Beet Sugar Vs Cane Sugar

Decorating By msmeg Updated 9 Aug 2005 , 3:05pm by Sugar

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msmeg Posted 18 Apr 2005 , 6:06pm
post #1 of 4

this is part of and article long but interesting

The Chronicle Food staff baked five batches of bar cookies in our test kitchen, each using a different brand of light brown sugar. Tasters didn't know which was which. The cookies made with cane were far superior in taste and texture to those made from beet (see related story).

We then made a second batch, using just one brand of sugar -- C & H Light Brown Sugar -- to see if results would be consistent between different packages. We used a new bag, right off the store shelf, and a partly used one that had been stored in a home pantry for several weeks. Again, there were differences, but they were slight compared to the ones in the first tasting.

Moisture differences, industry experts say, may account for the variation in both instances.

The effect is less dramatic with white granulated sugar.

``I'm sure I've used beet sugar for baking cakes, and there have not been any problems that I know of,'' says The Chronicle's baking columnist Flo Braker.

However, when we baked four versions of her Butterscotch Pound Cake -- using white granulated beet sugar, white granulated cane, light brown beet and light brown cane -- the differences in crumb texture, appearance and flavor were apparent, although subtle (see related story).

They weren't subtle in creme brulee, however. In our testing of white beet sugar we found that it refused to caramelize on top (see photo on cover page).

We prepared several ramekins of creme brulee, topping them with either beet or cane granulated sugar. When caramelized with a small blow torch -- the traditional way of browning the topping -- the cane sugar became brown and bubbly and the beet burned in seconds.

These are reasons that some professionals specify a type or even a brand of sugar. Because of her own experiences at The Bake Shop and as a cooking teacher, Weil always requests C & H. In fact, Weil has become so devoted to the brand that she became a spokesperson for the company after research for this story began.

San Francisco confectioner Joseph Schmidt, nationally renowned for his chocolate truffles and other candy, also prefers cane sugar. ``I always order C & H,'' he says. ``When I make caramel, it seems to be cleaner. And it `snaps' better when I make brittle and things like that.''

Most manufacturers who specify a type or brand of sugar will not reveal what it is because their recipes are proprietary. But C & H's Flores says that some caramel popcorn and cinnamon roll producers are asking for his company's brown sugar because of its molasses content and uniformity.

Consumers, however, don't have the luxury of knowing what they're getting. Labeling law doesn't require a cane or beet designation. C & H is the only mass-market producer to do so; other refiners decline. The question is why.

The Sugar Association's Baker suggests that some manufacturers may consider the beet or cane designation simply ``a marketing tool.'' Goodwin of the state's beet growers' association says he's puzzled.

``I don't know why beet sugar producers don't label their sugar.'' He theorizes that perhaps beet producers can't compete with the ad program of a company like C & H, which has been touting its ``pure cane'' product for years.

``Cane sugar has a long tradition and beet sugar is starting from scratch,'' he says. ``I guess the beet sugar people are able to sell the product through other channels without building consumer loyalty.''

But Cunningham argues that the source should be on the label regardless.

At the very least, she says, ``people need to know what they're getting. Otherwise they'll be frustrated. They won't understand why things are turning out the way they are.''


The Chronicle Food staff baked five batches of the Brown Sugar Walnut Squares recipe on this page, each using a different brand of light brown sugar. Tasters didn't know which was which when they sampled. Here are our results:

-- Best Yet (beet sugar). Cookies were very chewy, with unpleasant grainy texture and brittle crust.

-- Springfield (beet sugar). These cookies had a datelike ``dark, sticky'' flavor, with a very crunchy top and bottom and lots of separation among top, interior and bottom.

-- Safeway (cane sugar). Softer and moister than Best Yet and Springfield, not as sweet, clean tasting with no date flavor, lots of nut flavor and a buttery quality and uniform texture. It was some tasters' favorite.

-- C & H (cane). More depth of flavor than Safeway, with a hint of molasses, most uniform texture and golden-brown color, no separation. Many tasters' favorite.

-- Lady Lee/Lucky (unknown source). Dark, dense, sticky, with a raisinlike texture, red-brown color and distinct separation among top, interior and bottom.

We also baked four batches of Butterscotch Pound Cake, each using a different sugar.

-- Spreckels white granulated (beet). Pleasantly crunchy top; relatively coarse, dry crumb, yet gummy when chewed. Very sweet.

-- C & H white granulated (cane). Finer, more even texture than Spreckels, with moister crumb and better flavor. Less sweet.

-- C & H light brown(cane). Nice flavor and texture, more golden than first two cakes.

-- Springfield light brown (beet). Top is crunchier than C & H, but appearance and flavor not significantly different.


For the typical consumer buying sugar off the grocers' shelf, economics rather than performance determines what they will get. ``It's based on price from the producers,'' says Judie Decker, spokeswoman for Lucky Stores, Inc. Lady Lee and Lucky, Lucky's house brands, can be cane one time, beet another, she admits.

``We buy from C & H and from Holly. If the supplier is Holly, it's beet sugar. If it's C & H, it's cane. It's random. We never know ahead of time.'' Lucky does not specify either cane or beet on the label.

On the West Coast, Spreckels, with factories in Woodland and Mendota, and Holly, with a plant in Tracy, manufacture beet sugar and sell it under the Spreckels, Albertson's, Best Yet and Springfield labels.

Spreckels and Holly are owned by Imperial Holly of Sugar Land, Texas. C & H, with a sole refinery in Crockett, is the only cane producer on the West Coast. C & H also produces cane sugar for the Safeway label found in Northern California stores. Safeway label brown sugar in Arizona and the Pacific Northwest is beet sugar produced by Imperial Holly, according to Bob Baldwin of Imperial Sugar Co. in Tracy.

Domino, another cane brand, is scarce in the West.

so unless it says cane like C and H it probably isn't

Looks like it would make the most difference where it melts like a creme brulle or spun sugar or a simple syrup

And of course baking

I did not know the part about brown sugar and will watch that and buy only cane but for my buttercream the beet works great I wounder if it would make a difference in a royal icing?

3 replies
MrsMissey Cake Central Cake Decorator Profile
MrsMissey Posted 2 Aug 2005 , 6:49pm
post #2 of 4

Very good info! This is a topic that pops up often...thought others might be interested in reading this!!

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beachcakes Posted 9 Aug 2005 , 2:14pm
post #3 of 4

I've never seen C&H on the east coast. DOes anyone know if Domino is cane sugar or beet sugar?

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Sugar Posted 9 Aug 2005 , 3:05pm
post #4 of 4
Originally Posted by beachcakes

I've never seen C&H on the east coast. DOes anyone know if Domino is cane sugar or beet sugar?

I think your safe with Domino. It should say on the box/bag.

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