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should I make my own sugar?

 
pollinator
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I've been thinking lately that one of the most expensive things I buy is sugar. I don't buy a lot, but it is still kinda pricey. should I make sugar? I don't want to get pulled in a million directions at once and try to do everything myself; but the savings are substantial. sugar beets aren't fussy, don't take up a lot of space, and according to the article I read, are 17% sugar. Additionally, maple sugaring uses much of the same equipment.  

http://www.survivopedia.com/how-to-make-sugar-at-home/
 
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Sugar is a commodity.  I would have a hard time believing that one could grow an annual crop and process it cheaper than buying it.  I'd think you'd be better off taking the land you would put into sugar beets and put it into a cash crop instead.  Sell the cash crop, and surely you'd have enough money to buy the sugar you need, and a little (or lot) more besides.
 
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If you're already making maple syrup, making some maple sugar is worth trying.  It tastes unbelievable and is a great replacement for brown sugar.  I'm sure it would work for replacing white sugar too as long as the maple taste works for the dish.  In my experience it isn't quite as easy as that website suggests.  About half the time I make a batch it tastes burnt or doesn't get all the way dry (very hard and very sticky sugary goo).  My guess is that since I can't measure the invert sugar level, I'm not using the best syrup for the greatest likelihood of success.

In general I agree with Wes.  It's probably not a money maker.  If you're only doing it to avoid buying sugar it would save you some money at the expense of a lot of labor.  
 
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I say do it. You will gain the knowledge, which will help decide if its a one time deal or if you want to continue it.
 
Mother Tree
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How about keeping some bees and use honey instead?
 
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Remember bees dont take up much space and may improve your pollination as well . Getting the sugar out of beets takes a lot of work
 
Ryan Hobbs
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I might have to do maple and bees. Thanks for everyone's input. It gave me lots of different things to consider.
 
Ryan Hobbs
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something I just thought of: Ancient Romans sweetened their food with boiled down fruit syrups and I have heard that white grape syrup and apple syrup are a lot like honey. Any thoughts on this?
 
pollinator
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Ryan Hobbs wrote:.... sugar beets aren't fussy, don't take up a lot of space, and according to the article I read, are 17% sugar. Additionally, maple sugaring uses much of the same equipment.  

http://www.survivopedia.com/how-to-make-sugar-at-home/



Hmmmmm....I'm a little suspect of the numbers here.  Actually, in contrast to many of the other responders, I say give it a try.  Sugarbeets were once grown commercially in Ohio, but the industry east of Lake Michigan is largely dead except for that in the state of Michigan itself and some surrounding areas.  The problem with making it on your own is that the estimate of 1.7 lb crystallized sucrose from 10 lb fresh weight beets is not really realizable.  Sugar beets can go down to 12% sucrose and up to over 20% sucrose relative to the fresh-weight of the beet.  But "recoverable" sugar is a different story: http://www.sbreb.org/78/sbvqt/78p247.htm.

However, between maple sugaring (and box elder sugaring?....half the percent sugar as maples but a far more abundant and easy tree to grow) and developing a beet sugar extraction that suits your needs and energy/labor availability, I'd say it's worth giving it a shot....not for sale, but for personal consumption.  One other item to note is not to confuse the molasses from beet sugar extraction from that with cane:  Beet molasses is foul stuff,---can be used for livestock and other industrial uses, but not really palatable for human consumption.
 
pollinator
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Add my vote for honey.  Honey is super-easy to make
 
Wes Hunter
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Another consideration beyond the economic: how likely are you to produce table sugar that is demonstrably better than what you can pick up at the supermarket?  I don't know, but it seems to me that table sugar is likely refined to the point that major differences probably don't exist.

Potatoes, also being a commodity, are cheap to buy.  I've never done the math, but I imagine my costs for growing potatoes are higher, perhaps significantly, than the cost of supermarket potatoes.  But homegrown ones are quite obviously better, so I keep growing them.  If quality was the same, I'd probably keep growing potatoes just because I like growing potatoes.

I can get behind the idea of doing it yourself just because you want to, but personally I'd tackle something more interesting and more highly used than table sugar.  Once I had darn near everything else checked off the list, then I'd probably look into sugar beets.  But that's just me.
 
