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What’s the Difference Between Beet Sugar and Cane Sugar?
Have you ever noticed on your bag of sugar whether it says “Pure Cane Sugar”? Take a look. If it doesn’t, chances are that your sugar was made from beets.
What does this mean? Cane sugar is made from the stem of the sugar cane plant. Beet sugar is derived from the root of the beet plant. According to Harold McGee’s excellent reference book On Food and Cooking: The Science and Lore of the Kitchen,
…beet sugar sometimes carries traces of defensive chemicals called saponins, which resemble soaps. These are known to cause the development of a scum in syrups, and may also be responsible for the poor baking performance sometimes attributed to beet sugar. (This reputation may be an undeserved legacy of the early 20th century, when refining techniques weren’t as effective and the quality of beet sugar often didn’t measure up to that of cane sugar.)
Unbeknownst to me, I bought beet sugar for years. The store brand sugar at my grocery store was the cheapest, so I never thought twice about it. Before I knew that the “Sugar” in my pantry was actually beet sugar, I baked a whole lot of cookies, cakes, and brownies with it. Needless to say, I didn’t notice a thing- until a national brand of cane sugar went on sale and I picked up a bag. The first thing I baked with it was a batch of chocolate chip cookies. When they were done baking, I noticed a subtle difference in the evenness and quality of browning on top of the cookie. It wasn’t a huge difference, but it was definitely a difference.
Is there really a noticeable difference between beet sugar and cane sugar when baking? Heather Solos over at Home Ec 101 says,
Cane sugar may caramelize better than beet, but the difference may not be noticeable to most. (That doesn’t mean that highly skilled cooks and industry professionals wouldn’t notice the difference.)
All right! That must mean I’m a highly skilled cook, right?
In all modesty, however, I didn’t notice a big difference in other baked goods, such as fruit crumble, muffins, or brownies. So I have to conclude that in many types of baked goods, the type of sugar is not a big deal. If you have beet sugar, it will work just fine. If you want the optimum effects of caramelization, then cane sugar is your surest bet.
Have you tried out beet sugar and cane sugar? What did you think?
Read more about the difference between white sugar and brown sugar!