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Food - Sugar

( Originally Published 1917 )



Sugar a world product. There are many reasons why sugar is one of the most interesting of the world's great staple crops. It is produced in commercial quantities in almost every country of the torrid and the temperate zones. With the possible exception of salt, sugar, either as a natural element or as an added ingredient, enters into more different articles of our diet than any other food product. It makes a more universal appeal to the palate of the world of children, adults, and even dumb animals than any other food element that exists. Finally, it is consumed in such enormous quantities in every part of the world that in both tonnage and dollars it constitutes one of the largest single items of food traffic passing through the hands of the wholesale and retanl dealers. At the same time sugar perhaps yields to those who handle it the smallest percentage of profit of any known food.

We are told that the .manufacture of sugar from sugar cane is older than history, and that reference to it is found in the Sanskrit of ancient India. The cultivation of sugar cane seems to have been common in India and China in remote times. The Greeks and Romans used sugar, but for medicinal purposes only, obtaining it from India at great cost. It was introduced into Europe from the East soon after the conquests of the ninth century.

We are also told that sugar cane was grown in Syria and on the island of Cyprus as far back as the middle of the eleventh century. From there it was carried into Sicily and other parts of the southern coast of Europe.

Sugar cane was brought to the West Indies in 1494. It at once gained a strong foothold and became one of the principal crops of the islands. Almost immediately the West Indies became the world's leading sugar producers. Today cane sugar comes from the West Indies especially Cuba and Porto Rico South America, Java, India, the Philippines, Hawaii, Mexico, Egypt, the island of Mauritius, Taiwan, and from our own Southern States, and the cane is grown in practically every tropical country.

Sugar cane and raw sugar. Sugar cane grows in single stalks, the mature cane reaching a height of from eight to twenty feet. A plantation of cane looks much like a field of Indian corn stalks of enormous size. From the upper portion of the cane its long, blade-like leaves extend outward in great tufts or showers. The cane is ready to cut in from twelve to sixteen months from the time of planting. As it ripens it becomes very heavy, and if a strong wind occurs the cane falls to the ground in a tangled mass, thus adding much labor to the' task of harvesting. The stalks are cut by hand, and as many as a hundred negroes may sometimes be seen working in one small field.

Immediately after the cane is cut it is stripped of its leaves, topped, and loaded on carts and hauled to the mills. Then it is converted into raw sugar for shipment to the refineries in more northern countries.

In the mills the ripe cane is passed between large, rough rollers called crushers, which break it up. After this it passes between several sets of triple . rollers which press out the juice. As the cane passes from one set of rollers to another it is sprayed with water in order to extract more of the sugar sap. Modern mills employ twelve to eighteen of these immense rollers which apply a pressure of five hundred tons. When the crushed cane comes from the last set of rollers the remaining fiber is dry. In the sugar world this fiber is called "bagasse." The bagasse is conveyed from the rollers directly under the boilers, where it is burned to make steam with which to operate the mill.

The juice as it is crushed from the cane runs through great filters and clarifiers and finally into the vacuum pans where it is boiled or evaporated until it forms crystals. You know that when you are making candy your sugar sirup will boil back into sugar, or crystals, unless you are extremely careful. That is just what the sugar manufacturers want this cane sirup to do. After the sugar sirup has boiled into crystals, it is placed in centrifugal machines, where it is whirled round and round many hundred times a minute. As the crystalline mass revolves rapidly the molasses passes through the fine wire screens of the machine, leaving only the yellow sugar crystals, called "raw sugar." Then the machines are stopped, and the raw sugar scraped into conveyers which carry it to the packing room where it is run into bags and shipped to the northern refineries.

Refined sugar, when the raw sugae reaches the refineries it is stored in large warehouses, from which it is drawn as needed. Many of these refineries are thousands of miles from the mills and the raw sugar must be carried by steamship to them. When the raw sugar reaches the refineries it contains many impurities which are all removed in the refining processes. In fact, the final white sugar from the refineries is one of the purest foods known—being practically 100 per cent pure.

