harvesting sugar

Sugar’s Journey from Field to Table: Sugar Beets

Sugar is one of the purest ingredients and a natural carbohydrate, found in fruits, vegetables and nuts. All green plants produce sugar (sucrose) through photosynthesis, a natural process that turns sunlight into energy.

Sugar is harvested from sugar beets, root vegetables that grow in cooler climates, and sugar cane plants, tropical grasses that grow up to 20 feet tall. Sugar beet and sugar cane go-to sources for sugar because they have the highest percentage of sucrose of all plants. For both, the refining process removes all impurities and the surrounding plant matter, leaving only pure sucrose.

Today, we’re looking at the process for sugar beets, and how it gets from the field to your kitchen pantry.

Sugar Beet Processing

1. Sugar beets are harvested from farms in cooler weather climates, such as Minnesota, Michigan, Wyoming and Idaho and then sent to nearby factories.
• Sweet fact: Sugar beets are harvested seasonally, so factories usually operate around the clock, seven days a week, for four to seven months a year.
2. At factories, sugar beets are washed and sliced into thin strips, called cossettes. The cossettes go through a large tank called a diffuser to extract raw juice.
3. The raw juice is filtered to remove impurities, forming a syrup.
4. Sugar crystalizes from the syrup.
5. The sugar crystals are separated from the syrup in a centrifuge.
6. Crystals are dried.
7. Sugar is packaged and shipped to grocery stores and food manufacturers.

Sugar Beet Processing Infographic

A variety of sugars can be produced based on the size of the crystals and the amount of molasses included. Beyond the traditional white granulated sugar and light and dark brown sugars, there are lightly colored sugars, golden or tan, produced for specialty uses.

As for the materials left over from sugar processing, many of them are recycled and reused. For example, sugar beet residue, or pulp, is generally used for animal feed.

Throughout the manufacturing process, sugar is tested for purity, sucrose content, proper pH balance, temperature, color and consistency. Monitoring of equipment and filtering materials ensures that they are working efficiently. Because it’s 99.9% sucrose, refined sugar is one of the highest-quality products you can find at a grocery store.

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