As holidays approach, farmers growing sugar are trying to wrap up harvest so it seems appropriate that others of us are shifting into baking cookies, making pies & cakes and more. That means bags of sugar, brown sugar, confectionary sugar and more!
Our latest episode features a conversation with Rebecca Larson, who just finished sugar beet harvest in Colorado. And while she’s turned her work attention to analyzing the yields and soils from the 2021 season, nights and weekends, she is full-scale holiday baking and planning. She helps us understand the various sources of sugar and offers some incredibly creative ideas for celebrating the holidays!
Making Graham Crackers with Spiders
Rebecca sent this great photo of the components of the packages she and her son are dropping off for neighbors and telling them “You’ve been booed!”
It is a cute set up where they have made graham crackers and cut them out to have spiders on them!
You can see the recipe for the graham crackers she used and she got the spider cookie cutter from this Etsy shop!
Christmas Cookies for an Epic Party
As Rebecca mentioned in the episode, she does a full slate of cookies connected to one Christmas movie. This year she is doing some of the funniest cookies in my opinion. And she’s already shared a few on Twitter since we recorded this.
More #cookies. 15 more batches to go! Done with Crinkle cookies now that I did sprinkle, gingerbread, red velvet and hot cocoa. Now on to the hard ones that are rolled, cut and iced. Got the chai #squirrels for the Griswold tree. The start to my #ChristmasVacation cookie! pic.twitter.com/hPV4rCrtnr
— Rebecca Larson (@sugaryfacts) October 24, 2020
Completing more Christmas vacation #cookies this weekend. Jelly of the month peanut butter cookies and red velvet Hawaiian swimsuit cookies pic.twitter.com/ELH5hZDNt6
— Rebecca Larson (@sugaryfacts) October 26, 2020
Video of Sugar Beet Harvest
Links Mentioned in the Episode
Rebecca Larson on Twitter @sugaryfacts
Her company’s website: westernsugar.com
sugar.org is a good resource for a full range of questions about sugar
Etsy link for spidery cookie cutter
Episode where we talked about carmelizing onions
Raw Transcript of the Sugar Episode
The following unedited transcript was prepared by otter.ai.
Grounded by the Farm 00:02
Food is more than just what’s on our plate. It’s the places where it’s grown. It’s the people who grow it and so much more. Join me, Janice person, your host on Grounded by the Farm every other week as we talk about the foods we love. Hey, everybody, this is Janice and I am so excited to continue our series on the holidays. As we head into not only Halloween, we have Thanksgiving and Christmas. This is one of those holiday things that I think a lot of us really look forward to. And it’s sugar. We’re talking with Rebecca Larson, who while she’s not a farmer, she works on the science side of farming. And she works with hundreds of farmers as part of her job, we are going to talk about all things sugar. First off, I love that she was willing to break down all the differences in brown sugar, confectionery, sugar, molasses, cane and beet sugar, all those kind of things, we do get more into the science than normal. But then we get into her talking about bullying her neighbors with some homemade graham crackers that have imprints of spiders on them. So we’ve got pictures of those, and you’re 11 all of that’s going to be up on Grounded by the Farm calm. But she also talks to us about some of the things she does around Christmas and thinks that sugar does beyond sweetening what we’re eating, so can’t wait for you guys to sit back and listen to this one. I certainly learned a lot and hope you do too. So I wanted to start out since you are scientists, maybe you could tell me a bit of your background, how you got into science and how that fits with farming.
Rebecca Larson 01:54
I’ve always been curious in science and how things work and my passion for science really came about for a passion of disease. I love reading books like the hot zone and learning about Ebola when I was a kid. Yeah, it’s really fascinating. And so, as a city girl, I didn’t really know much about plants. So I started off college as a pre med student, as I think a lot of people do. But yeah, I have a horrible, horrible fear of blood. So that was a really poor career choice. Right? Actually, I had a really great advisor that as a junior, actually in college mentioned to me that hey, if you like disease, did you know plants get sick? And I thought, Oh, no, I had no idea. And so that’s where I decided to go into graduate school and learn about Plant Pathology or the diseases of plants and how to prevent them.
Grounded by the Farm 02:41
And that’s amazing. Where did you go to college?
Rebecca Larson 02:43
So I got my bachelor’s degree from St. Cloud State University of Minnesota. Okay, and I went to Montana State University in Bozeman and earned my PhD there.
Grounded by the Farm 02:52
Oh, God, I love Bozeman. What a beautiful place to write. So it’s a wonderful place. The university is nice, but they’re such a great food culture and such great breweries and all that. Yeah, I’m, I’m a fan of Bozeman. So why don’t we start with some of the sciency side of sugar? You know, there are different sources. frequently when I’m out in the grocery store or at a restaurant, I see things that are pure cane sugar, you work with sugar beets, can you help me understand? Is the chemistry of sugar always the same? And the sources different? Or how does all that work?
Rebecca Larson 03:30
Yeah, so sugar is sugar. It’s 99.999% sucrose. Okay, so the plan that is derived from doesn’t really make a difference whether it’s sugar beet or sugar cane. The end product is a refined sucrose, which is just a glucose and fructose molecule stuck together. And here’s a shameful fact for you as a born and raised Minnesotan where over 50% of domestic sugar beets are grown. I did not know what a sugar beet was until I was 21 years old and moved to Montana. But yeah, 55% of the sugar in the United States comes from sugar beets.
Grounded by the Farm 04:06
Right and and you’re from Minnesota, sugar beets are a big thing for farmers in that part of the world. Do you know where else it’s grown? Sure.
Rebecca Larson 04:17
Yeah, so they’re they’re a temperate crop, which means that they like areas where they’re four seasons throughout the year and I know Montana, Idaho, parts of Oregon, Washington, Wyoming, Nebraska, Colorado, Minnesota, North Dakota, in Michigan, or they said have sugar production in them.
Grounded by the Farm 04:35
And then sugar cane is a tropical plant. So there’s not much in the US. I know a few farmers in Louisiana. down in Florida. There was some sugarcane but I’m not sure there’s much more in the US is there.
Rebecca Larson 04:48
Texas has a profit okay with the Rio Grande a sugarcane farmers.
Grounded by the Farm 04:52
Yeah. Okay, good. That’s just good to know. And then in the US, we also use high fructose corn syrup. is a sweetener is it also sucrose? Is it the same as sugar?
Rebecca Larson 05:04
It’s it’s not it’s made out of. So as I mentioned, sucrose is a glucose and fructose molecule that are stuck together. high fructose corn syrup are independent molecules because they sell different blends of them. So it’s primarily fructose. That’s why it’s called high fructose corn syrup, right. But they come in, I think, 55% and 60% blends with glucose. So it’s those individual components of sucrose.
Grounded by the Farm 05:28
Good. So you’re helping me understand the science already? And what about like fruits? So strawberries have a good bit of sugar or fructose in them? Right?
Rebecca Larson 05:40
Yeah, they have. They have monosaccharides, which would be fructose and glucose, they have dime saccharides, which would be sucrose. And they also have polysaccharides. And then that all add to that sweetness. So you could take pretty much any fruit and extract the sugar from it, but you want it to, but it really only makes sense to do that from a commercial standpoint with something that has a significant percentage of sugar in it. Like Okay, yeah. So with sugar beets and sugar cane, when you process it, you’re taking out that sucrose, present.
Grounded by the Farm 06:13
Yep. Are there other byproducts, then?
Rebecca Larson 06:16
Oh, sure. So for sugar beet, there’s a lot of dry material left once you get all the sugar out of it. And so we sell that for animal feed the pulp that’s leftover, okay, we also get molasses out, and some products like betaine. So there’s some small kind of minor market byproducts that come out of sugar beets. And then with sugar cane, of course, you have all the stocks that are leftover, and they don’t sell that, but they use that to power their factories in order to get the energy that they need to refine the sugar.
Grounded by the Farm 06:47
Very cool. You said the word molasses and I’m like a southerner, right? And I just immediately went back to seeing molasses cut down when I was a kid there was kind of like, I think people in the far northern parts of the country know more about maple syrup being cooked down. And I remember that process with molasses sort of so you could use it on biscuits.
Rebecca Larson 07:09
Oh, yeah, you would never want to do that with beet molasses. Because if you think about the way that a table beet tastes, it has kind of I love it. It’s an earthy flavor to it. beet molasses has that kind of undertone to it. Okay, go to a store and you buy molasses it only can come from cane. Yeah. And so even brown sugar that we make, which is white sugar with a little bit of molasses in it, we actually add cane molasses to our beet sugar in order to make brown sugar because the molasses from beets tastes terrible. That’s amazing.
Grounded by the Farm 07:43
Because the next question was, okay, help me understand brown sugar versus white sugar. So that seems clear what’s confectionery sugar then.
Rebecca Larson 07:53
So it’s just a finer grain of white granulated sugar. And then there are agents like corn starch added to it to keep it from forming a solid brick essentially. So that powdery texture, there’s a little bit of corn starch in there.
Grounded by the Farm 08:08
Okay. Okay. And then I see different sized crystals. Sometimes things are sold as raw sugar. Does that mean they haven’t extracted the molasses from it?
Rebecca Larson 08:18
Yeah, so sugar in the raw comes only from cane, not from games. And that’s because of that molasses case that I was just describing. But with sugar, and the raw cane actually goes through a two step cleanup process to remove the molasses from the sugar granules. Yeah, sugar in the raw is just one step. So they still left a little bit of that molasses in the white crystal.
Grounded by the Farm 08:43
Wow. Okay, so we have gotten deeper in science, I think in this episode that we ever have before. But part of it for me was trying to understand sugar because I, I think I use sugar. I think I eat sugar. But I don’t think about it as much as maybe I should or understand it. You know, I think a lot of us have gone through periods of time where we want to limit our sugar intake or at least pay attention to our sugar intake. Right. And and that’s a little bit different. So can you help me understand you said we in a few places like we make brown sugar. So maybe I have to ask you to explain you work for a company called Western sugar. It’s a co op, right? And maybe, maybe you can explain who they are and what you do. Sure.
Rebecca Larson 09:35
So I have the pleasure of having 851 small family farmers as my employer. So these these guys own farms in Montana, Wyoming, Nebraska and Colorado, the average size acreage, we represent about 5% of the domestic sugar market 10% of the domestic feeds. If you look at the total number of acres that we produce, Do since about 111,000. So it’s about 150 acres of sugar beets per grower, of course, it’s not a distribution. Yeah, those farmers own everything from the planting of the seed to the sale of the sugar. So they control the entire process. And I help them and agronomic practices. So my team and I run official variety trials determining what seeds going to have the right kind of disease package and performance. I also help them with their data tracking on farms so that when we’re expected to provide information on the impact of their farming operations, we can do that in a very concise and scientific fashion.
Grounded by the Farm 10:37
Oh, fantastic. So you really looking at that science across sugar? I mean, I had you asked, answering a lot of questions about the sugar makeup, but you’re also looking at the science on farm. And some of that would be like sustainability and sort of soil impacts and things along that line?
Rebecca Larson 10:57
Absolutely. Yeah, we have a lot of initiatives going internally looking at soil health in particular, we were looking at ways if you have healthy soil, you can sequester more carbon, and you have better productivity on your ground. And it’s been a change of culture over the last couple of decades where it used to be, you know, let’s let’s do no harm in farming. Let’s leave things the way we found them. Now it’s more about regenerative Ag and how do we leave things even better for the next generation? And so we look at the numbers and the impact using very complicated models to try and figure out how do those cultural practices that are being employed impact soil health, carbon emissions, water quality, and then we share that back with our growers to try and help them with continuous improvement. That’s amazing. I think
Grounded by the Farm 11:42
I’ve been lucky enough to at several times get to meet a lot of farmers on the sugar side I call on my sugar peeps are my sweet peeps, I found a lot of them are doing exactly what you mentioned. And that’s kind of that evolution from, you know, what the impact on the farm used to be for their parents or grandparents or something like that? And try and take them go to how can I make this so much better for my children or my grandchildren to take it over? and really getting a depth of knowledge of science is so critical in understanding that I think you forget how much soil science there is kind of like you said you didn’t know there was plant disease? Oh, yeah, it’s the same thing when it comes to soil. So a lot of us probably in school studied, you know, the basic layers of soil, but not necessarily the different chemistry makeups of sands versus clays versus all those different classifications, and how much plant matter, one needs to really get to the next level with providing its own nutrients. And those are the kinds of things you work with them on.
Rebecca Larson 12:54
Yeah, and it goes one step beyond that is looking at soil as a living entity, which gets really complicated for people because you think of it as just a bag of dirt, you know, or dirt. But there’s so many little microbes that exist within the soil. And anytime that that soil is disturbed, it disturbs that population. So one of our major areas of emphasis within our Co Op is using conservation tillage, so that you’re not disturbing the whole soil surface so that you keep the earthworms happy you keep the beneficial fungi and the environment and microbes in the environment, happy and healthy, because those little critters that are there interacting with one another, oftentimes will give you better nutrient cycling. So building up the organic matter faster, which leads to higher crop productivity, or even provide antagonistic interactions with some of the bad actors in the soil that could cause plant disease. So knowing what’s there and how to foster the good guys in the soil is really critical.
Grounded by the Farm 13:55
It’s interesting how I didn’t realize there were people that had PhDs and soil and water relations and stuff at one time in my life. So the depth of science really blows me away. So now Western sugar is is sugar
Rebecca Larson 14:10
The only thing you guys do? Yeah, of course, our farmers grow a lot of different crops, right? The one thing that ties them all together are sugar beets, and so they’ll grow a lot of different things in rotation with those beets. We have a lot of small grains, corn, dry beans, we have quite a diversity of what’s produced here. But as far as Western sugar is focused, our focus is just producing sugar from sugar beets is our main bread and butter.
Grounded by the Farm 14:36
Yeah, I’d love to tell you a short story about a visit I had in Indiana. A couple of years ago. My friend Leah buyer, she had us over we were doing an event at her home and the caterers set a s’mores bar and they did artisan marshmallows and so they had like triple chocolate marshmallows or All these different things.
Rebecca Larson 15:01
Grounded by the Farm 15:02
But as I talked to the chef that was doing this, who was developing all these things, she knew that the sugar in that came from Michigan sugar beet. And so here I was just all focused on my palate, and smores. And she said, Yeah, well, it comes from sugar beets. So help me understand what are some of the other things that you make with beet sugar? With just sugar, I guess, that are tasty treats that you really love? Are there some things you do for either Halloween? Or the other holidays?
Rebecca Larson 15:36
We don’t make or sell anything directly? Of course, but no, I mean, at home. Oh, my goodness. Yeah. So I have a five year old son who loves holidays as much as I do. So for Halloween this year, we’re kind of contemplating what’s going to happen with trick or treating, right? Are we going to be able to have those kind of interactions and so we are actually working on making some specialty bundles. I don’t know if you’ve ever heard of this process. Have you been food? So we’re, we’re making homemade s’mores packages for our neighbors. And so I just found a recipe on Pinterest to make homemade graham crackers. And I have this excellent cookie cutter that I got off of Etsy that can make a round graham cracker with the indentation of a spider on the top. Oh, get out? No. Oh, yeah, absolutely. I’m gonna need that leak
Grounded by the Farm 16:27
to wherever you found that. That is so fun.
Rebecca Larson 16:29
Yeah, I will send me some pictures. I actually posted on Twitter recently of my cookies. I made it the same cookie cutter. But smash mallow when you talk about specialty marshmallows makes an excellent flavors, including a pumpkin spice marshmallow that they have out for Halloween, or for the fall in general. Yeah, and then this is gonna sound ridiculous. It took me until 43 years of age and seeing a link on Pinterest to realize you don’t have to just use Hershey’s bars on s’mores that you would any old kind of chocolate you want to have in there. So in these specialty packages that I’ll be handing out to people with our homemade graham crackers. I’ll include some of those pumpkin spice marshmallows, regular marshmallows, and Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup pumpkins because I have found Reese’s peanut butter cups are my favorite. No need for Hershey’s bars anymore.
Grounded by the Farm 17:15
So I’m a fan of the special dark chocolates. You know it can be the Hershey’s special dark or your deli dark chocolates and something because for me probably as a kid, I loved that much sugar of the marshmallow and the really sweet chocolate. Oh, shut up. I love the combination with dark chocolates.
Rebecca Larson 17:35
Yeah, any something better in there is fantastic. Yeah.
