Cane sugar is sucrose extracted from sugarcane, a tropical plant, which has naturally high concentrations of the sweet substance. We've been using cane sugar in cooking for eons of time and at one point it was a major element in global trade. Today, all markets carry cane sugar in a variety of form, from a minimally processed raw sugar to a sugar cube. Cane sugar is most expensive form of sucrose but many people prefer it because they believe it has a superior flavor.
Sugarcane is actually a type of grass. The grass forms fibrous tall jointed stocks that are rich in sugar. As early as 3000 BCE, people in India were crushing the stocks to get the juice and then evaporating the juice to get the sugar crystals. Throughout Southeast Asia and the Middle East cane sugar was used for centuries before it came to Europe where Honey had been the only available sweetener. Shortly before 1000 CE sugarcane was under cultivation in Spain and the Spanish actually brought sugarcane to the Caribbean colonies where it became the triangular trade of slaves, sugar and Rum.
To create cane sugar, one harvests sugarcane by leaving the roots intact so that new canes will form in the following year. The cane is run through presses, which mangle it to get the juice out, and then the juices evaporated in a purification process before being boiled and then crystallized. The end product is known as raw sugar and it is very dense and sticky with an intense flavor. Sugar producers store white sugar until they know what sort of sugar it is going to be refined into.
In the refining process, the sticky, rich molasses is separated from the raw sugar and it results in dark brown sugar, light brown sugar, or white sugar depending on how heavily refined it is. Once the refined sugar is processed sugar can be packaged and sold in the molasses package separately and used as an additive to livestock feed. Many sugar plants utilize the fiber left over from the crushing process in the first stage as a fuel to run their facilities.
Cane sugar makes up about 70% of the world sugar production, with beet sugar making up the remainder. Sugar producers claim that there is no difference between cane and beet sugar but that is not the case. The two are almost chemically identical, but there are small differences between cane and beet sugar, which can cause unexpected results when cooking. Brown beet sugar is especially notorious for unreliable performance, while white beet sugar is indistinguishable from white cane sugar.
Everyone knows that refined sugar is bad for health. Not only is it addictive but eating too much of sugar can even cause diabetes. Luckily there are some healthier natural alternatives to refined sugar which are extracted from a range of products, such as fruit, brown rice and more. For example, stevia is a great natural alternative to regular sugar as it contains no calories and carbohydrates.
Sugar in all its forms is a simple carbohydrate that the body converts into glucose and uses for energy. It all depends on the type of sugar you're eating whether it is natural or refined as to the effect on your body and your overall health.