In the refinery the sugar is first melted into a sticky liquid and while in this condition is passed through various filters and clarifiers, whence it flows a clear, brilliant, water white sirup. This purified syrup is then put into vacuum pans and the water evaporated from it, the sugar in this way being recrystallized.

Kinds and grades of sugar. Sugar, as you know, is put up in many grades and forms. The recrystallized product is used to make the various white sugars, such as granulated, powdered or pulverized,: and "rock sugar. Loaf sugar is the same as granulated, only it is poured into frames or moulds and cooled into large sheets, from which the lumps of various sizes are cut. Pulverized sugar is merely granulated sugar ground very fine or powdered.

Molasses is the liquid and uncrystallized sugar which is separated from the sugar crystals in the centrifugal machine. Molasses sugar is obtained by boiling molasses.

The beet-sugar industry. Now besides sugar cane there is another plant that yields sugar. This is the sugar beet, which furnishes about one half the sugar we use. No doubt you are all familiar with the sugar beet, though its history is not so old as that of the cane.

In the year 1747 a German scientist discovered the sugar properties of the beet, but it was not until about 1810 that the production of sugar from the beet was seriously considered in a commercial way. At that time the wornout fields of Europe yielded an average of only about twelve bushels of grain per acre and with so many people to feed great numbers were in danger of starvation. Then the French discovered that for three or four years after they had planted a field in sugar beets, it would yield twice as many bushels of grain as it did before furnishing, of course, food for twice as many people. This yield was no doubt due largely to the deep plowing necessary for the production of the sugar beet and to the deep tillage done by the burrowing of the beet itself. When this became known and the true value of the sugar beet began to be understood,Napoleon I appropriated 1,000,000 francs, or about $200,000, to be used in establishing government factories and schools in which to teach sugar making.

He then ordered French farmers to plant 90,000 acres to sugar beets to supply the hundreds of little new sugar mills that were built throughout Northern France. Soon after this became known, other European nations' began to plant sugar beets and build sugar factories and at the opening of the great world war these countries. had more than 1,300 big sugar factories which produced 8,000,000 tons of beet sugar a year.

Millions of families depend in peace times largely upon the beet-sugar industry for their living. In normal times whole sections in Belgium, France, Germany, Austria-Hungary, Sweden, Russia, and other European countries are given to the cultivation of the sugar beet. It is, of course, grown in rotation with other crops.

By 1880 the beet-sugar industry was successfully established in the United States. Today we have about 80 huge factories costing nearly $100,000,000 and producing annually more than,700,000 tons of white sugar.

Great care has been given to the breeding of sugar-beet seed. Whereas in the early days of the industry the beets weighed but a few ounces apiece and contained but 4 to 5 per cent of sugar, they now weigh several pounds apiece and contain from 15 to 20 per cent of sugar. There are many large sugar-beet seed farms in Europe that ship seed to all the countries which produce beet sugar.

We have learned that in extracting sugar from cane the juice is squeezed out between many sets of big rollers. The process of extracting the sugar from beets is quite different. Instead of being crushed, the beets, after they are washed, are cut into long, slender slices, about as large as a small lead pencil.These slices are then run into what is called a diffusion battery, which consists of a series of coils, each of which holds from five to ten tons of slices. Then hot water passing through the beets coaxes the sugar out of the tiny cells in which nature stores it.

