In a survival setting, your life will depend on your survival skills and the gear that you carry with you in your backpack. Moreover, for preppers and homesteaders, it is essential that nutrition is appropriate. Survival foods may differ, but the basis remains the same: they should be nourishing and contain all the needed ingredients for a balanced diet. Case in point, sugar!
Human beings are amazing and capable of nearly everything that it takes to survive. Especially when it comes down to fighting hunger. We as species have developed the ability to eat virtually anything nearly edible during our evolutionary path to stay functional. But as humankind evolved, becoming smarter and more sophisticated, so to speak, humans invented things like cooking, making bread, cuisine, and a wide array of kitchen products that we can’t imagine living without today. So while we still are able to last by eating something that is nearly impossible to eat, at the same time, there are things that can make the task slightly more bearable. Not to mention that these are the things that are necessary to virtually any kitchen around the world. The things are salt and sugar.
If you’re a camping enthusiast or an experienced prepper, you know that without these two items, there is no way you will go camping or have a chance to build emergency food storage. So salt and sugar are your must-haves.
And while salt is something that you can stock up on over years as you’re gathering food supplies. Sugar is a kind of product that you can make yourself applying a good old DIY method. And if you know how to do it, you will be providing yourself with one of the main commodities for the post-end-of-days era. Because should the world-as-we-know-it come to an end, people will need sugar to sweeten up their days.
Read this guide to know more about the history of sugar, types of sugar, and how to make sugar at home.
The World History of Sugar
Here’s what we know about sugar and its place in world history: it’s been around for quite a long time, really. Read below for more details on how sugar became one of the world’s most desired goods.
1. Sugar B.C.
Prior to becoming a product that drove nations mad about becoming the cause of trade wars and downright military conflicts, sugar was something that people discovered quite a long time ago. In fact, you won’t probably even guess how long ago people began eating sugar. Or even where.
Well, the place is New Guinea. Once upon a time, indigenous people of that region found out that sugar cane stalks are quite edible, and even more, they tasted sweet. Perhaps, sweet was a new experience for those people in terms of how the food tasted. If we try to give an approximate date of when that happened, that would be 8,000 years before Christ was born. Today, it’s an almost unimaginable time period.
2. Sugar A.D.
So, eight thousand years later, in the era commonly known as A.D. (Anno Domini), sugarcane stalks met wide use all across Asia’s southeast, including China and India. When Greek and Roman visitors got their first taste of cane sugar, they were amazed. They had never imagined that honey was not the only product to have a sweet taste. Besides, to make honey, you need bees. But with cane sugar, all you need is to arrange a sugarcane plantation. It was about 300 A.D. when sugar left southeast Asia and started its travel across the Eastern hemisphere.
Sugar then traveled to ancient Persia. There, it was used as a medical product. Soon after, cane sugar moved to Sicily and Spain. Sugar processing was just a question of time. It is common knowledge that India was the first place where people learned to process sugar water to get sugar syrup and sugar crystals. However, it was in China where local inventors found a way to push the technology to new limits, which boosted sugar production.
3. Sugar and the slave trade era
By the beginning of the 15th century, sugar became a European wonder product that made insane profits for traders. One of the major cultivators of sugar at that period was Maderia, a city in Portugal. Its trader ships with raw sugar regularly traveled to the Netherlands (the city of Antwerp), where the product was processed to turn it into refined sugar.
During the same period, sugar traveled to Brazil, where new sugar cane plantations were created. This played its role in making Portugal the world’s largest producer of sugar in the sixteenth century. Mostly, the country still holds first place in sugar production, making more sugar than any other country in the world.
Naturally, sugar cane fields spread all across the Caribbean region. To keep sugar cane harvest amounts at high levels, slaves were used. This was the beginning of the slave trade era that made huge amounts of money for slave traders and their business partners in sugar production but left deep scars into human history for centuries to some.
4. Sugar in America
Sugar was brought to North America in the middle of the 17th century. The main region to plant sugarcane and take up sugar refining was Louisiana. It was only two centuries later when the sugar refining process was technically advanced to become a mechanized production. Ever since, sugar refining became a fastly developing technology that has met various interpretations in the sugar industry around the world.
But What is Sugar?
Before we move on with our guide on how to make your own sugar, let’s dive deeper into what sugar actually is. There are many different sugars. Not to mention the fact that sugar itself comes in various forms and colors.
1. Chemistry talk
First of all, sugar is not only table sugar that we used to see in our kitchens in the form of white granulated sugar or sugar cubes. Nor it’s a sweet syrup that you add to your pancakes. Sugar is a common term that represents a wide array of carbohydrates that one will find in various plants. These carbohydrates possess a specific sweet taste that varies in intensity.
