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Sugar

( Originally Published 1918 )



Extent of sugar production. This is one of the most valuable products derived from the vegetable world. It is essential to the life of plants, many of which have food reserves stored away in the form of starch, which, after being converted into sugar, is used by the plants themselves. From several plants available for his use, man has learned to extract the sugar in tremendous quantities ; the amount that figures in the world's commerce reaches twenty million tons annually, and in addition to this there are large quantities that do not figure at all in commercial statistics, being produced and consumed locally in countries of the Far East, in Africa, and in other places where it is impossible to keep track of production.

Sources of sugar. In the tropics sugar is often derived from the sweet juice of certain varieties of palm ; in cooler regions, such as Canada and the United States, the sugar maple provides maple sugar. Honey was undoubtedly the first saccharine sub-stance used by man ; in using it he depended, of course, upon the collections made by bees from myriad plant sources. The land of milk and honey " was, in Bible times, the land of luxury and plenty.

The love of luxuries. We wish here to pause for a moment to remark that human industry and commerce have never confined themselves to merely useful products. In the case of fruits, it is not the absolute food value that makes them attractive and in demand ; and the same thing is true of sugar and other commercial products later to be mentioned. They are wanted because they please the palate because they respond to desires that are above and beyond mere existence. The savage would spend an amount of effort and care in getting a supply of honey to which nothing except dire hunger would have driven him had his object been merely common food. There never was any other form of human trade which surpassed the trade in spices in the eagerness and in-tensity with which it was pursued. Again and again it has been shown that luxuries will appeal to a people where necessities make little or no impression upon them. We shall have occasion to recall this fact, from time to time, as we go on.

Sugar as a luxury and a necessity. In the case of sugar, which is before us, we do not mean to say that it possesses no food value, quite the contrary, but it is the taste of sugar that made it popular. It was once a rare luxury ; it was very scarce in Europe in the Middle Ages, and was even used as a medicine for lung and throat troubles. In those days a young man could please a young woman as much by securing her a lump of sugar as he could now by giving her a big box of candy, but he did not get off any cheaper. What was then a great and costly luxury has now become a cheap necessity ; anyone who, in normal times, cannot afford sugar is very poor indeed. Many such luxuries end by becoming necessities ; it was with sugar as it is coming to be with floor coverings, hardwood floors, and the telephone. Nowadays we think we cannot get along without things which our ancestors never dreamed of having, and thus our life is constantly becoming more costly and more complicated. It is perhaps well for us that occasional pinches force us to drop back on the simpler things and to moderate some-what our insistence upon what are really luxuries. Sugar, however, while it is a luxury when used with reckless profusion, and while it may, so used, do detriment to the body, has its distinct food value, as some others of the luxuries have not.

The cane and the beet. We return now to the common sources of commercial sugar. Of all the plants from which it is derivable, there are two which have stood the test better than the rest, namely, the sugar cane and the sugar beet. The former came into use long before the latter and deserves first mention.

Sugar cane. This is a large, grasslike plant which thrives best within or near the tropics, where it grows to a height of twenty feet. The stems are often a couple of inches in diameter and have a tough outer covering inclosing the sugar-containing tissue, which is soft. Sugar cane is another very anciently cultivated plant, of Asiatic origin. Its culture spread westward to Africa, Sicily, and southern Spain, and thence, early in the sixteenth century, to Brazil. It was introduced into Haiti in 1520 and soon afterwards was to be found in Mexico.

Introduction of the cane. The Jesuits are said to have brought the cane to this country in 1751, when they introduced some plants from San Domingo into Louisiana ; but little headway was made until 1794, when persecuted Frenchmen fled from San Domingo to Louisiana. Later on the culture extended somewhat into Texas and also to the east ; in 1805 an enterprising Georgia planter secured and set out one hundred young canes, which rapidly propagated, the culture being extended into Florida and Alabama. But it soon appeared that the Louisiana plantations were by far the most productive, and the industry never got on very well elsewhere ; in 1850 eleven twelfths of the country's yield of cane sugar and molasses was from Louisiana. This situation has not altered much in more recent years. In 1820 a hardier variety of cane was introduced from Java, which enabled the Louisiana plantations to be extended farther toward the north, with the result of much enlarging the area of production.

The cane-sugar crop. Cane-sugar cultivation in this country has had its ups and downs. Until 1843 our imports exceeded the domestic production, but in that year the latter more than doubled the former; in 1846, 1848, and 1854 more was produced here than was imported. Then came the Civil War, which ruined the industry : Louisiana produced 191,000 tons in 1862 ; 28,000 in 1864 ; 5000 in 1865. Not until 1871 did this state again reach 80,000 tons ; but shortly thereafter a more prosperous period set in. The average yield from 1886 to 1891 was 163,000 tons, and the expansion continued until the greatest production on record 398,000 tons was reached in 1904-1905. At present the annual yield averages between 200,000 and 300,000 tons for Louisiana, with a few thousand tons for all other districts in the United States proper. Puerto Rico, Hawaii, and , the Philippines, however, produce much cane sugar.

Conditions of cane-sugar production. It is said that the best climate for raising sugar cane is one whose average temperature is about 80 F. and where the rainfall is sixty inches or more a year. This is about three times the annual rainfall necessary for successful farming of cereal and vegetable crops. Sugar-cane culture belongs to the tropics and subtropics and can never be more than a local industry in this country. It is in British India, and especially in the two islands of Java and Cuba, that its greatest success is assured. Cuba produces considerably more than half of the whole amount for the continent of North America.

