From Plant to Plate- How Do We Get Our Sugar?
Have you ever wondered where the sugar we use in the UK comes from? In the UK our sugar comes from two source, 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 cane is a tall tropical grass that reaches a height of 4 to 5 metres. To grow, it requires ample rainfall and abundant sunshine in the summer and mild winters. It’s generally found in countries like Brazil, Cuba, India, Mauritius and the West Indies. The sugar is stored in the stalks of the cane and is produced by the process of photosynthesis.
Beet, on the other hand, grows in temperate climates and is a root crop grown in the ground. Sugar Beet is grown throughout Europe, UK, Canada, Russian and China; in the UK it is grown mainly in Lincolnshire and East Anglia.
In order to get the sugar that we use on a daily basis, both cane and beet are grown, harvested and processed; however, the processes for removing the sugar from each plant is done in different ways.
Ragus gets most of its raw materials from natural sugar cane, thus here are the various techniques and processes used to extract the sugar from sugar cane.
Sugar from Cane
Sugar cane plants grow for 3-4 years, per crop, in plantations in hot tropical climates.
When matured, the cane is harvested, and the leaves are stripped ready to be taken to the processing mills.
The Sugar Mill:
At the mill the cane stalks are washed, cut up and shredded, and juice is pressed from them using high pressure rollers. Hot water is added to improve juice extraction; the remaining dry stalks (bagasse) are burnt in the mill’s boilers to produce sustainable electricity.
The sweet natural juice is heated to 80°C and lime is added to purify and neutralise it. Fine fibre particles form a scum on the juice surface; other mineral matter sticks to the lime and settles as sediment. These solids are filtered from the juice and returned to the cane fields as natural fertiliser.
Evaporators then boil the raw juice in a vacuum, heating it to a temperature of between 70°C and 130°C for up to two hours. This evaporates the natural water, creating a very sweet thick amber juice.
The amber juice is then seeded with tiny sugar crystals, and again boiled under vacuum, which allows the crystals to grow to create a super-saturated massecuite syrup. During this process the natural raw colour, flavour and aroma of molasses is formed.
Centrifugal machines spin the massecuite syrup (at 1,050 rpm) for two minutes to separate the crystals from the liquid. The separated syrup still contains a lot of sugar, so it’s spun four times to extract the maximum amount of raw sugar. The first and second spins produce sugar, shipped in bulk for white sugar refining. The third and fourth spins are mixed with a magma of molasses to produce affinated and muscovado sugars, used to produce special sugars.
Drying, Sieving & Bagging
Once the sugar crystals are separated, they enter a drum rotating drier and are cooled. Raw sugar is loaded into lorries for delivery to the port terminal. Special sugars are passed over a vibrating screen and through a rare earth magnet, to remove foreign particles, before being packed into bags and shipped accordingly.
Here at Ragus, our UK sugar manufacturing facility, is one of the world’s most advanced sugar manufacturing sites producing hundreds of tonnes of sugars and syrups each day – from unrefined Demerara sugars, to refiners syrups, molasses and treacles to blends incorporating glucose syrups and many, many more. These include highly specialised custom formulations created by our sugar experts to meet customer demands.