Former professional baker specializing in vegan and gluten free recipe development. Current eater, baker and blogger in Calgary, AB.

Refined Sugar Processing and GM Beets

Refined Sugar Processing and GM Beets

Don't hate, but the word refined isn't as terrible and scary as people think. In fact, its pretty great that we have the ability to remove impurities from our food before we eat it. I refine vegetables before I eat them because I wash them. Sometimes I even refine my sandwiches by cutting the crusts off. The process of refining sugar removes nasty shit we don't wanna eat.

Worldwide, 30% of table sugar is made using beets instead of cane. In Alberta, the majority of sugar is made using beets because they easily grow here and they have a longer storage life. Beets grow in more areas and are processed slightly differently than the original sugar cane.

Sugar made with cane or with beets is, after production, 99.8% pure sucrose.

This is a requirement set by both the FDA and CFIA. Raw sugar is included in this requirement.

Sugar beets/cane go through a multi-step process to become the white sugar(sucrose) we know and love. "Raw" sugar undergoes this process but the salad spinner step(see below) is repeated less, leaving more impurities and brown.

Basically, most facilities start with extraction of sugar from the plant. Firstly, cut up beets or cane are crushed with water. The pulp is removed and, in Alberta, sold as animal feed(we love waste reduction, no?), and the juice is crystallized. This process is the same in production of sugar cane. However, after crystallization, sugar cane is often shipped from it’s original home and processed in more developed areas where the technology to continue processing is available. The juice is heated and recrystallized.

The Giant Salad Spinner...

The syrup and sugar crystals are then added to a centrifuge. As it spins, the thick syrup is flung out. A difference between cane and beet processing is seen here. The out-flung syrup is “technically” molasses. However, when produced with beets, the offshoot contains yeast, mould and other impurities from dirt and crap on the beets. It is deemed unsuitable for human consumption and is sold as animal feed. Cane sugar, on the other hand, has less impurities and the result IS molasses that can be used. (Note: cane sugar has less impurities because it must be processed immediately and doesn't sit in storage covered in dirt like beets)

The remaining sugar is then washed, recrystallized and the salad spinner step is repeated until white sugar remains. Additives or bleaching agents are not used in this process of decolorization but this is where sugar may become unsuitable for vegans.

Carbon = "animal bone char". Many companies do not use animal bone char in the refining process but use carbon granules instead. If used, it is added during the decolorization process. Carbon grabs on to remaining impurities and is filtered out. 

In regards to the use of GM (fml)beets, the simplest explanation is due to the amount of sugar in demand. The average Canadian eats an estimated 40 lbs of added sugar per year; lower than 66 lbs reported in America. To produce this amount of sugar using cane alone is very difficult. Beets are hearty and can be stored for months before being processed. This is a great start in decreasing food waste. Sugar cane must be processed immediately. Due to demand, this is not the most efficient or sustainable option. I can't stress the following enough:

****GM beets, as all GMOs, allow for higher crop yield in efforts to produce sufficient supply. ***** 

So, if we want to keep eating so much sugar, we will be using GMO beets. However, there are products being created to reduce sugar content of various foods. (For health reasons, not to reduce the amount of gm beets, because yeah, 66 lb a year is a lot.)

Research and development of "bitter blockers" and "reconstructed sugar" are in the works. Bitter blockers are additives that block bitter flavours, which allows sweetness to be more apparent. Reconstructed sugar is a carrier agent that binds to a sucrose molecule to bring a more concentrated sugar molecules to appropriate taste receptors. Douxmatok, a product which attaches a silica molecule to sucrose, creates an increased surface area of sugar (There will be  more information about these in my future nerdy science of sugar post). These are ways to reduce sugar content but all come with a general downside.

These can't be used as a simple substitute in products because this effects many factors.  Reducing sugar causes changes in texture, taste, shelf life and appearance of products. This potentially means the need for more fillers and other additive increases. This can increase cost of ingredients and production methods and ppl often don't love additives or spending money. Recipes often have to be redeveloped to achieve the same resulting product. 

 

Anyways, how to find vegan sugar in Alberta?

Rogers sugar has production plants in Montreal, Taber and Vancouver, with a distribution facility in Toronto. The Vancouver plant is the only facility that uses bone char. Determined by the lot number on the front, you can see which facility the sugar was produced in. If it starts with a 10, it was produced in Vancouver and you'll wanna avoid this guy. This is the easiest to find sugar (so many beets) but there are other options as well.

That's what I know about sugar. I omitted nerdy science things from this post but please keep an eye out for my upcoming science of sugar ramble.

 

Jessica O

Ps. Never get sick of those ginger babies.

 

 

 

 

 

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