Sugar Talk Sugar Talk
From Field to Fork
Have you ever wondered where the sugar we use in the UK comes from? Currently the UK’s demand for sugar is around 2 million tonnes annually, but recent polls reveal that British shoppers do not know where the sugar in their food, drink and pharmaceutical products actually comes from.
In the UK our sugar comes from two sources, sugar cane and sugar beet. Two very different looking plants which have to be grown and harvested so that the sugar can be extracted from them. Sugar beet and sugar cane produce and store enough sugar that we can grow them specifically for their sugars.
Sugar Beet is grown throughout Europe, UK, Canada, Russian and China; in the UK it is grown mainly in Lincolnshire and East Anglia.
Beet needs to grow in temperate climates and is a root crop grown in the ground. A mature sugar beet grows to about one foot long, weighs between two to five pounds, and contains about 18% sucrose, which is concentrated in its taproot. In order to get the sugar that we use on a daily basis, both cane and beet are grown, harvested and processed. The processes for removing the sugar from each plant is done is different ways.
Sucrose in sugar beet is concentrated in the roots.
The History of Sugar Beet
European sugar beet dates back to the 16th century when French soil scientist Olivier de Serres found that some beet substances could be processed to a state that very much resembled sucrose fluid, the same substance found in sugarcane. In the mid 1700s German physicist Andreas Sigismund Marggraf confirmed the presence of sugar in beet and in 1784 his student Franz Karl Achard managed to establish the first beet sugar processing plant. The European sugar beet industry was born. In 1900 between 60% and 90% of raw sugar bought into the UK for refining was beet sugar from Austria and Germany. During the First World War nearly all raw sugar switched to cane sugar, the rationing quotas of which was controlled by Charles Eastick, founder of Ragus, who was awarded the M.B.E. for his service. Charles realised Britain’s vulnerability in the supply of sugar, leading the country to grow its own beet due to the incredible need for sugar.
So, how exactly do we get sugar from the sugar beet?
Sugar beet is a biennial plant which builds up a store of sugar in its roots during the first year of its biological cycle. In the second year of growth it then uses its stored sugar to flower and seed. However, it is at the end of the first year that the beet is harvested to extract the sugar.
The beet seeds are sown in mid-March and then the crop is harvested between September and December. To harvest the beet, the farmers cut off the green tops, remove the beets from the ground, clean them and they are then put on trailers. The green tops are preserved and are used for animal feeds or as fertilizer.
The leaves of the beet are used for other purposes.
The Sugar Factory
Once harvested, the beet is transported to sugar factories where the beet is washed and sliced. The beet slices are placed into a huge rotating cylinder full of hot water as the sugar needs to be separated from the rest of the plant. The sugar then diffuses out of the beet slices into the hot water, leaving a sugar bearing juice which is heated together with lime and carbon dioxide gas to form a chalk & calcium carbonate. This facilitates the removal of the non-sugar materials from the liquid in a process known as carbonatation.A pale-yellow sparkling juice is left, which is then gassed further in another tank (the second Carbonatation) and filtered. The water is then boiled off from this yellow juice in steam heated evaporators to form a thick syrup. The thick syrup is then concentrated in vacuum tanks where the sugar crystals are formed, with any remaining residual syrup removed from the finished crystals in a centrifuge. The remaining crystals are then washed and dried, leaving the white sugar that we know and use. There is no wastage with sugar beet; The remains of the beet once the juice is extracted is used to make animal feed. When beet is processed correctly there is no difference between the white sugar extracted from beet to that of cane sugar.
A board member and co-leader of the business, Ben is responsible for our marketing strategy and its execution by the agency team he leads and is the guardian of our corporate brand vision. He also manages key customers and distributors.
In 2005, he took on the role of globally sourcing our ‘speciality sugars’. With his background in laboratory product testing and following three decades of supplier visits, his expertise means we get high quality, consistent and reliable raw materials from ethical sources.