Grounded by the Farm 17:38
Yeah, I mean, and it really is like that taste profile shifts a little bit for you. So that sounds awesome. What about Thanksgiving or Christmas? Is your family really into some sweets around that time period?
Rebecca Larson 17:52
Yeah, I go a little bit bonkers. So I was really nervous football season wasn’t going to happen this year because football season provides my peace and quiet for cookie banking. As soon as I’m done with my harvest of sugar beets, I spend every weekend baking Christmas cookies and putting them in the freezer for a party that I throw the first weekend in December, where I’ll be 25 different varieties of Christmas cookies that are all decorated in a way to tell a story that’s famous for Christmas. So last year, I did Polar Express. The year before that I did the Grinch and this year I’m doing Christmas vacation.
Grounded by the Farm 18:29
Yeah, Christmas vacation. Tell me how you do that.
Rebecca Larson 18:32
Yeah, I do a combination. So doing 25 that are all intricately decorated like that is really difficult. So I usually do half crinkle cookies and half of the decorated cookies. Okay, yeah, I don’t do traditional sugar cookies. I try and look for lots of different varieties. So I have like a rolled smores a cookies and cream cookie that are all cut in different shapes and then decorated so I’m making cousin Eddie’s RV, the 1972 Condor, I have a spray can that has the non nutritive serial varnish that I’ll be making the jelly of the month.
Grounded by the Farm 19:09
We’re gonna need a follow up video of all these cookies like
Rebecca Larson 19:13
I know the happiness I
Grounded by the Farm 19:14
know that episode of the podcast will long the past but we will be bringing this back up because the pictures that you’re drawing in my mind right now are blowing my mind. So now your guests come to this incredible party. Do they have to watch the movie or read the books ahead of time?
Rebecca Larson 19:32
Most the time? No, because the cookie buffet is followed up with I rent out a local guy in Longmont has a company called brew hop trolley. And so I rent out the trolley and we take a tour looking at Christmas lights and stop at some different breweries and distilleries and just make a nice night out of it. Yeah, we do random trivia when we’re on the trolley where I give out the trivia cards for free drinks wherever we stop, but this year is going to be a little different because we don’t know what’s going to happened with COVID. And everything else going on in the world that I have warned everyone what the theme is for this year because most of time people don’t know. So in the save the date, I told him, it’s going to be Christmas vacation and all of our trivia is going to revolve around the movie. So I said, I want to watch it once, twice, 10 times, so that you can be able to win some excellent Christmas vacation themed prizes this year. They
Grounded by the Farm 20:23
say that’s one of those movies, a lot of us watch every year. But I would still want to like re watch it a few times to make sure I could win all the gifts.
Rebecca Larson 20:31
Yeah, we need to make it kind of tricky in a way just to keep it kind of spicy not knowing where we’re going to be able to stop or what else we’re going to be able to do is we’ll get we’re going to give away the prizes in the white elephant style. So there’ll be a little bit of competition to have
Grounded by the Farm 20:44
some fun on what. That’s so funny. The folks that you ever have come over I do they all assume that you’re only cooking with beet sugar? Do you use cane sugar at home?
Rebecca Larson 20:55
I really don’t. I have a lot of loyalty towards my employer. So I always buy our branded sugar whenever I go to the grocery store. There were a few times this last winter, early spring when everything was missing from the shelves, and there was no other option. But to be able to buy, you know, cnh. So I did buy some cane sugar. But no, I’m pretty religious about buying GW sugar.
Grounded by the Farm 21:20
That’s funny. Is it sold in a GW bag? Or is it branded by various stores? Or what?
Rebecca Larson 21:27
It goes into a lot of different bags. And so our GW bag is our own brand that’s sold in grocery stores. It’s usually sold in grocery stores that are geographically close. Yes, yeah, it’s also put into store brand bags as well. Okay. And so there are a lot of different store brands that contain our sugar and they make in the same chain of stores may sell many different varieties beat and cane sugar within their bags, right? It just depends on what’s geographically closest, because sugar all sells for about the same price. It’s really the freight difference. So you’re going to take whatever’s closest to you. And same thing with things that are manufactured from sugar. You’ll notice on a can of soda, it’ll say made with sugar or high fructose corn syrup. That’s going to depend on where that bottling plant is whether they’re using beet sugar cane sugar, high fructose corn syrup, it’s all about what’s closest.
