Education | Apr 06, 2020

Where does sugar come from?

Cookies, candy and ice cream are all yummy, sweet treats! What makes these treats so sweet? Well, sweetener of course!

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Cookies, candy and ice cream are all yummy, sweet treats! What makes these treats so sweet? Well, sweetener of course! 

The sugar used in cupcakes, candy and other desserts can come from a variety of sources. Let’s explore some of the most common sweeteners!


Sugarcane is a tropical plant that looks something like bamboo. Sugarcane is grown in tropical climates in states like Louisiana, Texas, Florida and Hawaii. Sugar is made in the leaves of the sugarcane plant through photosynthesis and stored as a sweet juice in sugarcane stalks. Sugarcane is cut down and harvested then sent to a factory. At the factory, cane juice is extracted, purified, filtered and crystalized into golden, raw sugar. This raw sugar is then taking to a refinery to be made into the table sugar we know and love.

Watch this video to learn more!

Sugar beets 

Did you know table sugar doesn’t just come from sugarcane? It also comes from sugar beets! Unlike sugarcane, sugar beets grow best in cooler climates in states like California, Colorado, Idaho, Michigan, Minnesota, Montana, Nebraska, North Dakota, Oregon, Washington and Wyoming. Surprisingly, sugar beets accounts for about 55% of total sugar produced domestically. In sugar beets, the sugar is found in the roots. The beet is “topped” (cutting the top of the beet off) and sent to the factory for processing. The sugar beets are then washed, sliced and boiled in water to begin the extraction of sugar. This is then filtered and crystalized. 

This video shows more about the sugar beet harvest! 

High Fructose Corn Syrup

To make corn syrup, corn is harvested and sent to a mill. Corn is crushed and filtered in the mill to separate cornstarch from other parts of corn. Enzymes are then added to the cornstarch liquid to breakdown the corn starch into individual glucose molecules As the name implies, high fructose corn syrup is corn syrup where glucose has partially changed into fructose (a different sugar). It comes in 2 primary compositions- HFCS-42 and HFCS-55, which means it is composed of either 42% or 55% fructose.  Table sugar, on the other hand, is 50% fructose and 50% glucose, so the composition of these sweeteners is not that different. To turn corn syrup into high fructose corn syrup, enzymes are added to convert some of the glucose molecules into fructose- sometimes called “fruit sugar” because it can be found in fruits!

There are a lot of myths out there about high fructose corn syrup. The Corn Refiners Association helps bust some of these misconceptions


You probably think of bees when you hear honey, but how exactly is it made? Bees visit flowers and use their straw-like tongues to suck out nectar- a sugary liquid. These bees store this nectar in its extra stomach or crop. Back at the beehive, honeybees “chew” the nectar to break down the nectar which is then spread throughout the honeycomb for water to evaporate. Bees flap their wings to help speed along the drying process of the honey! Whew, that is a lot of work!

Incorporate bees and honey in the classroom with The Beeman! For older students, check out a pollinator Purple Plow Puzzler like this one

Also, check out our three-part honey blog series to learn even more about honey and beekeeping. Read Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3!

Who says STEM isn't sweet? Read about 5 simple science experiments you can do on cookie ingredients in this blog post! 

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