Beet sugar. Despite the fact that the derivation of sugar from the beet is a modern achievement, nearly half of the world's present crop of commercial sugar is thus derived. Not until the middle of the last century did the industry rise into any prominence. But its advent has wrought far-reaching changes in the whole sugar industry, which have reacted, in turn, upon the economic life of millions of people. Only a short time ago sugar, as we have seen, was a luxury ; today it is a staple article of consumption in most parts of the civilized world ; and it is largely the expansion of sugar-producing from its previous tropical fields that has allowed this change to come about.

Sugar-beet raising. The sugar beet is a variety of the common beet, and grows best in the climatic environment of north temperate latitudes ; a greater weight of roots per acre can be raised in warmer regions, but they are not so rich in sugar. As regards soil, wherever ordinary farm crops wheat, maize, or potatoes will grow, there the sugar beet will get on if the drainage is good.

Beginnings of the beet-sugar industry. Toward the latter part of the eighteenth century it was shown, in Germany, that sugar could be obtained from beets. The first Napoleon did much to encourage the industry in France, especially in 1812, when the French were cut off by blockade from a cane-sugar supply ; at one time he caused the sum of a million francs to be appropriated to its encouragement. But after the fall of the emperor production almost died out. By 1820 it was reviving again, and has since developed swiftly and extensively, until it is very large. In this country experiments began as early as 1838, one David Child, of Northampton, Massachusetts, having produced 1300 pounds of sugar in that year. In 1863 the Gennert Brothers, of Chats-worth, Illinois, went into the business on a 2400-acre tract ; they and a like establishment in Freeport consolidated in 1870 and produced in that year 200,000 pounds of sugar at moderate cost. Other experiments were made in different places, and finally, about 1890, the production of this variety of sugar was firmly established ; up to that year only three factories had been established in the country, and they were all of small capacity.

The beet-sugar crop. Our present production of beet sugar is over 700,000 tons, out of a world's total commercial production of somewhat less than 10,000,000 tons. Our states of largest yield are Colorado, California, Michigan, Utah, and Nebraska. As yet, however, Europe has a great preponderance in the beet-sugar industry ; European countries began earlier, and their governments have helped the industry by granting subsidies and liberal bounties.

Manufacture from the sugar cane. The first method of getting the sweet juice from the cane was the natural one of chewing and sucking ; the teeth were the mill. Then came the hand mill, which had two rollers, set upright and about an inch apart. Such machines, with wooden or iron rollers, were wasteful, for they extracted only about 25 to 40 per cent of the juice. Later on, steam power was introduced, the rollers were increased in number and size, and finally in the modern mill the producer manages to extract 80 to 90 per cent

of the sweet fluid. This is an unattractive-looking, dark-greenish substance with a pleasant odor. It contains impurities in the form of dirt, pieces of the plant, and various other foreign matters dissolved in the juice, all of which must be removed. The older method of getting the sugar out was known as the " open-kettle " process, for the juice had to be boiled. It was treated chemically also in some of the processes, which helped to bring to the surface a scum that could be taken off. The sirup was finally brought to a proper condition for granulation, which was a critical point in the procedure ; later it was led off into coolers for granulation ; and then the raw sugar had to be refined.

The vacuum pan. Evaporation in open pans was slow and expensive. The most important improvement in turning the juice into sugar was made when it was discovered that the hot vapor rising from a vessel of boiling cane-juice could be used to evaporate the water from a second receptacle. The idea was put into practice as early as 183o, but the real credit of the invention belongs to Norbert Rilleaux, of Louisiana. After much expense and labor had been undergone in working out the details of the invention, Rilleaux's apparatus was put into operation in 1845. It did not work so very well at first, but the tests of 1846 proved successful and laid the foundation for the elaborate system of evaporation now in use wherever capital and intelligence have combined to carry on the industry. By the middle of the century there were multiple evaporators, consisting of a series of pans, by the use of which up to 85 per cent of the water contained in the liquor is removed by steam.

Additional processes. As early as 1834 bone black was Introduced as a means of clarifying the sirup, and a nearly chemically pure white sugar was the result ; this was then shaped into loaves by the use of molds. Sugar is now treated with lime, phosphoric acid, and soda for removing the last impurities, and is bleached by sulphur dioxide. It is evaporated in a last pan, called " strike pan," to the point of crystallization. The molasses is separated from the sugar by whirling it in centrifugal machines.

Manufacture from the sugar beet. The beets have first to be thoroughly cleaned ; following this they are dried and weighed in scales which automatically dump their load when the desired weight is reached. The roots are then cut up for removal of the juice ; they were formerly reduced to pulp by pressure, but the slicing process has been found superior.

The removal of impurities. The juice is extracted by water contact, which causes an exchange of the sugar juice within the plant for the water cells without. Raw-beet juice cannot be evaporated, for it contains certain foreign substances which cause it to become thick like gelatin if subjected to heat. These impurities are removed by adding milk of lime to the juice, which is then heated, carbon dioxide being passed through the limed solution. The result is the removal of most of the impurities, though certain other chemical processes also must be employed before the standard purity is attained. The evaporation is then accomplished by the use of the vacuum pan. The process of sugar manufacture is very complicated, but these are the main facts.

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