Grounded by the Farm 22:18
Yeah, well, you know, since I grew up in the south, I was really familiar with cane sugar, because it used to, say, cane sugar, because then you know, it came from people the next state away or something, right. And there’s kind of that regional pride. But are members of your family always aware that they can use the sugar in their things? Maybe like, hard candies?
Rebecca Larson 22:44
Oh, it’s funny that you say that. So my mother bless her heart is no longer with me. But she believed that you could not make hard candy with beet sugar. And a lot of that generation still believes that. And it was true at one point in time back in like 1930s 1940s, because there was a specific defoaming agent that had to be used in the extraction of beats that wasn’t used in cane. So for specific things, it was difficult to use them interchangeably. Yeah, that’s not been true since the 1940s. But there’s still people that believe that I recently came across a recipe for a crumble brew lay that insisted you had to use cane sugar for it because beet sugar wouldn’t normalize. But that’s not how it works anymore. These days, the only sugar you can not 100% make from beets is brown sugar because of the molasses.
Grounded by the Farm 23:30
So that carmelization process that’s a piece of sugar that I think a lot of us don’t think about. And actually in our episode on onions, we actually talked about how some onions have more sugars in them, and they carmelize better than other onions. So what else does sugar offer us besides that sweetness.
Rebecca Larson 23:51
So oftentimes, if there’s a sugar reduction happening in an ingredient, the texture is going to change. You know, there’s a certain texture on your palate that’s provided from sugar. So if you switch to an artificial sweetener that delivers a lot more sweetness and a smaller volume, you have to put fibers and things in there in order to create that same texture. But it’s also really important for leavening. So if you include it in something like bread, the yeast feed on that sugar in order to give rise to that bread as well. It’s a quick read, of course. And then preserving is also really important. So you think about jams and jellies, just like pickles are preserved with salts, jams and jellies are preserved with that high concentration of sugar that’s in there.
Grounded by the Farm 24:38
I haven’t really thought about that. So sugar beets is different than beets. Yes. Right? Yes. What are
Rebecca Larson 24:47
those differences? They are actually the exact same species and genus. They’re both beta vulgaris. The only thing that’s different is the physical characteristics. The female Type what they’re physically expressing has been selected to be different, as well as the concentration of sugar. So sugar beets have been selected to be larger, and white and contain more sugar, or a table beets have been selected for various color characteristics, whether they be yellow or red or purple. And they’re much smaller. So a sugar beet is about, I just said to give a rough estimate 10 or 15 times larger than a red beet would be. And they’re also bright white in color.
Grounded by the Farm 25:36
Now, I know you say they’re bright white. And I’m just gonna say they don’t look bright white when they’re coming out of the field. Right. So it’s what’s been next to all the dirt and, you know, the outside of the beat and all that kind of stuff is what I usually see. Because when I saw sugar beets the first day, I thought it was a truckload of boulders.
Rebecca Larson 26:00
Oh, yeah. Yeah, they they kind of look like a exteriors like a turn up the color or kind of like a Mar where it’s that kind of really light tan color. But yeah, there’s a bit of dirt. I mean, when they go to the pilings, tannish gray
Grounded by the Farm 26:13
ish, where it’s very earthen colored. And, and I think do they go in first, and they cut the tops off. So there’s not the big green? Yeah, you know? Yeah. So green leaves aren’t there anymore.
Rebecca Larson 26:26
In the harvesting process? Yeah, they use something called a defoliate. Or that has a whole bunch of rubber fingers underneath it that flail around. And with all of those green leaves off, and then there’s some
Grounded by the Farm 26:36
I wish people could see the video because she had her fingers flailing around to show it to me. I’ll see if I can find a video somewhere online. Yeah,
Rebecca Larson 26:46
I don’t know how else to describe it. I thought yeah, my hands. But yeah, so those rubber flails, knock all of the green material off, that essentially becomes a green manure in the field then, and then they go through and they scalp them. So there’s some knives on the back of those defoliant eaters. And then they’ll come through with the beat digger or the harvester that actually lifts them up and out of the ground. But yeah, we’ll actually reject delivery of beats, if they have too much top left on it, because it can clog up the factory. It’s not good for them when they’re in storage, either. Because if that green material is still there, the beat sit in a pile for 90 to 120 days or more, depending on the region. Right, that will cause regrow, that it takes energy to regrow leaves. And so you end up burning through that sugar that you took all season to produce in that group.
