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Cane vs. Beet Sugar: A Difference?

Updated: Jul 14, 2022

Granulated white sugar, the favorite and most widely available sweetener, is extracted from sugar cane and sugar beet plants. We call it simply "sugar" or table sugar, no matter where it comes from, and most of us cannot distinguish one from the other.

However, it turns out some consumers argue they have a different aroma, caramelization, and baking performance. This blog post explores what could be responsible for those differences. Also, when it comes to culinary performance, is cane sugar better or worse than beet sugar?

Cane versus Beet Sugars | What is the difference between cane and beet sugars

Impurities: Some Say "Tiny But Meaningful"

Table sugar is considered one of the purest food products. Chemically speaking, it's an astonishing 99.95 percent pure sucrose, regardless of whether it comes from cane or beet. The remaining 0.05 percent consists of mostly water plus what is called impurities.

Impurities are undetectable by the vast majority of consumers because of their minuscule amounts. However, the presence of those substances is the only possible explanation as to why some people claim they can detect the source of their table sugar and that beet sugar has a different culinary performance than cane sugar.

Impurities include anything other than sucrose and result from: (1) the raw material, and (2) the process used to produce each sugar. The composition of impurities in cane sugar is not the same as in beet sugar. Learn why next.

What Are The Differences?

The composition of impurities in cane sugar is not the same as in beet sugar for two reasons:

1) The Raw Material

The slight difference in composition between cane and beet sugars results from the fact that different chemical components are present in each plant. The raw material for cane sugar is the whole stem of the cane, which grows above ground. On the other hand, the raw material for beet sugar is the entire root of the plant and so, grows underground. Other dissimilarities between cane and beet plants are listed below.

Note that the terms sugar cane and sugar beet are made up of two words. To simplify, I connect the words and use sugarcane and sugarbeet or I simply use cane and beet.

2) The Process Used to Make Sugar

Another reason why cane and beet sugars are not exactly the same is a result of the process used to produce each one. The differences in composition between the crops require different refining methods and chemicals.

How is sugar made from beets | Cane Sugar versus Beet Sugar | Refining Sugar | Sugar made in USA | Sugar Made Out of Beet and Cane | how is cane sugar made white

Watch the video in a Sugar Factory here.

Watch the video in a Sugar Refinery here.

The processes and the chemicals used to refine cane and beet sugars are not the same because their starting material — cane or beet juices — have different compositions. Here are some quick facts about cane and beet juices:

  • Both are made up of two substances that must be separated: sugar (sucrose) & nonsugars.

  • Nonsugars – referred to as "impurities" – include all dissolved substances except sucrose. Impurities are unwanted and have to be removed. They interfere with the sweet taste and decompose into less palatable chemicals during the concentration process of the juice. They consist of glucose, fructose, proteins, complex carbohydrates, coloring substances, and minerals.

  • Beet and cane juices have similar sugar content but dissimilar amounts of impurities. Beet juice contains about 2.5 percent impurities and cane juice approximately 5 percent.

  • After their refining process, white sugar (99.95 percent sucrose) goes out as the final product, and most nonsugars (impurities) accumulate in thick dark syrups, aka molasses, after being centrifuged. Still, a minuscule amount — about 0.02 percent — remains around the sucrose crystals. And those tiny impurities are responsible for the argument that cane & beet sugars do not have the same aroma, caramelization, and baking performance.

Cane & Beet Sugars: Interchangeable?

Refined sugar from beet & cane may be used interchangeably for all purposes. I list below some facts about them to be able to draw a comparison:

  • Both cane and beet sugars are 99.95 percent sucrose, even though they come from different plants. They have a minuscule fraction of impurities (approximately 0.02 percent) that are different. In regards to human nutrition and health, there is no difference between white cane and beet sugars.

  • Differences in aroma, caramelization, and baking performance have been reported, even though most people cannot notice any discrepancies between table sugar from beet and cane. The taste and sweetness are the same for both sugars — a clean, pleasant sweetness from start to finish, that hits quickly without lingering. No aftertaste.

