Sugar is commonly referred to as any chemical substance that has a sweet taste. There are in fact many varieties of sugar differentiated on the basis of the source they are derived from, extracting and refining process. The most common sugar we use is derived from cane juice. There are different types of sugar derived from cane juice as well depending on the refining process. With people turning towards healthier options organic sugar is fast gaining popularity.
What Is Regular Sugar?
Regular sugar is commonly used by people and comprises 99% sucrose. The most common forms of sugar are fructose and sucrose. Fructose is naturally found in fruits. Sucrose is a handy combination of both fructose and glucose. Regular sugar is the white-colored sugar we eat and add to our cooking.
How Is Conventional Sugar Refined?
Refining in sugar processing refers to purifying the sugar to make it white. Sugar by default has a brownish color which is then treated by various methods and chemicals to take on the white color. Here are the various steps in refining regular sugar:
Sugar is commonly derived from sugar cane. However, there are variants that use beets. The sugar cane fields are first set on fire to remove any extra debris and leaves. This allows for easy harvesting. The cane is then harvested and washed to remove all dirt and debris. It is then chopped down into smaller pieces in order to be effectively juiced.
Sugar Cane Juice
Sugar is derived from the sugar cane juice that makes it an important step in this process. It is very important that sugar cane is cut into pieces for effective juicing. It is also important that the cane is washed thoroughly before juicing to remove any dirt or sticking debris. The juice is then clarified using a mixture of chemicals.
Sugar cane juice is clarified in order to remove any impurities that might have been left behind. Clarification involves three processes to remove all impurities from the cane juice effectively. These are:
This is carried out by using phosphoric acid, lime, and polyacrylamide. Lime used is calcium oxide and not the fruit. These three chemical substances are combined together to form a calcium phosphate floc. This is in the form of a scum layer that floats to the top of the juice. This is extremely beneficial in pulling out all impurities from the cane juice.
The phosphatation process does not remove all impurities. The next step in the clarification process is sulphitation. This involves a mixture of lime and sulfur dioxide that are used to pull out the remaining impurities. Many times traces of sulfur are left behind in the juice. Sulphitation manages to remove maximum impurities. However, there are still some traces left in the cane juice.
This is the third step in clarification. A mixture of carbon dioxide and lime is used to react with impurities to form calcium carbonate precipitate. All these methods involve calcium oxide.
Once the clarification process is completed, the sugar juice left behind has a light brown color. This is then put through the process de-colorization to make it appear white. Activated carbon and bone char are used separately or in combination to decolorize the light brown sugar liquid. Bone char is most times made of burned cow bones.
The decolorized sugary liquid is crystallized to form small granules. This is done with the help of isopropyl alcohol and sugar crystal seeds. These sugar seeds are previously refined low-grade sugar crystals that are mixed with the sugar juice in a crystallization process.
The newly crystallized whitish colored sugar is then spun in a centrifuge. This helps in the removal of molasses. Molasses liquid is gathered separately. The entire process from initial washing to crystallization is carried out twice again to extract every physically possible sugar crystal from the molasses. The third extraction of molasses is then sold as blackstrap molasses which is used in animal feed.
Why Is Regular Sugar Refined?
Conventional sugar is refined to produce a higher yield of sugar and to remove all impurities. These impurities need to be removed to make the sugar appear whiter. However, many people are not aware that these so-called ‘impurities’ are in fact essential minerals.
What Is Organic Sugar?
The USDA organic label means that the product is devoid of all synthetic chemicals. Organic sugar is made from sugar cane grown organically (without synthetic chemical pesticides and fertilizers). In fact, the entire refining process is free of chemicals. This sugar, unlike conventional sugar, does not use man-made compounds or synthetic chemicals during the extraction process.
Organic sugar is raw cane sugar blond and made from organically grown sugar cane. The crystals have been minimally refined and are medium sized. The raw sugar is processed directly from the first batch of crystallized sugar as compared to multiple extractions in conventional sugar.
How Is It Extracted?
The organic label means the crop is grown without synthetic pesticides and fertilizers. There are no genetically modified seeds used. There is also no sewage sludge that might contribute to an environmental impact. The sugar cane is harvested in an environmentally friendly way without first burning the field. It is then washed and chopped thoroughly before being crushed to extract the sugar cane juice.
Sugar Cane Juice
The sugar cane juice is boiled to remove all impurities present. The scum that floats to the top is removed as well. The remaining sugar cane juice is light brown with the presence of molasses and various other minerals.
The brown sugar cane juice is spun in a centrifuge and dried to crystalize effectively. There are no man-made compounds added here to help in the crystallization process. There is also no mixing of previously refined sugar to promote effective crystallization.
Molasses is the dark brown liquid part of sugar. The crystals are steam cleaned to remove the extra molasses. There is only one extraction cycle carried out to remove molasses.
The crystallized sugar left is pale blond and medium-sized. It derives its colors from the various minerals present that were essentially a part of sugar cane juice. Iron, calcium, chromium, vitamin B6, selenium, magnesium, and potassium are minerals that are present in the organic version of sugar.
Differences Between Organic & Regular Sugar
Once packaged, apart from the color, there are very few differences between organic sugar and regular sugar. They have very similar tastes and sweetness levels. In fact, it has a richer flavor because of the trace minerals present. It can be substituted with conventional sugar exactly at 1:1 ratio when being used in any recipe. There are several differences between regular and organically manufactured sugar that does not affect the taste or sweetness. These are:
Regular sugar has a high glycemic index of 80 as compared to the low glycemic index of only 47 for its organic counterpart. This is due to the various steps of purification in conventional sugar that leaves it with 99% sucrose. This means it is exceptionally bad for pre-diabetics who do not need excess glucose production in their body. Organic sugar is a good option for people who are trying to lose weight.
Many organic raw sugar advocates claim that organic sugar has a higher nutritional content as compared with regular sugar. This is partly due to the refining process and partly due to the presence of molasses. Natural molasses has a higher nutritional value than sucrose. This makes it a better health choice as compared to conventional sugar.
While many people claim that both organic and regular sugar tastes the same, there are some people who feel that the presence of molasses gives a rich flavor to organic sugar. This flavor is too sensitive to be discerned when added to food. However, when tasted raw, you can feel distinctive flavor difference in organic sugar. This is more pronounced in products that have higher molasses content such as ‘turbinado.’
The extraction of organic sugar and regular sugar are vastly different. There are no multiple steps of extraction carried out in the processing of organic sugar to remove molasses completely. There are also no chemicals added in the cleaning process to remove all traces of impurities and minerals. Regular sugar gets chemicals added to make it appear white and pure. Organic sugar makes use of boiling and steam cleaning methods to get rid of any impurities and molasses.
There are various brands of organic sugar available in the market. Almost all of them cost double the amount of conventional sugar.
Sugar in any form should be limited. There is no healthy variant of sugar that will not affect your body negatively. However, by including organic sugar in your diet, you can opt for the better option. You can enjoy sweetness in your life by choosing a more natural option that will help you stay closer to your health goals.