Before the birth of Jesus of Nazareth, sugarcane (from which sugar is made) was harvested on the shores of the Bay of Bengal; it spread to the surrounding territories of Malaysia, Indonesia, Indochina, and southern China. The Arabic people introduced "sugar" (at that point a sticky paste, semi-crystallized and believed to have medicinal value) to the Western world by bringing both the reed and knowledge for its cultivation to Sicily and then Spain in the eighth and ninth centuries. Later, Venice—importing finished sugar from Alexandria—succeeded in establishing a monopoly over this new spice by the fifteenth century; at that point, it started buying raw sugar, and even sugarcane, and treating it in its own refineries. Venice's monopoly, however, was short-lived. In 1498, Portuguese navigator Vasco da Gama returned from India bringing the sweet flavoring to Portugal. Lisbon started to import and refine raw sugar, and, in the sixteenth century, it became the European sugar capital. It was not long before the sweetener was available in France, where its primary function continued to be medicinal, and during the reign of Louis XIV, sugar could be bought by the ounce at the apothecary. By the 1800s, sugar (though still expensive) was widely available to both upper and middle classes.

Raw Materials

Sugar is a broad term applied to a large number of carbohydrates present in many plants and characterized by a more or less sweet taste. The primary sugar, glucose, is a product of photosynthesis and occurs in all green plants. In most plants, the sugars occur as a mixture that cannot readily be separated into the components. In the sap of some plants, the sugar mixtures are condensed into syrup. Juices of sugarcane (Saccharum officinarum) and sugar beet (Beta vulgaris) are rich in pure sucrose, although beet sugar is generally much less sweet than cane sugar. These two sugar crops are the main sources of commercial sucrose.

The sugarcane is a thick, tall, perennial grass that flourishes in tropical or subtropical regions. Sugar synthesized in the leaves is used as a source of energy for growth or is sent to the stalks for storage. It is the sweet sap in the stalks that is the source of sugar as we know it. The reed accumulates sugar to about 15 percent of its weight. Sugarcane yields about 2,600,000 tons of sugar per year.

The sugar beet is a beetroot variety with the highest sugar content, for which it is specifically cultivated. While typically white both inside and out, some beet varieties have black or yellow skins. About 3,700,000 tons of sugar are manufactured from sugar beet.

Other sugar crops include sweet sorghum, sugar maple, honey, and corn sugar. The types of sugar used today are white sugar (fully refined sugar), composed of clear, colorless or crystal fragments; or brown sugar, which is less fully refined and contains a greater amount of treacle residue, from which it obtains its color.

The Manufacturing

Planting and harvesting

Preparation and processing

Juice extraction pressing

Purification of juice clarification
and evaporation



Drying and packaging


The bagasse produced after extracting the juice from sugar cane is used as fuel to generate steam in factories. Increasingly large amounts of bagasse are being made into paper, insulating board, and hardboard, as well as furfural, a chemical intermediate for the synthesis of furan and tetrahydrofuran.

The beet tops and extracted slices as well the molasses are used as feed for cattle. It has been shown that more feed for cattle and other such animals can be produced per acre-year from beets than from any other crop widely grown in the United States. The beet strips are also treated chemically to facilitate the extraction of commercial pectin.

The end product derived from sugar refining is blackstrap molasses. It is used in cattle feed as well as in the production of industrial alcohol, yeast, organic chemicals, and rum.

Quality Control

Mill sanitation is an important factor in quality control measures. Bacteriologists have shown that a small amount of sour bagasse can infect the whole stream of warm juice flowing over it. Modern mills have self-cleaning troughs with a slope designed in such a way that bagasse does not hold up but flows out with the juice stream. Strict measures are taken for insect and pest controls.

Because cane spoils relatively quickly, great steps have been taken to automate the methods of transportation and get the cane to the mills as quickly as possible. Maintaining the high quality of the end-product means storing brown and yellow refined sugars (which contain two percent to five percent moisture) in a cool and relatively moist atmosphere, so that they continue to retain their moisture and do not become hard.

Most granulated sugars comply with standards established by the National Food Processors Association and the pharmaceutical industry (U.S. Pharmacopeia, National Formulary).

Where To Learn More


Clarke, M. A., ed. Chemistry & Processing of Sugarbeet & Sugarcane. Elsevier Science Publishing Co., Inc., 1988.

Hugot, E. Handbook of Cane Sugar Engineering. 3rd ed. Elsevier Science Publishing Co., Inc., 1986.

Lapedes, Daniel, ed. McGraw Hill Encyclopedia of Food, Agriculture and Nutrition. McGraw Hill, 1977.

McGee, Harold. On Food and Cooking: The Science and Lore of the Kitchen. Collier Books, 1984.

Meade, G. P. Cane Sugar Handbook: A Manual for Cane Sugar Manufacturers and Their Chemists. John Wiley and Sons, 1977.

Pennington, Neil L. and Charles Baker, eds. Sugar: A Users' Guide to Sucrose. Van Nostrand Reinhold, 1991.

Rost, Waverly. Food. Simon & Schuster, 1980.


"Sugar: Can We Make It On the Homestead?" Countryside & Small Stock Journal. May-June, 1987, p. 9.

Hayes, Joanne L. "Sugarloaf Lore," Country Living. March, 1989, p. 132.

"Squeezing All the Sweetness Out of Sugarcane—and More," Chemical & Engineering News. May 12, 1986, pp. 38-9.

Eva Sideman

Also read article about Sugar from Wikipedia

User Contributions:

Dirk Vermeulen
Report this comment as inappropriate
Mar 30, 2006 @ 3:03 am
Literature :

See also following book :
Sugar Technology
P.W. van der Poel, H. Schiweck and T. Schwartz
Verlag Dr. Albert Bartens KG - Berlin, 1998
ISBN :3-87040-065-X
Ahmed El-Hady
Report this comment as inappropriate
Jan 16, 2007 @ 10:10 am
Excellent article thank you for the historical and technical information
D.M.S Jerard
Report this comment as inappropriate
Nov 27, 2009 @ 9:21 pm
The above article is very interesting to me . I learnt lot about the manufacturing and purification of the sugar. I further interesting to know how you avoid suger born bacteria by using your purifaction pocess.
thanking you
Report this comment as inappropriate
Aug 29, 2010 @ 11:11 am
Is their any simple procedure to extract crystalline reducing sugars from any fruit.

Comment about this article, ask questions, or add new information about this topic: