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Feb 27, 2008 03:26 PM

cane vs beet sugar

I heard once that there is a difference in which you use, particularly for caramelizing. Is there?

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    ...But I personally have never noticed a difference.

    1. Unless the sugar you buy at the store is 100% cane, you could possibly have a mix of them anyway, so I wouldn't worry about it.

      1 Reply
      1. re: katecm least that's not my experience...
        or the experience of other baking pros with whom I've discussed this.

        I regularly make creme brulee and caramel. Beet sugar will burn in a brulee, cane sugar will caramelize. Caramel made with beet sugar will crystallize and never form caramel -- cane sugar works brilliantly. Boiled icing is a mess made with beet sugar. I'm a C&H cane sugar girl all the way. The SFGate article Egg mentions above is a good article. If the package of sugar doesn't say cane,
        it's beet.

      2. I find that 100% cane is best for pulled sugar work, either kind works well for caramel and, frosting and candies.

        1. For starters, I simply don't like beet sugar. I swear I can taste a difference. But I've also had bad results with beet sugar in icings and candy. As a result I only buy cane sugar, almost always C&H. For the record, I don't think I've ever seen a confectioner's sugar made from beets. That should say something, even if it's only that I'm blind. But I don't think so.

          10 Replies
          1. re: Caroline1

            do European chefs have the same preference for cane sugar? It's my impression that beet sugar is more common there, with countries like France and Germany being big producers.


            1. re: paulj

              I don't know the answer to your question, but I would guess not. Beet sugar is very unreliable for confectionary work, and I don't think that has anything to do with what continent you''re on when you use it. '-)

              As far as I know, beet sugar got an impetus during the U.S. food rationing program of World War II. At that time, most U.S. sugar was grown in Hawaii, and the use of fuel for shipping to the mainland was severely limited as part of the war effort. I don't think there was enough Caribbean sugar cane available at the time, but I'm not sure of this. Anyway, home grown beet sugar became the patriotic thing to use. In Oregon, there was even a program that brought Japanese AMERICANS out of those stupid internmnet camps to work in the sugar beet fields. Don't know which was worse: You can stay locked up, or you can break your back working in the beet fields.

              1. re: Caroline1

                Its impetus in the USA might date from then, but its start in Europe dates from the Napoleonic wars when England cut the Continent off from sugar from the West Indies. Ever since then sugar beet growers have benefited from import quotas.

                Does the French 'bible' (LG) have anything to say about sugar from different sources? LaVarenne Pratique says there's no difference in taste and cooking properties.


                1. re: paulj

                  The gist of what Larousse Gastronomique says about beet sugar is that a German chemist names Marggraf, discovered sugar in beet juice in 1747. One of his followers, a French refugee names Achard, set up an experiemental factor but basically went broke, then started up again in France at the instigation of Napoleon, in response to the Continental Blockade. From that time it grew into a "big industry."

                  LG gives a lot of information about saturated sugar solutions, the stages it goes through during boiling (soft thread, large thread, small ball, large ball, small crack, hard crack, caramel), as well as the degree of saturation that can be attained at different temperatures.

                  It does say that originally there was a lot of backlash against beet sugar in Europe, with claims it doesn't taste good, isn't as sweet as cane sugar, and other complains (though not working in candy making isn't menitioned) until a fellow named Chaptal showed by "irrefutable experment" that beet sugar and cane sugar are identical. After that, beet sugar was accepted and "today" (1960's) is "almost" as big a source for sugar as cane. No mention of beet sugar acceptance or rejection by the general public in the New World.

                  At the personal experience level, I did believe I percieved in a difference in taste and function between beet and cane sugar some forty or so years ago. But I can't remember the last time I saw anything labeled "beet sugar," so rather than give it another try, I'll just stay with the easily found C&H cane sugar...

                  1. re: Caroline1

                    Beet sugar is never labeled as such in the US. If you're buying sugar that isn't labeled cane sugar, then you must assume that there is a fair to sure possibility that what you are buying contains at least a percentage of beet sugar.

                    1. re: Caitlin McGrath

                      Thanks, Caitlin. I can't remember a time when I didn't exclusively buy and use C&H Cane Sugar. My mother did the same. But I did have beet sugar at someone's house when I was a kid... No idea whose, just that beet sugar was presented with pride, and I thought it tasted strange. That was a very very long time ago, and I have to assume that refining processes have changed a great deal. On the other hand, if I haven't tasted beet sugar since that long ago occasion, why should I leap to such a shaky conclusion? Maybe the power of my expectations made it taste strange? '-)

                      1. re: Caitlin McGrath

                        "Beet sugar is never labeled as such in the US."

                        Perhaps not "labeled as such" on the FRONT of the package, but I have a 10 pound bag of 'Great Value' brand sugar which lists on a side panel: "Ingredients: Beet Sugar."

                        ETA: I'm in the PNW/USA...daughters ex room mate did a lot of baking and left behind several packages of various sugars. Evidently roomie couldn't recall whether or not she had enough of a particular sugar on hand, so bought more.

                        1. re: Caitlin McGrath

                          At least here in Michigan, beet sugar is often labeled as specifically beet sugar, with a little picture of a beet. And this is for store brands, like Meijer's, WalMart, etc. Certain locally produced brands produced by the Michigan Sugar Growers Coop aren't labeled per se, buts its pretty obvious.

                    2. re: Caroline1

                      my dad worked on a beet sugar farm in nebraska before entering service during ww2.
                      when losses decimated volunteer japanese american units in europe men were drafted out of camps as replacements. units were segregated then.
                      my brothers fil makes chocolate commercially and insists on c&h cane sugar.
                      i just got some brown sugar on sale not my usual c&h. it has a very strong smell though i haven't tried it yet.

                  2. re: Caroline1

                    You can find confectioners sugar made from beet sugar in the US. One particular company, Big Chief, here in Michigan makes it with wheat starch instead the typical corn starch. I can find it occasionally under their own name brand, but most often they pack it for others as the store brand. I stock up whenever I can, since I'm allergic to corn/corn starch, and I don't want to pay the ridiculously $$$ amount for confectioners sugar made with tapioca starch...$4/lb+shipping or $1.25 for a 2 lb bag locally, which reminds me, I need to buy some more when I go shopping this afternoon.

                  3. I'll try to dig up some threads on this for you - there has been some discussion of this and I remember Candy weighing in - particularly about baking w/ one vs. the other.

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