Sugar Beet Processing
Answered by: Conrad Richter
Question from: Gabe
Posted on: June 30, 2008

I don’t understand exactly how the orange juicer and the percolator top work. Do you have any photos? What kinds of juicers and percolator tops will work together?

You are referring to our InfoSheet on sugar beet processing in which an orange juicer and a percolator top are listed as the equipment needed for home refining of sugar from sugar beets. This InfoSheet is a reprint of an article that appeared in the now defunct American magazine "Family Food Garden" magazine. We believe the article first appeared in the 1960s or 1970s.

We too are unclear how the juicer and percolator top are supposed to work together. Unfortunately, we do not have any photos showing the equipment; nor do we have anyone on staff currently who remembers how the refining process works. The best we can do is offer some pointers for experimentation.

The directions say:

"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."

Part of the problem is that home equipment used in the 1960s and 1970s is different today. What was in common use then may not have machines of equivalent functionality today. Operating modern kitchen devices using components from different devices may not be possible today, as it might have been the case 30-40 years ago.

Even the terminology used may be different today. For example, if you search the Internet for "percolator top" you will find references to the glass plug at the top of coffee percolators that were in common use before the drip-filter coffee makers became popular. But clearly the glass plug is not what the directions are referring to. The "percolator top" likely refers to the removable coffee chamber and its perforated cover. This chamber is where the hot water percolates through the coffee.

There are several types of juicers that use various approaches to separating the juice from the pulp. The type used in the instructions for sugar beet refining is the electric-powered centrifugal type where orange fragments are spun and thrown against a sieve and the juice collects in a trough that drains through a spout into a juice container. These juicers commonly have a removable blade that does the job of cutting up and shredding the oranges. Presumably this component as well as the sieve are replaced by the percolator chamber. The sugar mass is placed in the chamber, which is spun, and the spinning action causes the sugar crystals to separate from the mass and get thrown into the trough. The idea is to spin the sugar mass fast enough so the crystals separate. The speeds used by centrifugal juicers 30-40 years ago happen to be right for this process; but as discussed in the directions any motor capable of spinning a chamber at similar speeds can be used. You will have to experiment with equipment available today to come up with an equivalent assembly that will work.

What you get is raw sugar. To get commercial "mill white" sugar commercial refineries further refine the raw sugar in a series of processes to remove impurities. However these "impurities" are actually important health-giving phenolic and other compounds which are really better left in the sugar.

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