that i can't begin to understand, after several attempts, i could never get the beet sugar to dissolve properly, creating either gritty French meringue or un-fluffable Swiss Meringue...I was really - and still am-flummoxened by this.