The sugar we use in our chocolate and cocoa comes from fair trade and organic sugarcane! Our co-operative partners work hard to provide a quality product. From the farmers who plant the cane to the mill workers who package the sugar, the transformation from cane to table takes an incredible journey. So, mix up a cup of our hot cocoa, take a sip, and while you allow its subtle caramel sweetness to cover your senses, read about how this sugar was formed – from cane to table.
Sugarcane is most commonly planted from using cuttings of the cane as seed. Each cutting segment contains a bud that will sprout the new cane. It takes about one year for the cane to reach maturity.
As harvest season approaches, co-operative extensionists will test the sucrose level of the sugarcane. Once levels are high enough, the farmer is authorized to begin harvesting. Most of our farmer partners harvest their sugarcane by hand with machete, and gather the sugarcane into bundles. From the bundles, it is transported, often by ox teams, to a co-operative collection center. There, the bundles are weighed out, tagged with the farmer’s code, and the farmers are given a receipt which they can cash in at the co-op on a weekly basis. From the collection center, farmer members split the cost of transporting their cane collectively to the mill.
At the mill, the bundles are recorded by their tags, opened, and sent first through a chopper and shredder. From there, the sugarcane is passed through a series of 3-6 mills, often in the shape of rollers in order to squeeze out as much cane juice as possible.
Cane juice is acidic which creates favorable conditions for the rapid decay of sucrose. In order to prevent this decay, limewater is added into the cane juice. Next, the juice is heated causing any dirt and sediments to chemically bond to the limewater and separate from the juice for easy extraction.
The clean cane juice is heated to evaporate excess water until it reaches the consistency of syrup.
The sugar crystals are then passed through a centrifuge which draws all of the liquids away from the sugar crystals. The liquids left over are a cane syrup called a “mother liquor.” This liquor typically is passed through a boiler two or three more times until all of its sucrose is extracted in the form of sugar crystals, and the syrup leftover is sold as molasses. After the centrifuge, the sugar crystals are passed through a dryer that lowers the temperature and humidity of the crystals.
We test each incoming sugar shipment to ensure that it is of utmost quality. Our Chocolate Tasting Panel meets weekly (and sometimes more) for intense product evaluation. The members have undergone extensive sensory training and calibration as a group, honing their skills and continually developing their palates. Panel will compare an incoming shipment of sugar to a previous shipment to make certain that there are not any off flavors or problems with the new sugar.
And that’s how it’s done! Ready to taste the results?
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About The Author
Interview by Jennifer Pruess, Equal Exchange Wrapping up Portland’s Early History, Diving Into Roasting…18 July 2019