Next the water which has absorbed the sugar is filtered and clarified and boiled down so that the sugar crystallizes almost a repetition of the process of making sugar from cane juice. Unlike the cane-sugar factories of the tropics, which produce only raw sugar and send it to the northern refineries to be purified, our beet-sugar factories complete the process and market only white granulated sugar, ready for the table. But in European countries, the beet-sugar factories for the most part make only raw sugar which is sent to big central refineries for purification. '

A candy loving nation. Candy is perhaps the most popular form in which sugar is served to the American people. We eat almost $200,000,000 worth of factory made confectionery a year in this country. This does not include the tons of fudge, taffy, and other candies made in the homes. There are, according to the United States Department of Commerce, more than 2,500 factories in this country making candy under the inspection of the national and state governments. Not only is our national taste for sweetmeats highly developed, but we have probab,ly brought the art of candy making to its highest point. We export a little less than $1,500,000 worth of candy a year and import about $150,000 to $250,000 worth.

There are few industries in the United States which have increased more rapidly in recent years than the manufacture of candy. It is well for this candy loving nation that great and increasing care is taken to see that only pure and wholesome candies are permitted to be made and sold.

Production and use of sugar in United States. In a single year the people of this country consume about 4,000,000 tons of sugar, of which the United States and its outlying possessions produce nearly 2,000,000 tons. Of the 2,000,000 tons imported, more than 95 per cent comes from Cuba. As we study these . tremendous figures we must not forget that our own Southern States produce more than 200,000 tons of cane sugar a year; that the sugar produced in Porto Rico and Hawaii together is five times this amount; that the Philippines yield more than 100,000 tons a year; and that our Western States in a single year will produce more than 700,000 tons of beet sugar.

The quantity of sugar consumed in the United States amounts to about 80 pounds per year for each man, woman, and child in the country a greater amount for each person than is consumed in any other country except Great ,Britain, Denmark, and far off New Zealand and Australia.

Germany and Russia are two of the leading beetsugar producing countries of the world, and they consume tremendous quantities of sugar. The world's total production of sugar for a year is about 19,000,000 tons.

Maple sugar. There is another sugar which is in high favor because of its delicious flavor, for certainly maple sugar is one of the most delicious products known to our tables. Almost any person brought up in New England or in any of our Northern States east of the Mississippi River knows how this kind of sugar is made. The maple trees are tapped and spouts driven into the incisions. When a "run" of sap is on during the "sugar weather" of the early spring, the sweet sap trickles through the spouts and drops into buckets. The sap is emptied into barrels usually mounted on a low sled drawn by horses or oxen. At the sugar house the sap is emptied into a storage tank which feeds into a large flat pan or evaporator over an "arch." Usually there are a series of these pans. These not only permit the sap to be heated gradually, but furnish broad, shallow surfaces which spread the sap in thin sheets, thus making the process of evaporation much more rapid than if the boiling was done in a large kettle.

If this maple sugar was melted and run through the filters and clarifiers of the refinery you would have exactly the same sugar you get from the cane and the beet. Raw cane sugar, raw beet sugar, and maple sugar each has an odor and flavor peculiar to the plant which produces it, and these are subject to complete change by refining.

Raisin sugar. There is still another sugar with which you probably are not familiar, but which I am sure you would like. Yet, there are many foreigners among us and not a few Americans who constantly call for raisin sugar, which is imported from the Levant in cans containing from one to five pounds. If you do not know what or where the Levant is, it will be a good idea for you to look it up, for you will meet that word often in your study of geography and history. The best grades of raisin sugar have a decided raisin flavor and are well classed as a luxury.

Other sugar producing plants. There are other sugar producing plants, trees, and fruits besides the sugar cane, the sugar beet, the maple tree, and the raisin. But because more labor is required to extract the sugar, and because these plants do not possess so large a percentage of sugar and are harder to cultivate, they are not grown for the sugar they contain. Bananas have a high percentage of sugar; so have certain cacti, and potatoes, grapes, corn, and various trees other than the maple. But the yield is not enough to justify their use as sources of sugar. In fact, practically every food we eat contains some sugar, but in many foods the percentage is so small that a ton of it would not produce a pound of sugar. Therefore, when we speak of sugar we naturally think first of the cane, next of the beet, and then of the maple tree.



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