  • Some consumers have reported that cane sugar caramelizes better than beet sugar. Very experienced users claim beet sugar burns quicker to black making it harder to work with it than cane sugar. Reports that there is a slight difference in baking performance have also been made. Again, these culinary differences are undetectable by the vast majority of consumers.

  • Some people claim beet sugar has a characteristic off-aroma, referred to as an earthy odor. Considering that beet is a root, one possible explanation could be the aroma of beet sugar originates from the fact that beet grows underground. Most of us cannot discriminate between the aroma of cane & beet sugar.

  • In 2014, two studies by University of Illinois researchers, published in the Journal of Food Science, compared white granulated cane and beet sugars. The first study showed that beet sugar's aroma is different than that of cane sugar. Beet sugar was characterized by off-dairy, oxidized, earthy, and barnyard aromas and by a burnt sugar aroma-by-mouth and aftertaste. In contrast, cane sugar showed a fruity aroma-by-mouth and sweet aftertaste.

  • In a second study, researchers compared foods made with beet and cane sugars. They concluded that significant differences between the sugar sources were identified when incorporated into simple syrup. No difference was observed in sugar cookies, pudding, whipped cream, and iced tea.

Is it Cane Sugar? Beet Sugar? A Blend?

The familiar table sugar might be produced from sugar beet in a Sugar Factory or from raw sugar in a Sugar Refinery. Have you ever noticed that sugar producers usually don't state if their sugar is from sugarcane or sugarbeet? The reasons for that are listed below:

  • Producers of cane and beet sugars are not required to mention the source of their product (see image below) because, by law, only sweeteners derived from cane and beet should be declared on food labels as "sugar".

List of ingredient of commercial granulated sugars

Typically, if the label of a white sugar does not identify if it is from cane or beet (as in most store brands), the product is from beet or a blend. For those brands, portions of each in any given serving vary over time based on price from the producers so that it can be cane one time, but beet another, or both cane and beet mixed. If a brand is always cane, it will often be labeled as such. Keep reading to find out why they are blended. The image below shows some common brand names of cane sugar, beet sugars, and blends.

Brand Names of Cane Sugar vs Beet Sugar

Why Are Cane & Beet Sugars Blended?

Blends of cane and beet sugars are common because many sugar producers do not sell their products directly to consumers. They have their products sold and distributed by sugar marketing organizations, which may blend beet and cane sugar, based on price and availability. The top marketers in the country include:

  • Domino Foods Inc (DFI) and Imperial Sugar are the top distributors of refined sugar from sugar cane in the country. DFI is owned by American Sugar Refining (ASR Group), based in Florida, which claims to be the leader in the production of refined sugar. DFI's brand names include Florida Crystals and sister brands C&H and Domino. Imperial Sugar is a subsidiary of Louis Dreyfus Company LLC and a manufacturer and marketer of sister brands Imperial Sugar and Dixie Crystals.

how is sugar made from cane
Domino Foods Inc and Imperial Sugar
  • United Sugars Corp (United) is the nation’s second largest marketer of refined sugar. It provides beet & cane sugar, distributing almost 25% of the total refined sugar in the country. United is a cooperative owned by 3 producers: American Crystal (beet sugar), Minn-Dak Farmers Coop (beet sugar), and US Sugar Corp. (cane sugar). Top brand: Crystal Sugar.

United | Marketer of Crystal Sugar
Cargill | Marketer of Cafe Delight

Who Makes Beet & Cane Sugars?

The United States sugar production is shared between sugar cane (42%) and sugar beets (58%).

In 2018–19, the U.S. produced about 8 million tons of sugar annually, ranking in sixth in global production surpassed by Brazil, India, European Union, Thailand, and China. It also imports almost 3 million tons. American sugar producers and processors receive a variety of government supports. An overview of the sugar industry in the United States is as follows:

Who makes sugar in the USA?

