A sweet part of life
What is sugar?
Sugar (sucrose) is a carbohydrate that occurs naturally in every fruit
and vegetable. It is the major product of photosynthesis, the process
by which plants transform the sun's energy into food. Sugar occurs in
greatest quantities in sugar cane and sugar beets from which it is separated
for commercial use.
What is a sugarbeet?
A biennial, sugarbeets are harvested annually for their roots. The source
of one third of the world's sugar, sugarbeets are considered to be one
of the newest commercial crops. Starting in the late 18th century, German
scientists began to breed beets to increase the sugar content of their
roots from 1-4 percent to 15-20 percent. The resulting beet root is narrow
in shape with a white root. Sugarbeets are grown commercially throughout
the world in cooler, temperate climates. The main producers around the
world are Canada, France, Germany, Poland, Russia, Ukraine, and the United
Commonly confused with red beets, sugarbeets have a white root and are
not edible when harvested.
More than one-half of the sugar produced in the United States comes from
sugarbeets. Annually, more than 25 million tons of sugarbeets are produced
on over 1.5 million acres, yielding approximately 20 tons of beets per
acre and 4 million tons of refined sugar. There are 30 beet sugar processing
factories in the U.S., all located in or near producing areas due to the
deterioration of sugar content after the beets are harvested.
When sugarbeets are processed into sugar, the entire beet is used. After
sugar and molasses are extracted from the beet, the remaining pulp is
processed into a nutritious cattle feed.
Where are sugarbeets found?
Sugarbeets flourish in temperate climates where the soil is rich and the
growing season is about five months long. Farms can be found in California,
Colorado, Idaho, Michigan, Minnesota, Montana, Nebraska, North Dakota,
Ohio, Oregon, Texas, Washington, and Wyoming.
How is sugar processed?
At the factory, sugarbeets are washed and sliced into thin strips called
cossettes. The cossettes go through a large tank called a diffuser where
raw juice is extracted. Here's how:
The cossettes are gently lifted from the bottom to the top of the diffuser
as hot water washes over them absorbing the sugar. After the sugar-laden
raw juice is drawn off, the beet pulp is left behind. This pulp is processed
separately into pellets for livestock feed and other products.
The raw juice is mingled with milk of lime and carbon dioxide gas in carbonation
tanks. The carbon dioxide bubbles through the mixture forming calcium
carbonate. The non-sugar particles attach themselves to the calcium carbonate
and settle to the bottom of the tanks.
The juice is then filtered, leaving a golden light brown clarified thin
juice. This juice is boiled under vacuum where much of the water is evaporated,
forming a thicker juice similar to pancake syrup.
After a second filtration to ensure that all non-sugar materials are removed,
the juice goes to the boiling pans. Once again the juice is boiled under
vacuum and crystals begin to form. The resulting sugar crystal and syrup
mix is called massecuite.
The massecuite is then sent to centrifuges for separation. By spinning
rapidly in a perforated cylindrical basket, the syrup is thrown off through
the screen holes. Clean hot water is used to wash the sugar, producing
pure white sugar crystals.
The damp crystals are dried with filtered air in a rotating drum granulator
and the dried sugar passes over screens which separate the various sizes
of sugar crystals. The products are then packaged and shipped to grocery
stores and food manufacturers.*