Monday, January 23, 2012

Beet the sugar

So in a time gone by, when mass farming, production and processing of our foods wasn't centralised to one area, when foods were not highly refined,....there was sugar beets, beta vulgaris var altissima.  

The desire for sweetness is an inbuilt one in humans, an innate understanding that sugar = energy in the form of simple carbohydrates, once broken down provide fuel for all the cells in the body.  (interestingly most big food companies know that, and that's why you find sugar as the main ingredient in most foods, even savoury ones.)

In the 18th century, scientists found that root vegetables, in particular sugar beet were sweet as 'sugar'. By mid 19th century most of the sugar in Europe was produced using beetroot.  Even Melbourne had a go, constructing a railway from St Kilda to Oakleigh that was to be dedicated to sugar beet production, finally Maffra in Victoria's east was the production mecca, that was until 1948.

Now most of our sugar (sugar cane) comes from South America, in particular Brazil with no commercial quantities of organic sugar any longer being farmed in Australia.  All of the commercial agave coming in from Mexico.  Sugar beets are still grown commercially, and Genetically Modified crops have been approved for cultivation...ouch.Why not make your sweetener at home??  Get local, get organic and get cooking....

Step 1.  Grow your own, we will have the organic sugar beet seeds available soon.(Organic Empire).
Step 2.  Plant in early spring and harvest in autumn.
Step 3. Add the leaves to your salad.
Step 4. Wash and chop, slice or grate beetroots finely.
Step 5. Cover with water and simmer till soft and tender, this is usually around 30 mins.
Step 6.  Strain beetroots and RETAIN the water, this is your sugar syrup.  Do not discard the beetroots instead using in a salad or for preserving.
Step 7. Return the beetroot water to the stove and simmer till liquid thickens up and produces the syrup.  Remove from the heat.
Step 8. Cool then place in a container.  This beetroot juice/syrup over time will then crystallise just like honey does.  As this process occurs its important to break them up and over time forming sugar crystals. Or you can further reduce syrup so that this process is sped up, and this is done by cooking for longer until the crystals begin to appear.

NB You can just use from Step 7 as a sweetener in a syrup form.

100kg fresh sugar beet can give 12 - 15kg sucrose, 3.5kg molasses, 4.5kg dried pulp and varying amounts of filter cake.

Bearing in mind that even though this sugar is made from beetroot, its still a sugar just like any other sweetener and has the same effect on the human body, raising blood glucose, providing simple pure carbohydrate to our bodies... this is not the best, so like everything in life use in moderation.

Thanks to Lorri for opening up the conversation.


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