The main two terms directly related to sugar are glucose and sucrose.
Both glucose and sucrose are the results of photosynthesis – a chemical process that is common for all green plants. Neither of the two can be found separately in their pure forms in most plants. Normally, glucose and sucrose are present in certain fruits and vegetables in various proportions in the form of juice or syrup.
Glucose (which, by the way, comes from the Greek word for “sweet”) is also the term for the sugar that is present in our blood. Glucose gives us the strength to get through the day. Without glucose, the blood sugar level drops, and we feel exhausted.
Sucrose is the term that is used to refer to regular sugar. The most popular plants that produce pure sucrose are sugar cane and sugar beet. These are the two main plants used for making sugar. However, sugar beets are less sweet than sugar canes.
Few more facts about sugar cane
Sugarcane is a plant that grows in tropical climates. This perennial grass synthesizes sucrose-rich sugar, using it for growth. The excess sugar is stored in stalks. And that is the very part of the plant that people use to produce sugar. Normally, one sugar cane reed will synthesize up to 15% of sugar compared to its weight. The average amount of cane sugar produced yearly is more than two and a half million tons.
Sugar beets are specifically cultivated plants that have the highest amount of sucrose compared to other beetroots. The plants vary in colors. Some are white, while others may have black or yellow skins. Sugar beets are used to produce up to four million tons of sugar each year.
However, sugar beets and sugarcanes are not the only crops used for making sugar. People also use corn, honey, sugar maple, and sweet sorghum.
2. Types of sugars
Typically, one would name two basic types of sugars: white sugar and brown sugar when speaking about types of sugar. However, there is more to this topic than that.
What sets one type of sugar from another is the size and color of crystals. But that’s not the only difference. Different types of sugar have also different uses, and they taste differently, as well.
The types include:
- Granulated white sugar
- Light brown sugar/dark brown sugar
- Muscovado sugar
- Demerara sugar
- Simple syrup (also referred to as liquid sugar)
- Powdered sugar
- Turbinado sugar
Let’s have a closer look at each of the different sugars
- This type is also referred to as regular sugar or table sugar. You would find that sugar in your kitchen. This type of sugar is made via sugar refining. Because of this, granulated sugar has a zero blackstrap molasses content. Molasses being a byproduct of sugar extracting. Granulated sugar is extensively used for making baked goods.
- Light/dark brown sugars receive their dark color due to the use of a moderate amount of molasses. Brown sugar crystals are typically the same size as white sugar ones. When used in cooking, brown sugars add a specific flavor profile and texture feel for baked food like beans, ham, or ribs.
- This type of refined sugar has a sort of beach sand feel when you touch it. Its color is dark-blown. Its taste is molasses-rich and leaves a somewhat bitter aftertaste. The reason is rooted in the production process of this type of sugar. When the raw product undergoes refining, the process is stopped at the evaporation phase – before the molasses vanishes. Muscovado sugar contains the same amount of calories as white sugar.
- Demerara sugar has a slight presence of molasses taste. Just enough of it to give your food a more sophisticated taste. This type of sugar is best used for adding in on top of cakes, adding a sweet crunch to them.
Other sugar types
Simple syrup (liquid sugar)
- This is a dense mixture of sugar and water in 1:1 proportion. Traditionally, sugar in such a liquid form is used for mixing beverages. (For faster results, mix sugar with warm water).
- Also referred to as Confectioners’ sugar, this type is made by grounding white sugar crystals to powder. To prevent clumping, sugar powder is mixed with corn starch. Use powdered sugar to increase the volume of whipped cream and to add icing to your bakery.
- Another name for turbinado sugar is raw sugar. This type has larger crystals with some amount of molasses on them. Raw sugar is marketed as a “healthier alternative” to table sugar. However, after a series of tests, it’s been proved that there is no evidence that could show the actual pro-health advantages of raw sugar. In reality, turbinado is just roughly refined sugar cane or sugar beet sugar.
3. Sugar vs. diet enthusiasts
Speaking of healthy eating habits and such, do you know what sugar and fat have in common? Most likely, you will say that both are considered “unhealthy.” And to some extent, that is true. However, both fat and sugar are integral parts of the human diet – with the word “diet” in this case relating not to any form of food product restrictions but rather to the way we eat to keep ourselves active.
From the mid-20th century, these two products have been viewed as the most dreadful enemies to human health. You’ve heard these nutrition facts many times before already. Like those facts that fat and sugar are bad for your heart and cardiovascular system in general.
