Sugar is removed from the plant and washed to remove the naturally present molasses and other plant materials. It is not white, moved by bleach. The real sugar in your pantry comes from sugar beets and sugarcane plants. Sugar beets are related to red beets but are white and much larger than their cousin. The sugar is stored in their root. Sugar cane looks similar to bamboo and stores the sugar in its stalk.
When sugar is initially extracted from the plants, it is golden because of the nonsugar materials attached to and within the sugar crystals. The sugar is then purified by removing the plant fibers and molasses, resulting in white sugar crystals. Sugar crystals are the same granulated sugar you buy at the grocery store. No bleach is used to make sugar white from the plant to the product.
How does sugar get white color?
Sugar can be found on food labels, like rice syrup, barley malt, high-fructose corn syrup, or dextrose. All these are nothing but other names of the same sugar. White sugar also goes through a similar round of refining as white flour. It is obtained from sugar cane or sugar beets.
The roughage or fibrous part is discarded after extracting the juice from these raw materials. The juice is then thickened and crystallized. At this point, it is known as raw sugar. Raw sugar is darker in color as it contains molasses. The raw sugar is further refined to get the white crystals of sugar, which eventually make their way to kitchens.
The process of refining includes two steps:
Step 1 – Removal of molasses
This step lightens the color of the sugar. Over the years, molasses has been reported to have many beneficial health properties. It has a plethora of vitamins and minerals, including iron, manganese, and selenium. These days, molasses is sold separately as a dietary supplement in the market.
Step 2 – Decolouring
The 2nd step of refining sugar is decoloring. After removing molasses, the sugar crystals are treated with another decolorization round to lighten their color further. What remains are pure white crystals of sugar.
Sugar obtained in the sugar manufacturing industry is generally brown or golden, also known as raw sugar. To get the white-colored refined sugar, it is necessary to treat it with additional processes. In many sugar manufacturing industries, refining is done along with the sugar production process. But in some industries, it is completely done after sugar manufacturing. So the steps involved in sugar refining involve:
- Collection of raw sugar.
- Defecation or clarification.
Affination: During refining, raw sugar is taken for affination. Raw sugar contains many impurities, which are added mainly on the surface. In affination, raw sugar is mingled with one saturated syrup to soften the adhering film of molasses.
Melting: After affination, the next step is melting sugar. The affinated sugar is dissolved with hot condensate to obtain a liquid syrup of 72-degree Brix at 75 degrees Celsius before defecation.
Defecation: After melting, defecation or clarification is done. It helps reduce almost 40 percent of colorants in this process. Defecation is of two types: Carbonatation and phosphatization.
- Carbonatation is also called carbonation. Melted sugar is treated with lime, which is calcium hydroxide. Carbon dioxide gas is a pumped reaction between calcium hydroxide and carbon dioxide that forms calcium carbonate. Calcium carbonate removes the impurities, and we obtain the purified sugar syrup.
- In phosphatization, melted sugar is treated with lime and phosphoric acid. The reaction between lime and phosphoric acid forms calcium phosphate precipitates, removing the impurities from the sugar syrup and obtaining the purified sugar syrup.
Filtration: After clarification, sugar syrup is filtered using pre-coat vacuum filters, pre-coat pressure filters, deep bed multimedia filters, or a combination to produce filtered syrup.
Decolorization: After filtration, the filtered syrup is treated further for decolorization. Several techniques can be used to remove the color from sugar syrup. The most common technique is activated carbon in powder or granules apart from that polymeric media like synthetic ion exchange resins or absorbents. Resins or bone char can also be used to decolorize sugar syrup.
Evaporation: After filtration and decolorization, sugar syrup has a 68 to 72 degrees Brix concentration. But for crystallization, supersaturation of syrup is necessary, which can be attained at 80 degrees Brix. To concentrate sugar syrup, evaporation is done using multiple-effect evaporators.
Centrifugation: The resulting sugar crystals, still containing a thin layer of syrup called molasses, are separated from the remaining liquid through centrifugation. Centrifuges spin rapidly, causing the sugar crystals to separate from the molasses.
Refining: The separated sugar crystals, known as raw or brown sugar, still contain some residual impurities and molasses. To make the sugar white, it undergoes a refining process. The raw sugar is dissolved in water to create a sugar syrup. The syrup is then filtered through activated carbon or bone char, a natural decolorizing agent. The carbon or bone char absorbs the remaining impurities and pigments, producing a clearer syrup.
Crystallization: After evaporation, crystallization is done under reduced pressure of 75 to 90 kilopascal and 60 to 70-degree Celsius temperature conditions. Many times, crystallization is initiated by adding a small quantity of sucrose. The crystals thus formed are grown under automatically controlled conditions until the desired final grain size is achieved. The process of centrifugation separates the sugar crystals.
White sugar does not undergo a bleaching process in the traditional sense. However, it does undergo a refining process that involves the use of decolorizing agents to remove impurities and achieve its white color. This may lead to a misconception that sugar is bleached.
The raw or brown sugar is dissolved in water to create a sugar syrup during refining. The syrup is then filtered through various materials, such as activated carbon or bone char (derived from animal bones), which act as natural decolorizing agents. These agents adsorb or trap impurities and pigments, producing a clearer syrup.
Activated carbon or bone char is part of the standard refining process to remove impurities and colorants. It is important to note that bone char used in sugar refining differs from the bleach used in other industries, such as the textile industry, which involves chemicals like chlorine or hydrogen peroxide.
Frequently asked questions
Is white sugar good for health?
Over the last fifty years, sugar consumption and the percentage of obesity worldwide have increased hand in hand. There is enough evidence that sugar and processed foods are directly linked to obesity, chronic diseases like type-II diabetes, and even heart diseases.
The problem with sugar or processed foods is that they lack the presence of any fiber. As a result, they are absorbed very quickly by the body and instantly raise blood sugar and insulin levels.
Although sugary foods provide calories, they do not give you a feeling of satiety or fullness. It doesn’t register to the brain that you have eaten anything. As a result, the hunger is back in no time.
A study found that people who had sugary drinks before their meals ate more than people who did not have sugary drinks. This showed that consuming processed foods containing sugar might increase your intake of regular meals. Not just fiber, sugar does not contain any nutrients whatsoever. It is why sugar is also known as a source of empty calories.
Is brown sugar better than white sugar?
A common belief is that brown sugar is better than white sugar. However, this is only a misconception. Brown sugar is made by adding a small percentage of molasses into white sugar. Therefore, although brown sugar contains slightly higher nutrients than white sugar, the percentage is small to give any real health benefits.
Brown sugar contains approximately 5% molasses versus 95% sugar granules. In contrast, white sugar has been stripped of that molasses. Contrary to popular belief, most brown sugar on the market is not purer, more natural, or less processed than white sugar. It is more processed than white sugar because it adds molasses to the white sugar at the final production stage.
With that said, molasses contain the minerals calcium, potassium, iron, and magnesium. But they are in such trace amounts that consuming brown sugar the cost drastically outweighs any benefit you’re getting from those minerals. Sugar is brown or white.
Giving up sugar in all white foods is difficult, as sugar is present in almost everything, from those cookies to flavored yogurts to soda cans. While completely refraining from these food products might not seem possible, moderation is the key to sugar. Be vigilant about how often you consume these food products and make careful choices daily.
How many teaspoons of sugar are recommended per day?
Based on evidence that over-consumption of sugar is linked with cases of obesity, overweight, and dental caries, the world health organization has recommended adults and children reduce their daily intake of sugar to less than 10% of the total energy intake. That is about 25 g of sugar or 6 teaspoons per day.
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