Cane and Beet Sugars: GMO-free?

The United States is one of the only countries in the world that grows both cane and beet plants. Currently, only genetically modified varieties of sugar beets are planted. Read the statement of an American coop of 850 beet growers explaining why they support GMO technology here.

Sugar cane used to be a non-GMO crop, but not anymore. Since 2017, Brazil has been growing GM cane. That is relevant to us Americans because Brazil is one of the top cane sugar producers and exporters of crude raw sugar in the world. And the United States is the second top importer of crude raw sugar, which is used to produce our refined sugars.

Be aware that sugar itself is GMO-free. Once refined, sugar no longer has any traces of GMOs in it. A sucrose molecule is identical whether it comes from GMO plants or not.

Is Sugar GMO free?

Cost of Cane vs Beet Sugars

The price of cane sugar we pay in stores is similar to that of beet sugar. In January of 2020, the average cost of white refined sugar (granulated, fine granulated, and extra fine granulated) I paid in stores across the city of Richmond, Virginia was 75 cents per pound. It varied from 28 cents to $1.30 a pound.

I also bought two imported refined beet sugars and paid about $4 per pound. According to the label on the back of the package of NOW non-GMO Beet Sugar and NOW Organic Beet Sugar, they are imported from Austria. Europe is the world's leading beet sugar producer. It grows only non-GMO sugar beets but no sugar cane is planted there. Also, sugars made from GM cane and GM beet cannot be sold in Europe.

Main Takeaways

  • Chemically speaking, both cane and beet sugars are about 99.95 percent sucrose. The remaining 0.05% is water plus impurities. The composition of impurities in beet sugar is not the same as in cane sugar because they come from different crops which require different refining methods. Most of us cannot detect this minuscule amount of impurities, so both cane and beet sugars will look, taste, smell, and perform in the kitchen exactly the same way.

  • Table sugar from beet and cane may be used interchangeably for all purposes. The price of cane sugar you pay in stores is similar to that of beet sugar (unless it is imported). One is not healthier or better for you than the other.


Learn more on a previous >>> What is Granulated Sugar?

The term 'sugar' can cause confusion as it has many definitions, so read this >>> What Is Sugar?

To compare cane sugars, refer to this blog post >>> Cane Sugar: Unrefined, Raw & Refined

Read more on how refined sugar is produced here >>> What is Refined Sugar?

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57,970 views7 comments


Thank you for all the work you put into this, very interesting!


I noticed neither of the quoted studies stated it was double-blind. I would think that if they were the fact would have be stated. Since it wasn't I have to assume they they were not and the results are worthless and a result of marketing.


You should ask diabetics who have tried both cane sugar and beet sugar; they will tell you that beet sugar is better... Erythritol, is better yet and healthier though it may have its side effects when overly consumed including a subtle aftertaste... Subtle to the degree if compared to that of the monk fruit, stevia, or any given artificial sweeteners.


I just found out that Aldi’s pure sugar is from beets. I suspected that because it just didn’t feel like cane sugar and it didn’t work quite right when I made a pavlova using the juice from canned chickpeas. Sugar from beets gave my father in law heartburn and when we would go to visit him overseas we would bring him lots of Domino’s cane sugar. Good thing nobody ever checked our luggage.


Thank you for the info on beet Vs cane sugar. Personally I think beet sugar is better for the environment. In addition, people who harvest sugar that is shipped to the USA are mistreated and forced to work and live in poverty. Politicians here in the USA are being used by lobbyists who own companies such as US Sugar, the Sugar Cane Growers Cooperative of Florida and the Fanjul Corp. Damage to the Everglades National Park is happening as a result of these companies and politicians not willing to take a stand. We should all rethink and investigate where our food comes from and support companies that are improving our world and not destroying it.

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Before you start with sugar cane go look at what happens on palm oil plantations. The most misogyny of any place. BTW I actually bought a sugar cane plant and am growing it in my house.

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