At some point, food manufacturers and their marketing teams tried to make a profit from such scary tales putting more money in low- to free-fat products. Those were the days when products like fat-free dairies emerged. However, there is a trick about the fact that some people might not know of – fat makes food tasty. That’s just how our body works – when we eat something fat, we know right away that it’s tasty. And even more, fat food is nutritious, and we get full with fat foot faster.
That was the thing that stumped food manufacturers for a second until they put their eyes on sugar that does exactly the same thing – it makes food tastier and more nutritious. From then on, low/free-fat products contained more sugar to taste better. And that resulted in growing sugar consumption.
On the one hand, that made a lot of money for sugar manufacturers and their partners. But on the other hand, sugar became a public enemy number one for those deeply with the nation’s health and eating habits.
Sugar myths busting
But in reality, neither fat nor sugar is totally evil. Even more, they are good for your body. Fat is good for your joints. To make it simple, let’s call it a natural lubricant. And sugar is a source of energy that is good for both your muscles and brain. So the key thing here is to consume both elements – fat and sugar – without trying to substitute one another, but you should consume them in moderation.
According to the Sugar Association, Americans have been reducing sugar consumption for the past twenty years. As Sugar Association says, the dynamics of sugar consumption decreased in the time span of 1999-2016 from 89.6 to 77.1 pounds of sugar per person. The latest research shows that an average American consumes something about 57 pounds of sugar yearly, which equals 17 teaspoons of sugar daily.
The statistic, however, is still far from what healthy diet experts recommend – consuming 6 teaspoons of sugar each day.
Sugar manufacturing is a complex technological process that starts in the fields where sugar cane or sugar beet grows. Then, the harvested crops are moved to a processing plant, where the magic of turning grass into sugar crystals happens. In this section, we will give a brief summary of how sugar is manufactured these days.
The first stage is harvesting. Both sugarcane and sugar beets are harvested with the use of machinery. You will hardly find a plantation where sugar beets or sugarcanes are harvested manually. After the crops are harvested, they are usually sieved – this is a typical procedure that is necessary to clean the crops from dirt and rocks. The sieved sugar beets or sugar cane are then taken to the processing factory.
When at the processing plant, sugar beets or sugar cane are washed. The washing process is long and intensive. The most popular mechanism for washing harvested sugar beet or sugarcane crops is rotating drums. The crops are loaded into the drum, and rotation starts. During the process, the steam of water is fed into the rotating cavity.
When the washing is complete, sugar beet and sugarcane are then taken to further step of preparation. Swing-hammer shredders are used for crushing sugar cane. Sugar beet crops are not crushed – they are cut with slicing tools. Then the sliced sugar beet product is put into hot water. Crushed sugar cane is only sprayed with hot water. This part is necessary to fill the cells of the plants with water for the next step of processing which is juice extraction.
3. Juice extraction
The juice extraction process differs depending on what plant is used for making sugar. For beet sugar manufacturing, sliced sugar beets are placed into a ten-to-twenty-meter tank where they are intensively washed by the downward water flow.
With sugarcane, juice extraction is performed via milling – a five-mile set will compress the sugar cane bits to extract the juice from them. The squashed leftover producer – bagasse – is not thrown away. It is typically used as a fuel source or animal feed.
The extracted juice has dark green color. It’s very dense and acidic. Before the clarification part, the juice is poured into large storage tanks. The final procedure for this stage measures sugar concentration.
4. Juice purification
Juice purification is the procedure used to purify the originally dark and thick juice. The clarified juice then will become lighter in color, reaching a sugar concentration of 50% to 65%.
Juice purification is a long process of several hours. It takes place in tall towers that reach from ten to twenty meters in height. During the process, a number of chemical agents are used: sulfur dioxide, calcium carbonate, or calcium sulfite. Sulfur dioxide is used for the sulfidation part of the process. Calcium carbonate (or calcium sulfite) is necessary for carbonation.
When boiling, the temperature is progressively lowered. Eventually, the process will provide colorless sugar syrup.
Crystallization is the next part of the sugar-making process. This process takes a single-stage vacuum pan to evaporate syrup to the point when it produces crystals. During evaporation, a milky solution of sucrose is slowly fed to the syrup. Then small grains of sugar are added to the syrup to make sugar crystals.
Gradually, water evaporates while sugar crystals keep on growing, which results in massecuite – a thick mixture of syrup and sugar crystals. When the evaporation part is complete, massecuite is placed into a crystallizer to be slowly stirred and cooled until crystallization is finally over.
