Michigan Agriculture in the Classroom

Newsletters & Blog

January 2024

Sweet Treats from Beets!

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With Valentine’s Day quickly approaching, the grocery store aisles are filling up with candy and chocolate for you to spoil your sweet, loved ones. My name is Pete the Beet, and this is my wife Betty Beet! Valentine’s Day is our favorite holiday because we LOVE sugar!

Did you know that all sugar comes from real plants? It’s true. All sugar comes from either sugar cane or sugar beets. In Michigan, where we live, sugar comes from sugar beets planted on family farms in about 20 different counties. The sugar beets are planted each spring and harvested in the fall.

To learn more about how sugar beets make sweet treats, I invite you to join Betty and I on a little field and factory tour.

First, it’s important to know that sugarbeets are a root crop. That means the plant grows in the ground. We have green leaves on top that stick out of the ground and soak up sunlight all summer long. This helps us grow through photosynthesis. While we grow, we are storing sugar, also known as sucrose. After about six to eight months, we are full of sugar and ready to be harvested.

For us sugarbeets, harvest time starts with a haircut! That’s right, the first step is cutting off our leaves through a process called “topping.” Once our tops are removed, a sugar beet harvester comes through and digs us out of the ground. Since we just came out of the soil, the harvester shakes the beets to get some of the dirt off.

Next, we are put into trucks and transported from our fields to Michigan Sugar Company factory. Michigan Sugar is a company owned by farmers. They have four factories – one each in Bay City, Caro, Croswell, and Sebewaing.

Once we arrive at a factory, we take a nice bath to get fully cleaned up. Then, we are sliced into long, thin strands called cossettes. At that point, we look kind of like french fries. We are then cooked in hot water to remove all our sugar juice. That juice is then boiled to evaporate the liquid, leaving behind sugar crystals.

The crystals get to go on a machine, kind of like a merry-go-round, that spins fast to remove any extra juice. Then, the crystals are dried and cooled before heading to a tall sugar silo or into a sugar bag.

Sugar beets grown in Michigan end up as sugar sold under the Pioneer Sugar brand. You can find Pioneer Sugar at grocery stores across Michigan and in many other states! Pioneer Sugar can also be purchased by businesses and bakeries for use in their food products. Did you know that Dum-Dums suckers are made with Pioneer Sugar? They are one of my and Betty’s favorite candies!

Speaking of candy, I better “beet” it and get to the store to buy some candy for my Valentine Betty!

Learn more about sugar beets through the Michigan Ag Council, bake up some sweet treats for your Valentine using these delicious Pioneer Sugar recipes, or talk about sugar and sugar beets in your classroom using this Michigan Agriculture in the Classroom lesson.

So long, friends, and stay sweet!

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