Sugar Talk Sugar Talk
What is organic sugar?
Organic sugar is any kind of sugar that has been produced from organically grown sugarcane or sugar beet. The term organic refers to the farming practices, not the manufacturing process, but organic sugar must be completely separated from conventional sugar during manufacturing. So, what exactly makes it different to non-organic sugar? In this article, we outline the regulatory stage, how organic sugars are refined and the resulting food and beverages applications.
What are the regulations that make sugar organic?
Organic regulations start with how the sugarcane and sugar beet is grown, but organic sugar manufacturers must satisfy organic certification bodies that the all the production factors comply with demanding regulations.
The basic principles of organic farming remain the same around the world, although specifics vary. In the UK, the largest certification body is the Soil Association. It defines organic farming as aiming to produce food using natural substances and processes. That includes using energy and natural resources responsibly, maintaining biodiversity, preserving regional ecological balances, enhancing soil fertility and maintaining water quality.
The Organic Food Federation certifies organic products in the UK. They help manufacturers to comply with the production, processing, warehousing, storage, trading, distribution and importation of organic produce.
When most consumers think of sugar, they picture the white crystalline version they put in their tea or coffee. This could be organic or non-organic, but many people assume that white, refined sugar is non-organic, and ask the question ‘what is the difference between organic and white sugar?’ The answer is that a sugar’s status as organic has nothing to do with its colour, texture or use in food products. It’s simply a method of farming, and—when it comes to manufacturing—segregation from conventional sugar.
Consumers also often assume that Fairtrade sugar is organic. But again, a product’s Fairtrade status has nothing to do with its organic status, although there are overlaps, as both certifications assure bulk buyers and consumers that the sugar has been grown with ethical values like sustainability, fairness and shared responsibility.
The sugar processing and refining process
There are many different types of organic sugar, but they all start out life as sugar beet or sugarcane. In fact, all sugar in shops and food products come from either beet or cane, whether it’s organic or non-organic. Cane is a far more common source of organic sugar: the global production of all organic sugar is around 540,000 tonnes, but only 94,000 tonnes of that is from beet.
After farming and harvesting organic sugar beet and sugar cane, how is it processed and refined? While beet and cane sugars have different journeys from field to crystal, organic versions are processed and refined in the same way as non-organic versions.
The only difference is that organic certification bodies have strict rules about organic products being contaminated with non-organic products. When organic sugar is produced the mills or refineries will manufacture the sugar either before or after the conventional sugar campaign, so there is no cross contamination. The finished organic sugar will also be kept segregated from conventional sugar in the warehouse and clearly labelled organic.
There’s a big difference from unrefined and unprocessed sugars like molasses or rapadura to the white, granulated product on the table in a café, but both can be organic or non-organic. For instance, the darker sugars that might be called ‘raw’ are from sugar cane, not beet. They’re minimally processed and contain the flavour and colour of the cane juice present in the sugarcane plant they came from. The darkness comes from the natural molasses content that refined white cane sugars have filtered out through processing.
Sugar from beets is naturally white and has to go through processing to become a usable product. For that reason, you won’t find raw or unprocessed beet sugar, unless it’s beet molasses, which is unpalatable and used in animal feed. You can learn more about growing and harvesting both sugarcane and beet sugar in our archives.
Organic sugar products
Almost any type of sugar can be organic. Cane sugar, white sugar, inverted sugar syrup, liquid raw cane sugar, molasses and golden syrup – among others – are all available organic and in bulk supply for use in food manufacturing.
Organic white sugars, inverts and golden syrup can be made from a cane or beet source. Cane crystallines, such as demerara or muscovado, raw cane syrup and molasses are all derived from sugarcane.
Sugarcane products tend to be richer in nutrients as sugarcane plants have roots that go deep into the ground, absorbing more of the goodness of the soil. Because its minimally refined, gram for gram molasses contains more iron than eggs, more calcium than milk, and more potassium than any other food.
Whether you’re bulk buying cane molasses or white sugar from beets, sugar needs to be stored properly if you want to use it for food products. So, if you buy organic sugar in bulk, how should it be stored? Each type of sugar has slightly different storage needs.
All sugar should always be stored in a cool dry place. Moisture makes crystallines lumpy and the cold can make syrups crystallise. Each type of sugar has specific storage requirements, whether organic or non-organic. You can find the precise storage conditions for all the bulk sugars we produce at Ragus on our product page.
How are organic sugars used in food and beverage recipes?
Organic sugars can be used in exactly the same ways as non-organic sugars. There’s absolutely no difference in taste, texture or functional properties between organic and non-organic.
Manufacturers use mellow, light crystalline sugars for beverages, biscuits, cakes, breakfast cereals, toppings and yoghurts for bulking, sweetness and extending shelf life. At the other end of the taste and texture spectrum, smoky, sticky molasses has a strong taste and a coarse, thick texture that is ideal for Christmas puddings, toffee, savoury sauces and more.
You can find inverted syrups in glazes for hot cross buns and icing on Swiss buns and muffins. Used in low-fat products as a replacement for glycerine, it adds colour and flavour during baking and increases scoopability in ice cream and sorbets. It’s popular with manufacturers for preserving the quality of baked goods, cakes and sauces.
So, if you’re thinking about using organic sugar in your food and beverage products, treat it in exactly the same way as you would the equivalent non-organic sugar. It acts the same and performs the same functions, bringing sweetness and texture to an endless number of much-loved foods and dishes the world over.
With a primary responsibility for manufactured product quality control, Ibrahim works within our supplier chain, factory and production laboratory. He has a focus on continuous improvement, implementing and maintaining our technical and quality monitoring processes, ensuring standards and product specifications are met.