Pour Some Organic Free Trade Sugar On Me

Is this the best song of all time? Probably. It is one of those tunes that you will be rock­ing to every time you waltz up to your neighbour’s front door ask­ing to bor­row a cup of the stuff.

Most of us use “the white death” every day with­out giv­ing a sec­ond thought to where it comes from. That bag of  brand X  gran­u­lated sugar on your shelf, what do you know about it? Is it beet sugar from Canada or cane sugar from south of the equa­tor? Today we have a brief look at some of the options avail­able for your consideration.

The grow­ing of sugar cane in Canada is impos­si­ble because of our cli­mate, so 90% of Canadian refined sugar is pro­duced from raw cane sugar imported from trop­i­cal regions includ­ing South and Central America, Australia and the Caribbean. The raw sugar is trans­ported by ship in bulk cargo to refiner­ies in Vancouver, Montreal and Toronto. Here it is refined to sep­a­rate the pure sugar crys­tals from molasses, plant residue and impu­ri­ties. The other 10% is refined beet sugar from domes­ti­cally grown sugar beets in Alberta. Whether pro­duced from cane or beet, the refined sugar is the same — pure sucrose.

Available in three main cat­e­gories: white gran­u­lated sugar, liq­uid sugar and spe­cialty sug­ars, 88% of Canada’s sugar pro­duc­tion is des­tined for the indus­trial mar­ket, so the stuff you see on your gro­cery shelves rep­re­sents only 12% of the sugar refined in Canada.

Sugarcane is har­vested by hand and mechan­i­cally. Hand har­vest­ing accounts for more than half of pro­duc­tion, and is dom­i­nant in the devel­op­ing world. In hand har­vest­ing, the field is first set on fire. The fire burns dry leaves, and kills any lurk­ing ven­omous snakes, with­out harm­ing the stalks and roots. Harvesters then cut the cane just above ground-level using cane knives or machetes. A skilled har­vester can cut 500 kilo­grams (1,100 lb) of sug­ar­cane per hour.

So what exactly is “refined”sugar. Here is the process briefly described in Wikepedia:

Mills extract raw sugar from freshly har­vested cane, and some­times bleach it to make “mill white” sugar for local con­sump­tion. Refining fur­ther puri­fies the raw sugar. It is first mixed with heavy syrup and then cen­trifuged in a process called “affi­na­tion”. Its pur­pose is to wash away the sugar crys­tals’ outer coat­ing, which is less pure than the crys­tal inte­rior. The remain­ing sugar is then dis­solved to make a syrup, about 60 per­cent solids by weight.

The sugar solu­tion is clar­i­fied by the addi­tion of phos­phoric acid and cal­cium hydrox­ide, which com­bine to pre­cip­i­tate cal­cium phos­phate. The cal­cium phos­phate par­ti­cles entrap some impu­ri­ties and absorb oth­ers, and then float to the top of the tank, where they can be skimmed off. An alter­na­tive to this “phos­phata­tion” tech­nique is “car­bon­a­tion”, which is sim­i­lar, but uses car­bon diox­ide and cal­cium hydrox­ide to pro­duce a cal­cium carbonate precipitate.

After fil­ter­ing any remain­ing solids, the clar­i­fied syrup is decol­orized by fil­tra­tion through acti­vated car­bon. Bone char is tra­di­tion­ally used in this role. For those of you won­der­ing what “bone char” is, it is a gran­u­lar mate­r­ial pro­duced by char­ring and grind­ing ani­mal bones. To pre­vent the spread of mad cow dis­ease, the skull and spines are not used. Oh goody.

Some remain­ing color-forming impu­ri­ties adsorb to the car­bon. The puri­fied syrup is then con­cen­trated to super­sat­u­ra­tion and repeat­edly crys­tal­lized in a vac­uum, to pro­duce white refined sugar. As in a sugar mill, the sugar crys­tals are sep­a­rated from the molasses by cen­trifug­ing. Additional sugar is recov­ered by blend­ing the remain­ing syrup with the wash­ings from affi­na­tion and again crys­tal­liz­ing to pro­duce brown sugar. When no more sugar can be eco­nom­i­cally recov­ered, the final molasses still con­tains 20–30 per­cent sucrose and 15–25 per­cent glu­cose and fructose.

To pro­duce gran­u­lated sugar in which indi­vid­ual grains do not clump, sugar must be dried, first by heat­ing in a rotary dryer, and then by blow­ing cool air through it for sev­eral days.

Many con­sumers moti­vated by eth­i­cal and dietary con­sid­er­a­tions, opt to pur­chase prod­ucts that are Fair Trade Certified-guaranteeing that a fair price is paid directly to the farm­ers– organic and free of ani­mal by-products used in their production.

Wholesome Sweeteners Organic Sugar” is “grown and pro­duced with­out the use of her­bi­cides, chem­i­cals or bleach­ing agents and is not fil­tered through ani­mal by-products” Fair Trade Certified means the farm­ers “can com­pete with fac­tory farms whilst pro­tect­ing sus­tain­able farm­ing prac­tices. It also means they can enjoy higher liv­ing stan­dards and develop thriv­ing communities.”

You might want to think about some of this the next time you’re asked if you’d like one lump or two.


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  • McCall

    I have had both reg­u­lar sugar and organic sugar and organic sugar is 10 x more healthy for you and it tastes 10 x better!!!

  • http://fiestafarms.ca Ivy Knight

    organic always tastes better!