Mike Haasl
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Sorry to drift off topic but I bet I grow my potatoes cheaper than store-bought.  And mine are chemical free.  I'm using two 25' rows in the garden that I could plant something else in.  But I spend an hour planting/hilling, 30 minutes inspecting during the year and an hour digging in the fall.  My yield was 90 lbs of purple fingerling, red, russet and Yukon gold taters (total of 90 lbs).  

Sugar on the other hand can require capital costs for boiling pans, hives, evaporators, mills, etc so I doubt you could save money.

Give it a shot, start small...
 
John Weiland
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One other consideration here in the realm of farm/home economy with regard to sugarbeet (....and again, I certainly think it's worth the experimentation to see how it goes).

If you are into saving your own seed, beets are a hard row to hoe as they are biennials.----you will need to purchase seed each year unless you wish to either (a) keep some of the roots aside in a root cellar and replant them the following spring for seed production or (b), like Joseph Lofthouse and many others here, begin your own backyard breeding program, in this case to possibly produce an annual beet that goes to seed every year.  The problem with this latter approach is that "going to seed" is necessarily going to pull sugar out of the root where you want it in order to "fuel" the production of stalk, flowers, and seeds.  Not saying the former could not be done, but you can start to appreciate how sugarbeet was, from the get go, more of an industrial-scale, mass-produced crop for sugar extraction than a cherished garden heirloom.
 
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In my tribe, making one's own sugar is a cherished ritual. The sugar becomes a sacrament to be used only during special occasions or rituals like harvest or planting celebrations, or weddings. What I mean to say, is that home produced sugar is treasured, while industrialized sugar is just one more commercial product. We don't share home produced sugar with thoughtless non-appreciative irreverentialists. It's saved for consumption by people who cherish it, and who honor the plants, the sugar, and the people who put effort into making it.  

There is a terrier to locally produced sugars that is not present in hyper-processed industrialized sugar.

And, like everything home produced. There may be a good chance of growing and processing the food in ways that are better than organic.

home-produced-sugar-2.jpg
[Thumbnail for home-produced-sugar-2.jpg]
Sugar produced at home
 
David Livingston
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So what do you grow Joseph ? sugar beet ?
 
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Your own sugar is good because it is healthier but saving money? Sugar is the cheapest thing I can buy. In Germany beets are still used to make sugar and you get nice molasses out of it. I made yacon syrup this year  (my blog about yacon syrup) and I put pots on the woodstove. If you don't heat with wood and you have to make your sugar on the stove you will need too much gas.
 
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Joseph that's really cool. Can you please elaborate a little more on the source plants and your process? Thanks!
 
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I make my own sugar, but I'm in the tropics and can grow sugar cane year around. That makes a difference.

I don't bother to boil it down to crystals. I simply use a cane press to squeeze out the juice and use that, I don't bake, but I do make custard-like sweets and drinks with it. By the way, I find raw cane juice to be far tastier than cooked. The local officials require it to be cooked if I want to sell it, so I tried doing it once. The flavor is changed with heating.

Im growing sweet sorghum for the first time this year. I'm curious what the syrup will taste like compared to sugar cane.
 
Ryan Hobbs
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Wes Hunter wrote:Potatoes, also being a commodity, are cheap to buy.  I've never done the math, but I imagine my costs for growing potatoes are higher, perhaps significantly, than the cost of supermarket potatoes.  But homegrown ones are quite obviously better, so I keep growing them.  If quality was the same, I'd probably keep growing potatoes just because I like growing potatoes.



I agree. Homegrown potatoes are so much better than supermarket potatoes. I grow the purple fingerling, redskin, and yukon gold potatoes. I love them steamed with butter sub and ramsons or roasted garlic.

I'm going to have to try out all kinds of ways to make sugar or syrups and see hat I like best. I usually use agave and white sugar the most, but once an a while I use apricot syrup, or sorghum. I favor syrups the most. I'd like to cook down apple cider and see if I can make a syrup out of it that tastes like honey. (I have been told by a friend that you can make it almost indistinguishable from honey.) I know the Romans made grape and other fruit syrups by boiling acidic juices in lead pots. This is a really bad idea, but without the lead pot and acidity it should be fine.
 
Joseph Lofthouse
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As a beekeeper, I tend to contribute honey to my tribe's sugar stores. Others contribute brown sugar crystals. In the past, I produced sugar beet syrup. Apples and grapes seem like they would be great sources of sugar in my climate.
 
