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What is Beet Sugar?

Mary McMahon
Updated May 16, 2024
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Beet sugar is a form of sugar which is extracted from a cultivar of Beta vulgaris, the common beet. Around 30% of the world's total sugar supply comes from beets. Most markets carry this sugar, although it may not always be explicitly labeled, and if you have white sugar in your cupboards, there is a good chance that it has been made from beets. Because beet sugar performs slightly differently than cane sugar, it can important to check sugar packaging to determine its source, especially when baking.

Humans have cultivated beets for thousands of years, and they may be among the oldest of European and Middle Eastern root vegetables. However, their potential as a source of sucrose was not realized until around the 1500s, and it took several hundred more years for a reliably sugar-high varietal of beet to be developed. In the early 1800s, beet sugar processing plants began opening in Europe, and they slowly spread to the United States.

One of the primary advantages of using beets for sugar is that beets can be cultivated in temperate climates, and they are very hardy. Sugar cane requires a tropical environment, and tropical land is often at a premium, since many people like visiting the tropics for vacations. The fact that sugar beets can be grown in cooler regions and on land of poor quality makes them an attractive alternative to cane as they are cheaper to grow. Beet sugar is also much easier to produce, requiring very basic processing at only one facility, rather than a two step process, as is needed for cane.

To make beet sugar, beets are washed, shredded, and run through a diffuser, which forces hot water past the beet shreds to extract the sugar. The resulting juice is combined with liquids squeezed from the beet pulp and then purified before it is evaporated so that it condenses into a thick syrup. The syrup is then crystallized to make beet sugar, which is chemically almost identical to cane sugar. Although the two sugars are virtually the same, the small variations between the two can make a big difference.

If a sugar producer wants to make brown sugar, molasses from cane sugar must be added to the beet sugar after processing. For bakers, this has proved to be a problem, as the molasses may not fully penetrate the sugar granules, leading to an uneven distribution of flavor. Brown sugar from beets also tends to perform differently when it is baked, sometimes yielding rather disappointing end products; for this reason, some bakers prefer to use pure cane sugar.

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Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a DelightedCooking researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments
By kraftty — On May 29, 2014

Sugar beets are 95 percent genetically modified (gmo), which is a laboratory process of taking genes from one species and inserting them into another in an attempt to obtain a desired trait or characteristic, such as splicing fish genes into tomatoes. It's best to avoid it altogether.

By myharley — On Apr 16, 2012

My mom gave me a bag of beet sugar and I had no idea what I was going to do with it. I did use it a few times for some baked goods.

I thought there was a slight difference in the taste and the texture. I found that I wasn't using the beet sugar, and always preferred to use cane sugar for everything.

I finally found a way to put the beet sugar to good use. I use it instead of cane sugar to feed my the hummingbirds.

Instead of buying the mixture at the store, I always make up my own solution. The hummingbirds take to it as well as cane sugar, and now I don't have to wonder what how I am going to use up the beet sugar.

By SarahSon — On Apr 16, 2012

I would be interested in trying some beet sugar. The next time I am at the store, I am going to see if I can buy beet sugar there.

I don't recall ever seeing it there, but I wasn't looking for it either. This is the first time I have heard of using beet sugar.

It is easy to see the advantages of using this over cane sugar. There aren't too many areas where you have an area tropical enough for cane sugar.

There would be a lot more places where you could grow something like beet sugar. Are the prices of beet sugar about the same as cane sugar?

Because it doesn't require a two step process like cane sugar does, I wonder if it might be a little bit cheaper?

By honeybees — On Apr 16, 2012

To my knowledge, I have never tried beet sugar. If I did, I didn't know what it was and wasn't able to taste the difference.

This doesn't really sound very appealing to me. I don't like the taste of beets, and can't quite imagine how something so sweet tasting could come from it.

If I was given the choice of cane vs beet sugar, I would choose cane every time because I am familiar with it and know what it tastes like.

By candyquilt — On Apr 16, 2012

Beet sugar is very sweet, so a little goes a long way. It's also very nutritious and affordable. But not every single beet sugar is the same, there can be a variation in the quality.

Lucky for us, most of the beet sugar we purchase here in the US is made in the US and has high quality standards. Same is true for Europe.

Beet sugar was utilized after cane sugar but it become widespread really fast. The last I heard, a quarter of the entire world's sugar needs were fulfilled by beet sugar. Since there is a lot of beet production in every continent, it's also a cheap commodity.

I'd rather use beet sugar over corn syrup or artificial sweeteners any day. At least it's all natural and if you use one that hasn't been processed too much (like raw beet sugar or brown beet sugar), it'll also be nutritious with protein and vitamins.

By SteamLouis — On Apr 15, 2012

@ysmina-- I don't think there is any difference between cane sugar vs beet sugar nutrition wise or health wise because they're both sucrose. I use both and don't see a difference between them taste wise either. Both look, smell and taste the same and work equally well.

The only difference might be that some people are allergic to cane sugar. One of my cousins is for example. So she uses beet sugar instead of cane sugar. The other differences were mentioned by the article already, in terms of harvesting them, the required weather etc.

I personally think that beet sugar is better, both for the economy, as well as heath since it's unlikely for people to be allergic to it.

By ysmina — On Apr 14, 2012

I use cane sugar at home and I don't think I've ever tasted beet sugar before. Do they taste different? Or is one healthier or better than the other? What are the differences between cane sugar and beet sugar in terms of flavor and cooking methods?

My parents used to live close to a beet sugar factory about five years ago. When we drove by the factory, a really odd, in fact repulsive odor was in the air. It must be the odor released during the processing of beets.

Because of this, I've never cooked with or purchased beet sugar. But sometimes I wonder if I should have allowed that one experience to determine my opinion of beet sugar.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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