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Jul 1, 2009 07:12 AM

Sugar Sugar

The sugar aisle at my local grocery store is expanding. Can someone tell me the difference between cane sugar and beet sugar. Is one better than the other? I notice that even generic brands are putting out four pound bags in both types. And I love " Sugar in the Raw". I now have five different types of sugar in my cupboard.....Is sugar the "new" salt?

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  1. Chemically, granulated cane and beet sugar are the same, but here at Chowhound you will find people stating a preference for cane over beet sugar due to perceived greater reliability for certain uses. Cane sugar in the US has a higher price due to federal price support policies for that crop.

    Unless you're eating the cane, the sugar you see in the supermarket is processed, not raw. The closest to raw is product that goes by the name of Rapadura sugar, but even it is not raw. Generally, though, most brown sugars are white sugars that have had extracted molasses added back in after refining.

    4 Replies
    1. re: Karl S

      "The closest to raw is product that goes by the name of Rapadura sugar"
      to clarify, Rapadura is a brand name for the type of sugar known as Demerara.

      in terms of brown sugar, there are some relatively unprocessed ones, but you won't find them on the shelves of conventional grocery stores. Piloncillo (also called panela) is an unrefined Mexican brown sugar, and palm sugar (or jaggery) is an unrefined brown sugar commonly used in Southeast Asian cuisine.

      1. re: goodhealthgourmet

        Well, Rapadura is perhaps a subtype of demerara, but my experience with both is that demarara is more like hard crystals while Rapadura is somewhat more unevenly pelleted in quality. What I have read is that Rapadura is processed at lower temperatures than demerara in general, which might explain the difference in texture.

        1. re: Karl S

          oy, i just re-read my post. i was thinking of Rapunzel, which is a *brand* of rapadura! sorry, brain is running on low speed today ;) and you're right, there are differences between rapadura & demerara.

          1. re: Karl S

            In Ecuador, and possibly other parts of South America, 'raspadura' is one of the names for the raw sugar that is sold in blocks. The Mexican version is usually molded into cones called piloncillo (pilons). The name 'raspadura' sounds like if comes from 'raspar', to grate, and 'dura', hard. One way of using sugar like this is to grate it. The other way is to dissolve chunks in boiling water, creating a syrup (miel de paneala).

      2. beyond the differences in the way they're processed before packaging, beet & cane sugar also behave differently in certain baking confectionery applications. beet sugar burns/scorches more quickly that cane sugar, which makes it less reliable/more temperamental for thinks like caramel & glazes. it also doesn't dissolve or distribute as completely in baked goods, which can noticeably affect the texture & crumb of the final product, particularly if you're making something like angel food or sponge cake.

        for the record, a majority of the sugar sold in the US is beet sugar, because it's cheaper to produce.

        5 Replies
        1. re: goodhealthgourmet

          "it also doesn't dissolve or distribute as completely in baked goods"

          How is this possible? As long as both sugars are ground evenly, and to the same fineness (and there is no clumping), then distribution is solely a function of your mixing, not some hidden chemical difference in the sucrose.

          You might get differences like this if you compare a pricey C&H Bakers sugar and the cheapest generic package in the store. But I'd attribute that to the care taken in processing and packaging, not cane v beet.

          1. re: paulj

            gotta disagree with you Paul. it's not a function of my (or anyone else's) mixing, and i never said that it was due to "some hidden chemical difference in the sucrose." in fact, it's more in line with your comment about processing & packaging - they're harvested and processed differently, so of course the end product isn't going to be 100% identical on a microscopic level. the difference could be anything from granule size or shape to moisture content...and when you're dealing with chemistry, even miniscule differences can have an impact., as is clearly seen in the different way the two behave when making caramel or toffee. if you don't believe me, try doing a side-by-side comparison topping creme brulee with each. when you hit it with the torch, you'll have a blackened mess with the beet sugar one in a matter of seconds.

            "You might get differences like this if you compare a pricey C&H Bakers sugar and the cheapest generic package in the store."
            C&H is pure cane sugar, while the cheaper generic ones most often contain beet sugar as well. so there you go.

            1. re: goodhealthgourmet

              Is there a difference in the quality of beet sugar produced in France and Germany, compared to the USA? They both grow as much or more than the USA.

              1. re: paulj

                interesting question...but i haven't a clue!

            2. re: paulj

              I bought both cane and beet sugar by the same label and, honestly the only difference I detect is that the cane sugar seems "softer"; it doesn't seem as rough edged as the beet on the tongue. Of course, my perception may be skewed because I already know its a different product....I should do a blind taste test LOL

          2. I was thinking the same thing the other day. I have been reading about limited production "artisinal" palm sugars that are supposed to be amazing. I have started using piloncillo- challenging since it a rock hard cone, but I love the caramel-like taste. On the liquid side I am also intrigued by molasses and honey. I have been playing around with them in my marinades, salad dressing, etc.