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Su Ba wrote:I make my own sugar, but I'm in the tropics and can grow sugar cane year around. That makes a difference.

I don't bother to boil it down to crystals. I simply use a cane press to squeeze out the juice and use that, I don't bake, but I do make custard-like sweets and drinks with it. By the way, I find raw cane juice to be far tastier than cooked. The local officials require it to be cooked if I want to sell it, so I tried doing it once. The flavor is changed with heating.

Im growing sweet sorghum for the first time this year. I'm curious what the syrup will taste like compared to sugar cane.



Su Ba, I envy you a bit in the fact that you can grow sugar cane and sorghum.  If you are going to grow the type sorghum that I grew up with (we always just called it syrup cane)  The raw juice will be green, and the cooked down syrup will be reminiscent of Molasses.  You could cook it down thicker than the syrup stage and make your own molasses.  If you do, be warned that it will scorch in a minute.  I love sorghum syrup.  Here where I now live the only source of "native" sweetener is birch sap.  Boiled down in the same process as making maple syrup.  It is a bit more labor intensive as maple only takes roughly 40 gallons of sap to make a gallon of syrup and birch takes in the neighborhood of 100 gallons of sap per gallon of syrup.  Good luck with the sorghum!!
 
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If you get bees you can make granulated honey.  You can grind it up into small granules and use it like table sugar.  Still tastes like honey, but a LOT less work than turning beets into sugar.
 
Ryan Hobbs
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The property we are buying has a lot of maple trees so we are going to make maple sugar. The outdoor kitchen I am designing will have a setup with large stock pots on a base of cob.
 
Mike Haasl
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Awesome!  You might want to spend some time on the maple syrup forums looking at evaporator designs.  They're usually too elaborate but most of the characteristics still apply.  Lots of heat, shallow sap levels, lots of surface area between sap pan and fire, raging boil, etc...
 
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I didn't see this word seriously discussed, so i have to write it.  Molasses.

Sorghum grows good in my part of Ohio and gives multiple crops: molasses, "popcorn", flour, canes, and bouquet filler.
 
Amit Enventres
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One more thing on my friend sorghum.  Because it's got lots of uses, you never waste your time.  If you can't press the canes, then toss them to the kids as chew toys or let them ripen more kernels. Then go buy a bag of sugar and try again next year.
 
Ryan Hobbs
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Amit Enventres wrote:One more thing on my friend sorghum.  Because it's got lots of uses, you never waste your time.  If you can't press the canes, then toss them to the kids as chew toys or let them ripen more kernels. Then go buy a bag of sugar and try again next year.



How is it for animal feed?
 
Mike Haasl
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I just made molasses sugar cookies this morning.  1/2 cup of molasses went in along with 2 cups of sugar.  

I've never considered molasses to really be a sugar, more of a strong flavor.

Take some maple syrup and boil it into maple sugar and now you're talking.  That stuff is granulated like sugar but has a mapley brown sugar taste that is awesome.
 
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Bees...gives you this really natural and unrefined/unprocessed food direct from nature.
There are some really interesting things that bacteria/yeasts/microorganisms can do with grains, and transform them to sugars:
The first time I tasted Amazake, I couldn't  believe it was just made of just rice and a special starter/ferment. Really tasty and sweet.
There are some other western grains that can turn into sugars, with the right microorganisms.... Can't remember the name, but is Sweden they use some sort of dark molasse made of some grain, it has quite a strong flavour, but is definitely sweet...
And... let's not forget...  fruits... the riper, older, the sweeter. Dried fruits can be very high in sugar. And not only the common on ones such as raisins, dates, prunes, figs... I've tried dried pears, they were totally amazing. Mullberries are nice also.
There are also some sort of bugs that produces sugar, honey ants.
 
Amit Enventres
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Sorghum can be used as a forage or silage crop. Different species are called sorghum so choose appropriately. Apparently it's being investigated for biofuels.
 
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I think most sugar beets are GM.  Personally I buy organic cane sugar.  The suggestions for making maple syrup (depending on where you live) or honey are good ones.  

The way I look at it is, in any given situation, I can do one of two things:  I can grow my own, or I can support those who grow it using an organic and sustainable method by buying their products.  The older I get, the more I tend to go for the latter.
 
