Where Does Sugar Come From?

sugar-come Credit: Shimelle Laine/CC-BY-2.0

Table sugar comes from plants, usually sugar cane or sugar beet. There are also minor commercial sugar crops like the date palm, sorghum and sugar maple. Sugar production is a long and complicated process that is highly industrialized.

Sugar producers cultivate large amounts of the crop on extensive plantations. Harvesters cut sugarcane at ground level, remove the leaves and trim the tops.

After taking the collected crop to the sugar mill, workers thoroughly clean the stalks and shred the cane into pieces, usually by means of a machine with rotating knives. The smaller pieces of the ground cane go onto a conveyor belt, which takes the cane through a series of heavy-duty rollers designed for juice extraction.

While the remaining pulp is saved and used for fuel, the raw juice is added to a solution of carbon dioxide and calcium hydroxide. This forms calcium carbonate, which serves to separate nonsugar debris like fats and wax from the sugar juice.

After going through additional filters, the raw juice is put to boil in a vacuum, where it becomes a thick, brown syrup. As water evaporates, the syrup crystallizes. Workers add pulverized sugar to the evaporating syrup to form sugar crystals.

Prior to packaging and shipping, the sugar goes to a refinery for the removal of molasses, minerals and other nonsugars.