Most Medieval Beer Part I: How to make sugar from beets to illustrate the use of cane sugar creation

Hello to my followers (both of you),

2018 has been a busy year and I have done a few projects up to July but then my life ramped up into 5th gear between the various events and the wife and I going to New Orleans for our 21st Wedding Anniversary.  It was great, if you want more detail, go to my Facebook page for pics.

So now I’m back and I’ve got a lot for you.  Some of this will be related to the MMB project which I’m starting and some will be side projects that presented themselves along the way.

So we are starting with “How to make Sugar from Beets”. The reason for this is that although Sugar Beets were not officially cultivated until 1742, unlike sugar cane (believed to be discovered sometime around 5000 BC), I can grow them in the region I live in (1).  Sugar Cane unfortunately has to grow in a tropical belt region.  Sugar Beets can be grown almost as far north as the Arctic circle.  So we are using sugar beets as the substitute for sugar cane in a Brown Belgian Ale that will be the end result of this whole process.  Both of these products are processed in similar manners.

So here’s our start: Back in Spring of 2015 I obtained a package of sugar beet seeds with the intention of starting a bunch of beets.  I promptly lost them.  3 years later I’m digging through my various menagerie of tools and the sugar beet seeds reappeared.  Without a second thought I brought the seeds out and did a starter kit of individual pots.  After the last frost of the season, the beets were moved to outdoor raised beds next to the rhubarb.

The sugar beets were watched like a hawk and I took precautions to make sure no predators decided the beets would be a nice meal.  I thought about deterrents I could use and the best idea I found was to dust the plants with hot red pepper powder (2).  This kept those New England groundhogs and NH Deer from ever bothering the beets again.

Skip ahead a few months after constant watering and repeated applications of hot pepper powder.  The sugar beets are 1 week shy of the first frost of the year.  I was very excite to see the sugar beets.  Every picture showed these massive tubers the size of a small cabbage being pulled from the ground.  What I got was not quite the same results.

None of them were cabbage sized and this one pictured on the left was as small as my pinky.  The one on the right is about the size of a plum.  Needless to say, I was not thrilled at the prospects.  So I dug out the remaining beets and separated the greens to be used for a meal or two.  They were very good for curried beet greens at Halloween’s Mardi Gras theme this year.

So now the real work begins.  We’ve harvested over 5 lbs of our beets.  We have to trim and clean them, wash them and then shredded them up and put them into hot water to extract the sugar.

I boiled the beet shreddings down to half and then took a Brix reading showing only 5% Sucrose (5% sugar) so far.  Next I removed what pulpy matter remained and made sure to squeeze all the liquid and sugars remaining into the mixture.

The squeezing of the beets helped tremendously.  The liquid in the pan starts showing signs of thickening and the beet pulp leftover has almost no sweetness left in it.  It was actually kind of bitter.  I continued to boil the mixture down and the color starts to darken along with the percentage of sugars increasing.  By the time it had gotten down to a pint glass, the sugar has shot up tremendously.

The sugar has increased to 30 Brix (30% Sucrose) and poured it off into a high sided glass so that it can cool rapidly and any particles can fall to the bottom.  By the time it was done, the beet sugar is about 8 oz.  We could continue to boil this down into actual sugar but the temperatures would have to be dropped lower and the crystalization process would probably take a whole day without burning the mixture.  We probably could also leave it out to naturally evaporate the liquid water but that invites bugs.  So we’re stopping here.   I put the boiled sugar into a mason jar that had been previously sanitized with screw on top and it’s sitting in the fridge.  We will be using this in our Belgian Abbey Ale and we’ll see this added later.

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Bibliography:

(1) History of Sugar

(2) Hot Peppers (brought back to Spain by Columbus but introduced to Asia in the mid 16th century)

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2 thoughts on “Most Medieval Beer Part I: How to make sugar from beets to illustrate the use of cane sugar creation

  1. My favorite Mad Scientist, this learning project is amazing! Thank you for the details and pics. Maybe ask Camille DesJardins (Malagentia) why the beets may have remained so small. Area seems sunny enough. Could the leaves have been somewhat blocked with the powder? But I know you said just a dusting was applied. Does the sugar have a taste distinct from cane?

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