Sugar cane and sugar beets produce most of the sugar we use. Even though these plants grow in different climates, sugar cane in the tropics and sugar beets in temperate zones, once their sugar is refined, there is very little difference between the two.
Sugar cane stalks grow from old stalks planted in the ground. When their growing season is over (7 to 22 months) and the stalks are 7 to 15 feet tall, they are cut and taken to a sugar mill.
At the sugar mill, machines wash, cut, and shred the stalks into a pulpy mass. With water continually sprayed on it, this pulpy mass is crushed between rollers to squeeze out the sugary juice, called cane juice.
The liquid, now a dark grayish-green color, is heated to its boiling point, and chemicals are added to remove impurities. Next, the juice is placed in huge tanks to evaporate, leaving a thick syrup. This syrup is heated to remove more and more water until crystals form. These crystals must be separated from the syrup, so they are put into a centrifuge machine which spins it around rapidly.
The sugar which is left inside the machine’s cylinders is called raw sugar. In this form, the sugar has uses to some manufacturers, but to make it suitable for food, it must go to a refinery. There, it is dissolved, treated with chemicals, filtered, crystalized once more, and allowed to solidify, this time into pure white sugar.
Beet sugar is produced much the same way as cane sugar. The beets are sliced and soaked with chemicals to form a sugary syrup. This syrup is also filtered and evaporated until it, too, becomes pure white sugar.
Adding together the table sugar we use with soft drinks, baked goods, candy, canned fruits, jellies, and desserts, an average person in the United States eats 100 pounds of sugar a year!