Beet Sugar: The European Cane Sugar Alternative

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Beets have been cultivated for millennia and are among the oldest vegetables grown in the Middle East and in Europe. Their ability to provide sugar was recognized as early as the 16th century. Over the next few centuries, beet varieties that contained consistently high levels of sugar were developed. British blockades of cane sugar during the Napoleonic Wars would spur on production to a significant extent. Plants for processing beets were developed in 19th century Europe and would gradually spread to the United States. The first American sugar beet farm was located in California and started production in 1879. The big benefit for sugar producers of that era and today was the sugar beet’s ability to grow in a temperate climate, whereas sugarcane cultivation was restricted to the tropics.

Beet sugar is produced in much the same way that cane sugar is produced. Just as cane sugar is boiled away until it forms a thick syrup, beet juice is boiled and reduced in the same way. The syrup is then crystallized to make beet sugar.

To make brown sugar using beet sugar, the molasses from cane sugar is mixed in with refined beet sugar crystals.

Today, beet sugar makes up almost a third of the world’s sugar supply. It is available in most grocery stores, though it may not be labeled as beet sugar. Russia is the main producer of beet sugar with France and the US in second and third places respectively. One of the reasons for the popularity of beet sugar is that the cost of producing it is less expensive than that of producing cane sugar. Beet sugar can be produced in a single facility.

Beet sugar flavor profile

Like cane sugar, the main flavor of sugar made from beets is that of sweetness. In that respect, it is just like any other sugar. Beet sugar does differ from cane sugar when it comes to aroma, which does impact taste. The aroma of beet sugar has been described as earthy with a slight burnt sugar quality.

Health benefits of beet sugar

Aside from a few impurities, beet sugar and cane sugar are almost nutritionally identical and nutritionally void in that they both consist mostly of sucrose.

The only significant nutritional benefit of beet or cane refined sugar is its carbohydrate content. You can get about 2 percent of your daily recommended intake of carbohydrates from a teaspoon of beet sugar, which is about the same as the carbohydrate value of cane sugar. Aside from the carbohydrate content, any nutrients in beet sugar exist in trace amounts which make no significant positive difference as far as health is concerned. Beet sugar is not a healthier alternative to sugar and consuming it in excess creates the same health risks that come with any type of sugar.

Common uses of beet sugar

As noted above, beet sugar is very similar to cane sugar in terms of its function and makeup; however, it differs in one crucial area—baking. More specifically, how it works in pastries and other baked goods. Beet sugar tends to lead to disappointing results in light cakes in that it makes them coarse. As a result, knowledgeable bakers tend to avoid it, but it can be used as an all-purpose sweetener in most other applications. For example, it works just as well as cane sugar when it comes to sweetening beverages like coffee and tea.