Richters InfoSheet D1340  

Instructions for Home Refining of Sugar Beets

With home equipment you can’t expect to get more than small amounts from sugar beets, but you can get some.

We’ve drawn the following suggestions from 4-H club experiments, carried out with assistance from the sugar companies in areas where sugar beets are grown and processed commercially.


You will need, in the way of equipment, an orange juicer, a percolator top and a large canning size pot. Also a meat slicer, a grinder or grater.

First, you take two big beets (they should weigh 8 to 10 pounds each), wash them, and run them through a slicing machine, a grinder or a grater so that you have (a) thin strips, (b) a loose mass, or (c) thin grated pieces.

The sugar companies use the first process, having large equipment to turn out vast quantities. The purpose is to speed up the next process, which is to boil them in your large canning pot, having covered them first with water.

You boil them till they are soft and mushy, which probably will take about an hour. Then you strain off the juice and reserve the remaining pulp. You should have about three quarts of juice.

Seltzer Water

The next procedure "purifies" the juice. You use about 1/2 cup of milk of lime and a shot of seltzer water. The seltzer water is your home substitute for the carbon dioxide they use commercially.

The milk of lime is calcium hydroxide suspended in water. Most pharmacies handle it. A small bottle will make a gallon of milk of lime. "Lime water" is the usual use of the calcium hydroxide; for the "milk of lime" you would just add less water to the powder for a somewhat thicker suspension.

You use only what you need for the amount of sugar you are processing. The rest will keep nicely in its powder form until you need it again.

Now, you let the purified juice set for about two hours. The semi-solids will have settled to the bottom by then.

You carefully pour off the water that is on top, and you might as well add that to the beet pulp you set aside to feed you stock animals or chickens. Or you might even want to experiment a little yourself using it for cooking. A pudding? An addition to dessert?

Cook Slowly

The sugar mass that is left you cook very slowly and carefully. You know what happens to sugar if it gets too hot. It will take about an hour and a half to reduce it to molasses-like thickness. It will be molasses-black, and you will have about a cup and a half when the boiling is completed.

Sometime between stirring you should get busy with your orange juicer and your percolator top.

The top fits onto the turning mechanism after you have removed the juicer part. What is about to happen is the separation of the refined sugar from the molasses by the spinning action of the juicer.

You pour your cup and a half of reduced sugar mass into the percolator top, turn on the juicer and let it spin. It would be a good idea to cover the top, because the white sugar being precipitated will be flying around and a lot will fly out otherwise.

The spinning action throws the white sugar onto the bowl of the juicer, and the molasses drips down through the spout into whatever container you use to catch it.

You will wind up with about a cup of sugar and a half cup of healthful black-strap molasses. The refined sugar will be a little damp, but air drying will take care of that.

If that seems like a lot of work for a cup and a half of sugar products, it is. But it is also fun to do, and a sort of minor triumph of individual enterprise.

Some family food gardeners undoubtedly will consider the simple principles involved and rig up equipment to handle a great deal more than two sugar beets. Remember that any motor that will give you sufficient turning speed – equivalent to that of the orange juicer – will do the job. Boilers for the juice can be improvised that are certainly larger than a canning pot. If you go to the trouble of reducing maple sap to sugar, you will find it considerably less involved to handle sugar beets.

A word to those who live in areas where sugar cane grows: The refining process is the same. Crushing the cane to extract the juice involves roller improvisation; perhaps metal plates on an old-fashioned wringer washer, or the equivalent.

Excerpted from an article that originally appeared in Family Food Garden magazine. The content was edited slightly.


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