Making Sugar From Sugar Beets

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Introduction: Making Sugar From Sugar Beets

About: Interested in practical and hands-on self sufficiency and rediscovering lost arts.

I've always enjoyed learning new skills, and especially learning about how to do or make things that I take for granted. As I've gotten more into canning and preserving food, I noticed just how much sugar I was using. In addition to being a sweetener, sugar is useful for dehydrating fruits and is itself a preservative.

There is some research and information online about using liquid sweeteners such as honey in preserving, but most recipes call for granular sugar. Syrups such as maple syrup or sorghum are typically not used, as they impart a strong flavor on whatever is being preserved.

I looked around online for a few years trying to find good information on creating sugar from beets at home, and didn't come up with much. A few blogs that posted about this process were sorely lacking on specific information and pictures. Nevertheless, their information was a great starting point into the process.

However, I figured the best way to learn was to take the plunge and just do it myself.

I tried two batches of beet sugar- the first was a failure, and is not included here. The second was relatively successful, and I think is a good starting point to anyone who wants to try to do this themselves. This working recipe is what follows here.

Step 1: A Little Bit About Sugar Beets

Sugar beets aren't your standard round, purple beets like you find at the store or the farmer's market. They are a separate species grown specifically for their high sugar content- they average approximately 15% sucrose by weight. Traditionally they are used for animal fodder, which leads some people to think they are not fit for human consumption.

The beet greens are edible and supposedly similar to swiss chard; I did not try this myself, however. The beets themselves were like taking a bite out of any other raw beet.

I purchased the seeds online from Pine Tree Seeds; with some research they should be easy to find, though they are not common. I planted the beets in 3 rows in a patch approximately 18" by 5 feet, in sandy clay soil. I watered them regularly throughout summer and waited until after the first hard frost in November to harvest them. Waiting until after a hard frost is supposed to convert a lot of starches in the roots and leaves into sugar. The beets were dug with a regular spading fork, and in total weighed around 30 pounds.

Step 2: The General Recipe

After searching online for how to make beet sugar, I found a number of similarities between techniques. The basic method is as follows, with a few modifications of my own. It is largely complied from other sources:

  1. Wash, peel, and remove bad parts of beets. I chose to remove the green skinned parts of the beets, as they seemed to be much darker and softer on the inside (see picture).
  2. Shred or dice beets, then cover with water in a large pot.
  3. Bring to a boil, then simmer until beets are tender. This was between 1 and 2 hours for me.
  4. Drain the liquid from the beets. Collect the beet pulp in a strainer lined with cheese cloth or similar material.
  5. Press liquid from the beet pulp and combine with the rest of the sugar water.
  6. Reduce sugar water until it turns amber brown and has a consistency like honey.
  7. Allow to crystalize.

The industrial method for creating beet sugar is much more complex than this. I would also like to mention that the method above will create something very much like raw sugar or brown sugar. That is, it creates sugar that has not had its molasses separated out. I was unable to find good information on how to do this without a large industrial centrifuge. As a result, it will not taste anything like regular white sugar.

A large part of industrial beet sugar production involves removing minerals and impurities from the sugar water. In an effort to reduce the amount going in to my test batches, I chose to skin the beets and remove any parts of the beet that were brown on the interior. Unfortunately, this resulted in discarding a large portion of my beets by weight- over one third.

Step 3: Preparing the Beets and Boiling the Pulp

I picked out 10 pounds of beets for a batch of sugar. After peeling and trimming off the bad parts, I was left with about 5 pounds of beets.

I washed, peeled, and trimmed the beets as in the previous step. I decided to shred the beets using a cheese grater instead of slicing them. A food processor could also make this go quickly. I thought it would allow for a higher surface area of beet for creating the sugar water.

I filled a stock pot with shredded beet and topped with water, then brought to a boil. I simmered the beet slivers until they were very soft and falling apart, stirring regularly.

I strained the sugar water out of the pot, then squeezed the beet pulp in a cloth to get more liquid out. This took a while, as the beet pulp clogged the cloth and left some liquid behind. A press of some sort would probably be more efficient, but I was using equipment I already had on hand in my kitchen.

The resulting sugar solution can be seen in the glass in the last picture. It had something of a beet aftertaste, but was already very sweet and pleasant on its own.

Step 4: Reducing and Cooling

Next, I poured all of the sugar water into a clean stock pot and brought it to a simmer/low boil. I boiled it down until it was greatly reduced, a fairly thick carmel-colored liquid, as shown in the first picture. It was very much the color and smell of molasses.

