Frank O'Kelly Written by Frank O'Kelly

What is the difference between beet sugar and cane sugar?

Sugar from beet or cane is used across industries from confectionery and baking to pharmaceuticals, but how different are these plants?

Where is beet sugar and cane sugar grown? ­

Sugar beet is usually grown in temperate climates such as Canada, Europe, China, Russia and in the UK mainly in East Anglia and Lincolnshire. It is a biennial plant which grows underground, and can reach roughly one foot in length, weighing between 0.9kg and 2kg. The sugar content for beet is roughly 18% sucrose which is concentrated in its taproot.

Unlike sugar beet, cane sugar prefers warmer tropical climates with plentiful sunshine and rainfall and is therefore usually grown in areas such as Brazil, India, Cuba, Mauritius and the West Indies. Sugar cane is a tropical grass growing between four to five metres tall with deep roots into the ground. Not only is its size and shape different to beet, but its sucrose content is not stored in the root but in the long stalks, with the sugar then produced by photosynthesis occurring in the cane leaves.

When growing cane sugar, its seeds are too small to be directly planted into the soil, therefore mature harvested stalks are cut into segments called ratoons roughly 50 centimetres long and are placed in furrows and covered in soil. It takes 12 months from this point for the sugar cane to be harvested. The cane will only grow properly above 21°c and in the summer can grow by as much as 1 cm per day. Several harvests can be grown from each cane, before it needs re-planting. Beet seeds, however, are planted deep in the soil and only take around 70 to 90 days until they can be harvested.  While this is considerably shorter than the long gestation period of cane sugar, beet seed can only produce a single crop.

Green = cane; Red = beet

Is the refining process different for cane sugar and beet sugar?

Once harvested both cane sugar and beet sugar need to go through a refining process before they arrive at Ragus Pure Sugars. This is not only to remove the sugar ready for processing but also to remove any impurities. To extract the sucrose, there are some steps that both plants go through, and some steps that are different depending on whether its beet or cane.

To extract the juice both are washed, with sugar beet then being sliced. In contrast, cane is cut and crushed. For both the juice is purified, filtered and then boiled. Once this has happened, it is then spun in a centrifuge (cane having multiple spins due to its dark brown colour) to remove impurities and to separate the sugar crystal from the adhering film of molasses. As mentioned in my previous blog on specialist sugars and their applications, the refining process of sugar can be adjusted in numerous ways to produce different types of sugar crystals.

At Ragus Pure Sugars, ethically sourcing underpins our operations. We use technology to follow our sugar from the mill, or refinery, right through the supply chain to our factory and then into each syrup, crystalline sugar or custom formulation that we produce. We understand that food origin is very important to our customers, therefore this complete audit trail means you can trace our sugar ingredients from field to final formulation.

Do beet sugar and cane sugar differ once processed?

Once sugar beet and cane sugar have been refined and arrive at Ragus Pure Sugars they are both chemically identical despite their origins. Both can be used to produce our range of sugar products, including liquid sugar, golden and invert syrups as well as custom formulations. Equally, beet sugar and cane sugar once manufactured undergo the same rigorous testing to ensure quality and consistency in each batch that leaves our factory.

Despite where they are grown, and the slightly different refining process they go through, both cane and beet sugar are used in our formulations and can be applied to suit our customers varied requirements.

You can learn more about how sugar is processed and refined in the learning zone, or to find your ideal sugar product contact our expert customer services team