The next step is centrifugation that is necessary to divide the massecuite mixture into separate parts being sugar crystals and molasses. As the name of the process states, it will take place the mixture into a centrifuge. Rotating at high speed of 2,800 rotations per minute max, the centrifuge will break the massecuite via a built-in metal perforator basket into molasses and sugar by removing molasses running through the basket to the storage containers. At the same time, the sugar stays inside the centrifuge.
And now, it’s time for the final stage of making sugar – the drying part. This process takes place in dryers where damp sugar crystals are dried until they reach the minimum moisture content of 0.02%. Then, sugar is placed into a granulator, where it is tumbled and processed with heated air. Finally, dried sugar crystals are sorted out into different sizes via vibrating screens. Eventually, different-sized crystals of cane or beet sugar end up in storage bins.
Making DIY Sugar
As you have seen from the previous section, making sugar is a labor-intensive process. So when you decide to learn how to make sugar at home, you know that you’re up for some task. But don’t get demotivated – making sugar at home will not require specialized equipment or fancy tools. I reality, it’s not as hard as you may think. Below, you will find out how to make beet sugar and maple sugar at home.
1. Making DIY beet sugar
We chose beet sugar for a practical reason – sugar beets are very easy to get regardless of your climate region. After all, not everyone is lucky enough to live in a tropical climate to have easy access to sugarcane. That is why we’re making sugar out of sugar beets.
Making beet sugar at home will take several steps. If you follow these instructions discreetly, you will succeed.
- Here’s what you would know beforehand – sugar beet is not the same as red or white beets that you are familiar with. So keep that in mind.
Steps to take
- Wash sugar beets so that there is no dirt on them;
- Slice beets into thin slices. An alternative option is to shred or dice them;
- Then, place the bits in a pot and cover them with clean water.
- Boil the beets until they soften;
3. Juice extraction
- Take cheesecloth and used it as a filter to sift boiled beet juice through it.
- If you have farm animals, don’t throw away beet leftovers – use them to feed your animals.
4. Boiling beet juice
- When you’ve sifted the beet syrup, pour it into the pot and boil it;
- While boiling, you may also squeeze the remaining juice out of beet pulp;
- Boil the syrup until it becomes thicker (pretty much like honey). Don’t forget to stir the syrup as you boil it.
- When the beet juice thickens, put it in a container and let it cool;
- Overtime (a couple of days), crystals will begin to appear on the surface of the syrup;
- Remove the crystals and crush them into powder.
2. Making DIY maple sugar
To make maple sugar at home, you will need maple syrup as a basic ingredient – three gallons will be just fine.
Put it on fire and wait until the syrup goes up to about 300 degrees. If there is too much foam and syrup being to overflow, reduce the heat for a while.
When the syrup reaches the necessary temperature, remove it from the heat and start to stir it actively for about five minutes. After that, place the paste into a container and let it cool.
When the boiled maple tree syrup cools down completely, it will become hard. Break it into bits and then smash the bits into powder.
Today, there is an abundance of all sorts of sugars. So when you need them, you just go out and visit your local grocery store or supermarket. And when adding a teaspoon or two of sugar to your morning coffee or using it when baking, you most likely don’t even think of where it comes from and how it’s made. Well, now you know. And even more, now you know how to make sugar at home.
While DIY sugars don’t necessarily look like factory-manufactured products, they still do their job of making food sweeter and more delightful.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)
How is white sugar made?
White sugar is mainly made of sugarcane or sugar beets. It gets its color during the process of refining. Molasses – a byproduct that gives sugars their darker color – is fully extracted from the sugar, which makes it white.
How do you make raw sugar at home?
Raw sugar is minimally refined sugar that has parts of molasses on its crystals. Basically, when you make sugar at home, you will always get raw sugar since you don’t have specialized factory equipment for the professional refining of sugar. To make raw sugar at home, you will need sugar beets or sugarcane. Another option is using maple syrup. In either case, you will need to boil products until they produce molasses. Then you will need to let the molasses cool and break it into smaller bits.
How to grow sugar beets at home?
Sugar beets are not easily grown. This is not the type of plant that grows without proper treatment. So you can’t just buy some seeds, throw them into the soil and harvest the crop. To grow sugar beets at home successfully, you will need high-quality seeds and most soil. Put the seeds into a seedbed at a depth of about 1.5 inches. Make sure there are no roots or stones in the soil. Don’t forget to drain the seedbed regularity.
How to make sugar crystals from sugarcane?
To make sugar crystals from sugarcane, first, you will need to make a sugarcane syrup by boiling sugarcane stalks. After that, you will need to let the syrup cool and thicken. During the process, crystals will start to appear.