Evaporated cane sugar is intended to be a less-processed, more nutritious form of cane sugar than either white sugar or brown sugar. The process of refining white and brown sugar strips either sugar cane or sugar beets down to just the pure sugar, with none of the minerals that are originally present in the plant. By eliminating most of those refining steps, evaporated cane sugar retains some of the nutrients found in sugar cane.
Because sugar cane is highly degradable, it must be milled within the same day that it is harvested. At a plant that is very close to the fields, the cane is washed and shredded and the liquid extracted from the cane is dried to produce "raw" sugar. You shouldn't confuse this with the product of the same name that appears on market shelves, because raw sugar contains a number of impurities. It is against food regulations to sell sugar containing impurities, so more processing must be done before a marketable product is created. In order to refine raw sugar into white sugar, it is boiled, passed through a carbon or membrane filtration system, dried and then milled into crystals. The final product contains 99.6 percent sucrose. Brown sugar is the refined white sugar with 7 percent to 14 percent molasses added for flavor and color alteration.
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There are a number of "less-refined" or "natural" sugar products on the market, but they all must adhere to basic purification guidelines in order to be sold in the United States. Even though evaporated cane sugar or, as it is sometimes called, evaporated cane juice, is the crystallized remains of sap extracted from sugar cane, the sap still has to go through a filtration and purification process before it is evaporated. Most companies are less than forthcoming about the processes they use to create their products. For example, on the website of one of the leading producers of evaporated cane sugar, they illustrate the company's process from harvest to shelf, but lightly skim over the refining process as "purification" and "filtration" without clarifying by what specific methods the plant purifies and refines the sugar before it is evaporated.
Although evaporated cane sugar products retain some of their calcium, phosphorus, magnesium, iron and potassium content, the amount of minerals present in each serving size is very small. If you are looking for a slightly less-processed sugar with a smaller environmental footprint, then evaporated cane sugar products may be for you. Remember, however, that it is still a sugar and not a health food. Eating a diet high in sugar places you at higher risk of becoming overweight and developing diabetes, cancer and heart disease.
In 2009, the FDA issued a recommendation to food producers that they stop using the term "evaporated cane juice" on their labels. Since the sap from which sugars are derived is not, by any practical definition, juice, the FDA deemed the use of the term misleading to consumers. They also cited as examples the fact that maple syrup and sorghum cannot be referred to as "juice." You would not, for instance, see a label on a bottle of maple syrup that said "evaporated maple juice" or "concentrated maple juice."
- Journal of the American Dietetic Association: Serum Glucose and Insulin Responses to Sucanat™ and Sucrose in Non-insulin Dependent Diabetes and Normal Controls
- Agricultural Outlook Forum 1999: Outlook for Emerging Technologies in Sugar Processing; Stephen J. Clark; February 1999
- U.S. Food and Drug Administration: Guidance for Industry: Ingredients Declared as Evaporated Cane Juice