Grounded by the Farm 27:31
Yeah. Well, it’s just so amazing to think about, you know, harvesting sugar, is there a smell that’s kind of sweet to that process?
Rebecca Larson 27:42
Yeah, you can smell that little bit of sweetness in the field. But you also smell vegetable. Because it is a root crop, it smells right, like a table beat does, it has that kind of earthy smell with a little bit more sweet undertone to it than if it was just a beat. And same thing with the factories and the factories are run in prime time. And everything’s run in real? Well, it smells like boiling beets smells like baking vegetables when you drive past the factory with a little too sweet to it.
Grounded by the Farm 28:11
And I guess part of that in the field is because when you’re pulling it out of the ground, when you’re cutting it out of the ground, you’re leaving some of the roots and stuff, you’re actually disconnecting pieces of the smaller root structures, or how does that work?
Rebecca Larson 28:26
Yeah, so um, we should probably treat our beats a bit more like people treat their potatoes and harvest a little more gently. Do but yeah, when we’re pulling beets out of the ground, for the most part, though, they’ll come up in tact. I mean, there’ll be some lateral roots and things that are very small that get behind. But as it goes up through the harvester, you do have tails breaking off. So the very tip seemed to be Yeah, come off. And those will be left in the field there. Also, you know, you may end up having seeds that are twins and things like that were their little beats that are growing in there for singulation wasn’t that great? You know, their seed spacing will be some tinier beats, I don’t get picked up by those bigger wheels and are kicked back into the field. So yeah, they’re chunks that are the some of them behind,
Grounded by the Farm 29:07
some of them get a little bit cut off of them or something in the process. Right. So it’s just opened up and exposed a little bit. And so how do you make sure how does the plant actually process that then to take it from a beat from the field? What’s the process to get from that to what I put on my table. So in
Rebecca Larson 29:29
a really high level, yeah, it’s essentially taking the beets into the factory, cutting them up into a combination of french fry and waffle fry kind of structures that we call cost sets. Those go into a giant diffusion thing. So it’s essentially just allowing that sugar to go from those root chunks into the liquid. And then chunks that are leftover become that pulp once they’re dried and shipped off. We saw that fresh too. But so then you take that liquid and it’s a process of essentially boiling it down. And then him saying crystallization. And then you have a final centrifuging process to get the little bit of water that’s or moisture that’s left in there. And you rinse it a little bit to get anything else that might be stuck on the outside of the crystal off. But yeah, it’s a it’s a letting it diffuse, boiling down centrifuging after crystallization, that’s roughly what it is.
Grounded by the Farm 30:24
I can guarantee you the next time I make sweet tea and I’m putting sugar in or something, I’m going to be looking at that a little bit differently. Sugar is going to be a little bit more I think I’m a little bit more curious about it just haven’t talked about it so much about the different things that it does, about the different ways that you can process it to do different things. I mean, like confectionery sugar is so great for some things, that I can’t imagine how you would do some of those things without it being in that process that has that little bit cornstarch, so that it it’s, it’s pretty wild.
Rebecca Larson 31:01
Yeah, absolutely. Absolutely.
Grounded by the Farm 31:04
So do you get to consider yourself a bit of an expert? Or do you say you have more expertise in sugar? Where’s, where’s that line of expert versus expertise?
Rebecca Larson 31:13
Gosh, I have this is my 21st harvest, working with sugar beets. Wow, I’ve never worked with any other crop as intimately as I’ve worked with sugar beets. I’ve had jobs where I’ve worked with some other crops and yeah, peripheral role. But this has been my bread and butter. And I would say, I wouldn’t have the passion that I have for agriculture. If I wasn’t introduced to it through the beet industry. It’s a very special little community. It’s it’s 1 million acres compared to 90 million acres of corn. It’s all grower owned. So the growers are extremely invested in the process and very supportive of science. And so someone like me doing science for them, they’ve always been extremely supportive of me. I think I know more now about sugar than the average person. I think I have some expertise in sugar beets. But have I mastered everything in beats? Absolutely not, there’s so much more to know, I think I’ve, I’ve held pretty much every job you possibly can within the beat industry over these past 21 years. But where I’ve landed today is definitely a great place to be.
