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Natural Cane Sugar vs. Granulated Sugar

By Cook's Illustrated Published November 2014

Is natural cane sugar interchangeable with regular granulated sugar in recipes?

Natural cane sugar is made from sugar cane, while conventional white granulated sugar may be made from either cane or sugar beets. Since both plants produce molecules of sucrose that are identical, this is not a significant distinction. Also, the “natural” tag is a bit of an oversell: Natural cane sugar is only slightly less processed than regular white sugar. That said, it retains a bit of a blond color, and some tasters found that it had slightly more depth of flavor compared with regular granulated sugar when they tasted both plain.

With such slight differences in the sugars, we weren’t surprised that sugar cookies made with the natural sugar had a slightly deeper color but otherwise were no different from the batch made with conventional white sugar.

We had more of an issue with simple syrup. The natural cane sugar produced a liquid with a caramel tint rather than the traditional colorless syrup. While a brown syrup would be fine in iced tea, it might discolor lemonade or a pale cocktail. We also found natural sugar to be problematic in caramel sauce. The syrup in the pan was brown from the start, which made it hard to detect color changes. Furthermore, the impurities in the natural cane sugar caused foaming (to varying degrees depending on brand), in one case making it impossible to get an accurate temperature reading.

The takeaway? Natural cane sugar works in some—but not all—applications, particularly those in which its darker color is an issue.