Sugar is the generic name for sweet-tasting, soluble carbohydrates, many of which are used in food. The various types of sugar are derived from different sources. Simple sugars are called monosaccharides and include glucose (also known as dextrose), fructose, and galactose. "Table sugar" or "granulated sugar" refers to sucrose, a disaccharide of glucose and fructose. In the body, sucrose is hydrolysed into fructose and glucose.
In 2016, global production of sugar beets was 277 million tonnes, led by Russia with 19% of the world total (table).
The sugar beet became a major source of sugar in the 19th century when methods for extracting the sugar became available. It is a biennial plant, a cultivated variety of Beta vulgaris in the family Amaranthaceae, the tuberous root of which contains a high proportion of sucrose. It is cultivated as a root crop in temperate regions with adequate rainfall and requires a fertile soil. The crop is harvested mechanically in the autumn and the crown of leaves and excess soil removed. The roots do not deteriorate rapidly and may be left in the field for some weeks before being transported to the processing plant where the crop is washed and sliced, and the sugar extracted by diffusion. Milk of lime is added to the raw juice with calcium carbonate. After water is evaporated by boiling the syrup under a vacuum, the syrup is cooled and seeded with sugar crystals. The white sugar that crystallizes can be separated in a centrifuge and dried, requiring no further refining.
White sugar, also called table sugar, granulated sugar or regular sugar, is the sugar commonly used in North America and Europe, made either of beet sugar or cane sugar, which has undergone a refining process.
The refining completely removes the molasses and makes the white sugar actually sucrose (with a purity higher than 99.7%), whose molecular formula is C12H22O11. The origin of the sugar thus produced is therefore chemically indistinguishable (sugar cane or sugar beet): it's however possible to identify its origin through a carbon-13 analysis (similar to radiocarbon dating used in archeology).
From a chemical and nutritional point of view, white sugar does not contain - in comparison to brown sugar - some minerals (such as calcium, potassium, iron and magnesium) present in molasses, even if the quantities contained in brown sugar are so small to be actually not significant. The only detectable differences are therefore those in the white color and the less intense flavor.