Grounded by the Farm 32:19
And I think that kind of goes with science, like in science, very few people want to call themselves an expert. People like to say they have a certain amount of expertise, or they’ve gained a certain amount of experience. There’s always so much more to know. And I think sometimes when you’re just going through life, and you’re picking something off the shelf or something, sometimes that curiosity gets sparked and you start learning more and other times it takes something else to spark that curiosity for you. So I appreciate your spending this time with us because I think you’ve probably created some curiosity moments for people if they wanted to get in touch. I know I talked to you on Twitter sometimes are there places where our listeners could kind of give you a shout out if they had other questions I failed to ask.
Rebecca Larson 33:07
Oh, sure. You know, I have my only social media account is Twitter. And I was forced to get that a while ago. So yeah, you can find me there at sugary facts. Also, you can look at our website, Western sugar calm. And all of our contact information is on there as well. If anybody has any specific questions about sugar, beet, sugar, beet, agronomy, whatever, they’re more than welcome to reach out to me. And
Grounded by the Farm 33:33
I also saw there’s a website sugar.org that does a good job of answering questions that people have, you know, sort of generally asked about, you know, the difference between brown sugar and others or you know, some of the processing so that may be another thing to add into the mix.
Rebecca Larson 33:51
Oh yeah, I cannot say enough wonderful things about Dr. Courtney game who runs the sugar Association associated with sugar.org. She has a phenomenal dietitian she can answer all kinds of different questions about sugar and she has a great team working for her.
Grounded by the Farm 34:07
Right right. And when you work in sugar, a lot of people want to talk to dieticians. My guesses there Oh yeah, it is one of those pieces much like gluten much like other pieces that just kind of make people want to know and understand their diet a little bit better so I think getting more information and sugary facts as you go by on Twitter I hope even though they somebody made you get a Twitter account I hope now you enjoy it.
Rebecca Larson 34:34
I am not very good at social media I think that’s part of my problem. And so it’s it’s difficult if you don’t really understand how to master the tool to really get in Yeah, but i do i mean it is I have people I like to follow that bring me joy, for sure. And they’re things that drive me absolutely eight when I open up that app as well right but I wish didn’t have to pop up. But maybe I’ll get smart enough one day and it just narrow it Down to the things that bring me joy.
Grounded by the Farm 35:02
Yeah, well, I would love it if you’d send us, you know, sort of a couple of your cookie recipes. We love sharing those and people love getting a new recipe. So if we could get that, as well as like the link to how you figure it out how to do those Pinterest, the kind of things for Halloween, I’ll include all that in the show notes. So people could follow up and, and have some different kinds of treats. I like to mix the traditional with some of the newer different things, right. So in my family at Christmas, my mom always fixed something called spritz cookies, which are you know, pressed through, and we’d make them in the shape of like poinsettias or Christmas reads or stars. But I also like to put in some new things that here and there. And the great thing about cookies is you can have one cookie here and one cookie there. It’s not like you’re committing to a huge piece of something, you know, cookies and pies and eating little slivers of pie.
Rebecca Larson 36:01
Absolutely, yeah. And I’ll send you the link for the cookie cutter.
Grounded by the Farm 36:05
Yeah, that’d be great. Well, Rebecca, thank you again for your time. I am looking forward to this getting out there. I think you’ve answered a lot of questions that people may not even have realized that are boiling around in their heads, but I know for what it tells me to get brown sugar by God, I better have brown sugar in this house versus the other. So nice to kind of understand what that’s about.
Rebecca Larson 36:28
Well, thanks so much. I really appreciate your time.
Grounded by the Farm 36:32
I hope you guys found that as interesting as I did. I really want to get invited to that epic Christmas party one year so I’m going to be working hard on that we’re going to put some of these photos and all up on the website so check it out at Grounded by the Farm comm Feel free to tell your friends who love the holiday foods the way I do to give us a listen. Next step we’re going to be talking about Turkey. Aha yes for attacking turkey with a turkey farmer from Minnesota. Thank you so much for being here. Appreciate you guys giving us a listen and sharing us on social media. Talk to you soon.
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