sugar beets

sugar beets

Since I figured out how corn syrup is made, I figured I should probably understand how sugar is processed.
The sucrose part of it is in the beet and is made from sunshine and farming. (And fertilizer as well, I would assume.) The beets are harvested and taken to a processing plant where they’re cut into shoestring-potato-like wedges for maximum exposure. Then my understanding is that the bejesus is boiled out of them. (There’s actually a very detailed description here, but my understanding is that it’s boiled like heck in water.)
Next the sugar water is mixed with calcium hydroxide (milk of lime) and carbon dioxide bubbles (this process is fittingly known as “carbonation”). Then there are lots of settling tanks to get the non-sugary stuff out.
Next is sulfitation where sulfur dioxide gas is mixed into the juice to prevent the “Maillard Reaction”, which is a reaction with amino acids that would turn it brown; this is the same reaction that happens on the crust of bread.
Then we have more bejesus boiling for some evaporation so we get a sugar sludge (mmm) called standard liquor. This is normally stored until crystallization, where the magic happens. The sludge is boiled in a vacuum (!!!) and some sugar crystals are introduced to the sludge so more crystals “grow”. The vacuum’s dropped and crystals and juice are centrifuged, and the result? White sugar and molasses. The sugar is dried in a rotating cylinder and then off to be stored for further bagging, weighing, etc.
That was a lot more involved than I thought it would be. Huh. You know, the more I read about sugar, the more I realize it’s not that great either. But it does taste better. And you don’t have to add hydrochloric acid to make it be sugary.
Tomorrow: sugar cane!
Reference: http://www.smbsc.com/index.php
EDIT:
Ok, so sugar cane isn’t that much different and doesn’t deserve its own post. The main differences are:
Instead of boiling to get the sugar water (the first step), the cane is pressed to release the sugar water. Then same same same same.
One nice thing about cane sugar is that often the pulp that’s left after the pressing is used to power the plant that makes the sugar. The beet factory I looked up makes a specific pellet out of the leftover beet pulp and mixes it with molasses and sold in Europe (although what they use if for, I have no idea…. the site doesn’t say).

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