Ingredient Spotlight: Beet Sugar

Lately, I have heard food companies highlighting that they use beet sugar. The term seems to be thrown around as an answer to high fructose corn syrup. But, is it really something noteworthy?
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Beet sugar refers to sugar refined from sugar beets. Growing up in Michigan, a big producer of the stuff, I actually assumed all sugar came from sugar beets. These root plants have a higher concentration of sucrose than traditional beets and are grown for the sole purpose of making sugar. Traditionally, cane sugar has been the most prevalent type sold in the US, but beet sugar production is on the rise and now accounts for about half of the nation's sugar supply.

One reason for the surge in beet sugar is that the refining process, once a lengthy and costly, is now streamlined and cheaper. Sugar beets are grown in 11 states and the US ranks only behind France and Germany as the largest sugar beet producer in the world, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO).

What does this mean for you? Although bakers will notice a slight difference when cooking with beet sugar versus cane sugar, nutritionally and chemically speaking, the two are identical. More importantly, beet sugar is nothing new.

Sugar beets have showed up on news headlines as of late due to the use of genetically engineered crops. In 2009, a federal judge reversed a ruling that approved planting genetically engineered sugar beets. The court felt that there wasn't enough testing of the effects of the engineered beets on other sugar beets and related crops. However, earlier this year, when environmental groups called for already planted genetically engineered sugar beets to be destroyed, another federal judge ruled that the economic impact would be too great if the sugar beets were not harvested.

Have you noticed beet sugar highlighted lately?

Related: Ingredient Spotlight: Turbinado Sugar

(Images: American Sugar Beet Growers Association , Michigan Sugar Company)

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