I poured the molasses into aluminum foil pans- a first (failed) batch got stuck to a good baking tray, so I wanted to something I was less attached to. Two of the pans I seeded with a sprinkle of regular white sugar; the other two I left alone. The purpose of the added sugar (barely any) was to provide the sugar already in the syrup something to grab onto and crystallize. I had heard about this method and wanted to see if there was anything to it.

Step 5: Sugar Is Formed

After 2 days, the molasses had already begun to thicken- it was pulling away from the edges of the pan and was very viscous when I tipped the pans on their sides.

After about 2 weeks (15 or 16 days) the molasses had almost completely crystalized, as shown in the third picture. This pan was one which had added sugar. You can see the hard crust of sugar which has formed across the top of the entire pan. The fourth picture shows a pan without added sugar, and the difference is striking. Adding seed sugar to the molasses after it's cool clearly makes a difference.

One pan had a strange bull's eye formation in it, shown in the last picture. I'm not sure what caused this- to be safe, I chipped it out and threw it away.

Step 6: Processing the Sugar

One of the trays was accidentally filled much thicker with molasses than the other three, and was also seeded with sugar. It had the interesting effect of allowing sugar to crystallize below the top crust, as shown in the first picture. Next year, I'll experiment with seeing how depth of the molasses matters when the sugar is forming.

The second picture shows a close-up of some pieces of the top crust of the sugar. Notice the crystal structure forming all over. Some pockets had molasses mixed in with the sugar, while others (as on the right) seemed to be much more pure sugar.

To process the sugar down, I broke small pieces about the size of a fingertip out of the trays. Because the trays were aluminum, I could just flex the bottom and it broke up well on its own.

At first I tried pounding the sugar apart by putting it in a plastic bag and hitting it with a meat tenderizer. This left me with a small amount of finely powdered sugar, a lot of large pieces, and a ripped-up plastic bag.

I settled on using a clean pepper mill (the kind you find full of whole peppercorns in the grocery store) and this seems to work pretty well. It's time-consuming, however; a flour or grain mill might also work if you have one of those. The pepper mill gave me a well-ground sugar about the size of regular sugar crystals.

From the 5 pounds of beets I started with, I wound up with just under 1 pound of sugar, which is right in that 15-20% sucrose range you can expect from sugar beets.

Step 7: In Conclusion

So there you have it, how to make your own sugar at home using sugar beets. I encourage you to give this a try yourself- just seeing how much work goes into producing sugar was an eye-opener for me.

The sugar itself tastes more strongly of regular molasses than of beets. This is because there is, in fact, molasses still in the sugar. However, it is sweet and crunchy, which I think is the most important thing.

This coming year, I will experiment with other methods of growing sugar beets, as well as trying to separate the molasses from the sugar to make a more refined, sweeter sugar.

I will also be doing a side-by-side comparison using my own beet sugar against store-bought sugar for use in canning fruit preserves, so look for that sometime this summer.

Thanks for reading! If you have any comments or ideas, I would love to hear from you.

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    32 Comments

    0
    oscarggg.dk
    oscarggg.dk

    Question 6 months ago

    Should the molasses be stored in a refridgerator, or will there not grow mold on it if it's held at room temperature?

    0
    bladegolem47
    bladegolem47

    Answer 2 months ago

    For long-term storage, I would recommend keeping it in a refrigerator. I haven't tried keeping it at room temperature for a long time.

    0
    oscarggg.dk
    oscarggg.dk

    Reply 2 months ago

    Thanks

    0
    SGPKS
    SGPKS

    Question 2 months ago

    What is a good source for surgar beet seeds?

    0
    bladegolem47
    bladegolem47

    Answer 2 months ago

    I get mine from Pinetree Seeds (superseeds.com). They're located in the US and have a good variety of interesting things.

    0
    SGPKS
    SGPKS

    Reply 2 months ago

    Thank you.

    0
    Shinysinead
    Shinysinead

    2 months ago

    This is really interesting. Thanks!

    0
    bladegolem47
    bladegolem47

    Reply 2 months ago

    Glad you thought so!

    0
    lesliejthompson
    lesliejthompson

    Question 8 months ago on Step 7

    This is an excellent tutorial! I'm really excited to grow sugar beets this spring and will definitely try this. Any idea how long you can store the dried/granulated beet sugar? And does it measure about the same as brown sugar. E.g., if you were to use 1 tsp of brown sugar in your coffee, would 1 tsp. of beet sugar taste about the same? Also, any clue whether you can bake with it?