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Amit Enventres wrote:One more thing on my friend sorghum.  Because it's got lots of uses, you never waste your time.  If you can't press the canes, then toss them to the kids as chew toys or let them ripen more kernels. Then go buy a bag of sugar and try again next year.



That's really exciting news to me because I am growing it this year and I live in Ohio.  If I get a good crop I'll have to read up on how to harvest and process it.
 
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This doesn't really answer your question, but if you eat quite a bit you could try to eat less sugar. Judging by the fact it's a significant cost for you I'm guessing you and/or your family must consume a decent bit.

I sweeten most of the baked goods I make with dried fruit like dates. Which admittedly are more expensive than sugar, but you could easily use your own home grown fruit or honey.
The cool thing about this is that I've found the less sugar you eat, the sweeter everything else tastes. Soon enough you'll be cutting back on how much dried fruit you're putting in cakes because you find it too sweet. At least that's how it happened for me.

As for actual sugar production, I would also suggest bees.
 
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Side note first, on the cost of growing potatoes--the only cost is for the seed potatoes (and your time, but it isn't a particularly labor intensive crop). You can get seed potatoes from seed catalogs at a price I find shocking--but I buy a 50# bag locally for about $23, and if I don't plant them all I eat some. Potatoes are full of nutrients and store easily all winter in a root cellar--and we eat a LOT of them, so I grow as much as I can, usually running out about planting time in March. I do buy sugar, which is after all cheap--but we also boil down maple sap, and every three years I grow sorghum. Here are a couple of points on sorghum: there are three or four kinds. Some are short and intended mainly for the grain; some get nine to thirteen feet tall, with grain on top but plenty of sugar in the canes; some are for making brooms. So be sure you get seed for the tall sugar-growing kind. The plants need a fairly long growing season but tolerate drought and poor soil well. Cultivate like corn, which it strongly resembles until the corn makes ears and a tassel on top, while sorghum makes only a big plumey tassel on top, which turns from green through gold to a deep red and is indeed very pretty. In the fall you whack off the canes and the seedheads, using the latter as chicken feed or grinding it for gluten-free flour. But here's the catch--I don't believe there is any practical way of extracting the juice from the canes unless you find someone with a mill. I did, and he lets us bring our cane and run it through on the days he's doing a much larger amount (it's wonderfully romantic, all his kin are there and a few men are pushing the canes through a chugging 1920-era mill while down the slope more people are running the sap through a big evaporator pan, fed with wood, and the smell of woodsmoke and sorghum syrup is in the cool October air). Then you take the pails of sludgy green liquid and boil it down. With maple sap, you just tap the tree, while you have to grow and cut the canes for sorghum; but maple sap is boiled down at 40 to one while sorghum is about nine to one, However it takes a lot of skimming to get rid of the green foam--eventually it becomes clearish and a reddish gold. It looks like molasses (and here in WV people call it molasses) but it has a very distinctive flavor of its onw, a flavor that suggests mineral nutrients to me.
 
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In addition to maple trees, you can tap birch, walnut, and box elder to make syrup.  Timing is essential.  My walnut sap ran in the month of February when night temps were below freezing and daytime was above freezing.  Boiled it down inside and it heated and humidified the house.  Great in coffee.  The yeild ratio is reportedly abut 40:1, though I didn't measure.  Would recommend using as syrup and don't risk ruining a batch trying to get it to sugar stage.  Recipes can be adjusted to use syrup instead of sugar.
 
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one thing to be aware of when tapping walnuts is that some have a lot more pectin than maple - i've had walnut sap boiled down to only wine must strength (so not even halfway to syrup) that set up like ectoplasm once it cooled down.
 
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Great Thread!

Here is a thread I started on what fruits and vegetable can be used to sweeten foods:

https://permies.com/t/137989/kitchen/Fruits-Vegetables-Sweeten


Here is some information on making sugar from beets:

https://www.instructables.com/id/Making-Sugar-From-Sugar-Beets/


 
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A different approach: the Japanese have amazake, rice that has fermented with a special mold that turns it into a sweet product. Probably other grains could be used instead of rice, not sure how that would taste, but amazake is nice. There are lot of beneficial molds and microorganisms, and especially in Asia and Japan they have a wide variety and knowledge of these.
 
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