Sugar 101

Refining & Processing

After sugar beets or sugar cane are harvested by farmers, the sugar is processed and refined to ensure consistency and quality.

Whether sugar comes from sugar beets or sugar cane, the purification process is similar for each plant, and the result is the same pure sucrose. One difference in processing between the two plants is that sugar beets are refined at a single facility, a sugar beet factory and sugar cane at two facilities: processing starts at a raw sugar factory and finishes at a sugar refinery.



What gives sugar its white color?

Sugar is naturally white. When the sugar is initially extracted from the plants, it has a golden color because of the non-sugar materials attached to and within the sugar crystals. This golden sugar is then purified, where these plant fibers and molasses are removed, extracting the sugar molecules from the non-sugar materials and restoring the sugar crystals to their natural white color.

Little is wasted in sugar processing

Most of the non-sugar materials generated in sugar processing are used for other purposes, recycled or reused.

Molasses, used by feed companies, bakers, distillers and pharmaceutical companies, for animal feed and many more products, is extracted through the beet and cane sugar refining processes. It takes about four rounds of extraction to remove the molasses to obtain the maximum amount of sucrose.

The sugar beet residue, or pulp, is generally used for animal feed or further processed for use as other carbohydrate-based products.

The sugar cane stalk residue, called bagasse, is often used as fuel to run the cane factory. Many sugar cane mills and refineries produce their own electricity, and some even supply power to nearby towns.

In addition, much of the water removed along the way still contains sucrose (called “sweetwater”), so it’s pumped back into the stations to be used again.

Carbon used in sugar cane filtration is recharged (revivified) and reused too.

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