    0
    pmlamont1
    pmlamont1

    Answer 7 months ago

    45% of sugar used in the US is actually beet sugar. I posted here the method of refinement to pure sugar. You can use practically anything sweet to replace sugar. In the 18th C. People would add fruits into things to sweeten them. Raw beet sugar has impurities which will affect the flavor of the food. However, this doesn't mean you can't use it. In fact, using just the quicklime and CO2 steps in the refinement method and making that into a syrup would probably be just as good as pure cane sugar. Try it out and see. If you have a freeze dryer, you can use the method posted in this thread elsewhere. I would imagine that even a slow dehydration process might work as a final step in refinement too. Just way slower than the other methods.

    0
    bongsuico
    bongsuico

    2 years ago on Step 7

    I live in the philippines. Do you think sugar beets will thrive and grow here?

    0
    williamcastille
    williamcastille

    Reply 1 year ago

    There was some research not to long back into growing sugar beets in tropical Queensland and in it they should that sugar beets can grow well in tropical climates.

    0
    pmlamont1
    pmlamont1

    Reply 7 months ago

    They thrive in cold temperatures. There may be some new cultivar that grows there, but the above post doesn't mention any sources. Typically, cane and beets are grown in opposite climates. However, if you live in some mountains where it is colder, perhaps you could grow them down there. Just try it and see. Beet roots hate hot temps and in direct hot weather they apparently turn all woody at the root and yucky. That said, you can grow them in California where I live. Just not in the dead of summer or the hot months of the year.

    0
    bladegolem47
    bladegolem47

    Reply 2 years ago

    It depends what your local climate is. I believe sugar beets require a somewhat cooler climate. If you are in a more tropical area, you might consider sorghum or sugar cane.

    0
    DeloresW6
    DeloresW6

    Reply 2 years ago

    Can you grow potatoes or carrots where you live? If you can I would think that it would be worth a try.

    0
    pmlamont1
    pmlamont1

    7 months ago

    https://digitalcommons.unl.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi...
    I got the mother load here folks. This is from 1935, after attempts were restarted to get Nebraska back in the beet root sugar game. This work was apparently ongoing at universities. Here is a university publication from 1935 which goes into great detail on the manufacture of pure sugar from sugar beets. Page 74 and on. In summary, here is a brief description of the process used in 1935:
    1. Heat limestone to create quicklime
    2. dump sliced beets into hot water (not boiling)
    3. agitate the water(they recycled through 6 chambers, so I am just adjusting to what we might do making small batches at home?)
    4. Run the now called "thin juice" with the quicklime. This gets lots of impurities out.
    5. Press the thin juice through a filter to get rid of impurities and most lime.
    6. infuse carbon dioxide made some weird way. Just use baking soda and citric acid to make carbon dioxide(you could use a sodastream too). This removes any remaining lime by converting it into calcium bicarbonate. It then precipitates to bottom. You lose some sugar here too.)
    7. put fart gases into the mix to make it smelly! JK, but now I know why my mom who grew up in Nebraska said beet sugar factories stank horribly. Add sulfur dioxide to bleach the sugar and remove more impurities.
    8. heat below boiling in a vacuum to lower boiling point and evaporate water. idk about this part. maybe hook up a shop vac to your stove?

    9. they would finally use a centrifuge to separate from water. At concentration of 50-60%. You would have to use a viscosity gauge to test this.

    The key they said in these last few steps was to not burn the sugar. That's why they resorted to using vacuums and low temp boiling. This I think was the 1935 version of a freeze dryer. Literally, a freeze dryer would do this process way more efficiently. Anyway, it's all there in great detail. Some interesting grainy old pictures from the actual factories, too.

    BTW great article. I would have never searched further if I didn't get at least this far! Anyway, it looks like some nice brown sugar as is. I am actually okay with putting raw sugar in my coffee.I bet it makes great taffy and peanut brittle. Tuzemak anyone? Hope this helps folks.

    0
    Zifzgldlgdoshdhld
    Zifzgldlgdoshdhld

    1 year ago

    Can you store it like a syrup? And how long does it last?

    0
    bladegolem47
    bladegolem47

    Reply 1 year ago

    It can be stored like a syrup, which is a very common way to keep beet sugar. I believe it's used more like a molasses. I haven't tried this myself, but that's about the step that I got it to before trying to extract the solid sugar. According to what's available online, it should keep for several months if you keep it in a closed jar.

    0
    DeeDeeO1
    DeeDeeO1

    1 year ago on Step 7

    I'm wondering if a coffee grinder would be useful.