I wonder sometimes if much thought goes into sugar. Everyone knows what sugar is. What I am talking about here is table sugar. Regular old granulated white sugar that has been processed to be squeaky clean. We use it in everything from our morning cup of Joe to the chocolate ice cream we gorge on while watching Netflix at night. I would say most people just buy the big 5lb generic store brand bag of sugar from the grocery store without a second thought. How often do you look to see what that sugar is made from. Is it made from from sugar beets? Is it made from sugar cane? What is the difference? Should you even care? These are questions I am going to answer as we wrap up “What is the Difference” week here at Eat Like No One Else.
What is Beet Sugar?
As we get to each type of sugar I first want to start with how they are made. Understand this and you will begin to understand why it might matter which choice you make at the store. Beet sugar is grown well from beets. The same family as the red beets you see in every grocery store. Those are pretty sweet themselves. The beets grown for sugar are white in color and lack the shall I say earthy flavor of the red beet.
Sugar beets are grown in temperate climates. They can be grown in northern states that have cold winters. They are grown commercially in California, Colorado, Idaho, Michigan, Minnesota, Montana, Nebraska, North Dakota, Oregon, Washington and Wyoming.
How is Beet Sugar Made?
Here is a great explanation of how beet sugar is produced from the Sugar Industry Biotech Council.
Beet sugar processing normally is accomplished in one continuous process. During the process, the natural sugar stored in the beet root is separated from the rest of the plant material. The sugar beets are washed, sliced and boiled in water to begin the sugar extraction process. The resulting sugar-containing juice is filtered, concentrated to a thick syrup by boiling where the sugar begins to crystallize, washed with hot water in a rapidly spinning centrifuge to separate sugar and molasses and dried in a series of steps. After sugar and molasses have been recovered from the sugar beet, the remaining pulp is utilized for animal feed.
What is Cane Sugar?
Cane sugar comes from a completely different plant. This plant grows like a stalk. Sort of looks like bamboo. Technically it is a tall growing grass. Sugar cane can only be grown in tropical climates. In the United States it is only grown in Florida, Hawaii, Louisiana and Texas. Florida is the leader producer.
How is Cane Sugar Made?
Here is a great explanation of how cane sugar is produced from the Sugar Industry Biotech Council.
During the process, the natural sugar stored in the cane stalk is separated from the rest of the plant material. This separation begins by grinding the cane and boiling it in water to begin the sugar extraction process. The sugar-containing juice is boiled until it thickens into a syrup from which the sugar crystallizes, the crystals are spun in a centrifuge where a portion of the molasses is removed to produce raw sugar, and the raw sugar is traditionally dried before shipment to a refinery. At the refinery, the raw sugar is mixed with water in a rapidly spinning centrifuge to remove the last remaining molasses. The white sugar is then crystallized, dried and packaged.
What is the Difference Between Cane and Beet Sugar?
The big difference is the plants that produce the sugar and where those plants grow. Cane sugar has a more limited growing area in the United States than beet sugar. When it comes down to taste, there really isn’t any difference. We are talking about two refined sugars. Nutritionally I have not read anyone with convincing arguments that one more nutritious than the other.
I also wanted to point out that you can find whole cut up sugar cane in many stores. I have never seen fresh sugar beets in any store – so you do have that difference.
The GMO Issue
Here comes the big but – sugar made from sugar beets can be derived from GMO seed. In fact nearly all of the beet sugar grown in the U.S. today is from GMO seed. If this issue is important to you and you want to buy sugar, stir clear of beet sugar. In order to do this you need to only buy sugar that reads “pure cane sugar” on the package. After searching all the options at several grocery stores, I found none of them had sugar that was labeled beet sugar on the packaging. The only thing getting labeled is the cane sugar. If it doesn’t say cane sugar is it almost certain to be beet sugar. Since buying pure cane sugar is now becoming a popular thing, no producer would miss out on marketing their sugar as cane sugar.
Which to Buy – Beet Sugar or Cane Sugar
The sugar that I use and I highly recommend is a pure cane sugar, so I am recommending cane sugar over beet sugar for all your sweetening needs. Zulka Morena Pure Cane Sugar is the sugar I buy unless I can’t get when I absolutely need sugar. Zulka sugar is less refined than most sugars. It does not have that pure white color of most table sugars. The sugar simply tastes better. It has more flavor to it. You can use it the same way you use any granulated sugar. You can order it online (this is an affiliate link)
Interested in learning about the history of sugar? A great piece of recommended reading is “Sugar Changed the World: A Story of Magic, Spice, Slavery, Freedom, and Science“. The book will show you how something simple as sugar that we take for granted has had a huge impact on the lives of many people throughout history.