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Bulk sugar cane manufacturing in detail

18/05/2023 By Ben Eastick in Products Cane molasses, Dark cane muscovado sugar

Sugar cane is our planet’s largest crop, with around 1.5 billion tonnes produced in 22/23. At Ragus, it’s the raw material for many of the pure sugars we manufacture. Explore what happens to sugar cane on its journey from field to final destination—as a food product for our industrial customers—in this blog. 

What is cane sugar?

Sugar cane has grown wild in the tropical regions of the globe for many more years than it has been cultivated. Belonging to the andropogoneae family of grasses, ‘Saccharum officianarum’ is a fibrous plant that humans have cultivated for the last 10,000 years, starting with the indigenous people of New Guinea, who chewed it raw. 

Humans have cultivated ‘Saccharum officianarum’ for around 10,000 years.

Reaching a height of four to five metres, sugar cane needs a lot of rain and heat in the summer and a mild winter to thrive, making countries like Brazil, Cuba, Mexico, India, Pakistan, Mauritius, Laos, Thailand and Australia perfect homes for ‘the reed that produces honey without bees’, as the Persians and Greeks described it sometime around 1000 BC. 

At Ragus, we have a unique approach to sourcing bulk raw sugar cane. The quality of the cane itself and the ethical standards of our sugar cane suppliers employ on their farms are both our top priorities. When it comes to quality, location is crucial. Sugar cane is only as good as the soil it comes from, so crops grown in India are likely to be very different to their Australian relatives. 

At Ragus, it’s crucial that our suppliers share our commitment to ethical practices.

To make sure our suppliers share our commitment to stamping out modern slavery and corruption, and adhering to responsible and ethical working practices, our senior leaders travel all over the world to find the very best plantations, mills and refineries, meeting farmers and talking to people on the ground. 

Once the sugar cane is harvested from the field and into the refining process, we need to make sure the product meets our standards. Our QESH (quality, environment, health and safety) Manager audits suppliers’ refining procedures, looking into food safety, hygiene and compliance with local and regional regulatory bodies. If we can confirm 100% adherence to our ethical and quality standards, the business meetings start. 

Our QESH Manager leads on making sure our suppliers meet our standards on refining procedures, food safety, hygiene and compliance.

Growing and harvesting sugar cane 

Sugar cane starts life in the field as a mature stalk, planted underground for three weeks before the first sprouts appear. A year later the cane is ready to be harvested. One plant will yield several crops, from the ‘ratoons’ (stalks) that grow after the sugar cane is cut, before yield rate drops off.  

Unfortunately for us, pests, bugs and microbes like sugar cane just as much as we do, so farmers have to manage them using anything from ladybirds to insecticides like phorate to deter bugs and disease. 

Collecting the cane is heavy work. Most farms use mechanical harvesters to first remove the leafy top part of the cane, which is stored separately from the stalks, which when cut, are known as ‘billets’. After travelling to the mill by truck or rail, the canes are crushed and the cane juice is extracted. 

Because sugar cane is a thirsty crop, it’s had an impact on the biodiversity in some environmentally sensitive regions. For this reason, at Ragus we only work with bulk sugar cane growers who manage social and environmental risks. 

Ethical sourcing has been integral to operations at Ragus for the last twenty years. We are members of and hold accreditations from global organisations that foster environmental, economic and social sustainability. As well as assessing their member companies, some of these bodies support their members to continue to improve beyond certification standards. We also work with several certified organic sugar cane producers.

Processing and refining sugar cane 

To produce the sugar crystals that end up as the cane demerara, muscovado and white sugars we all recognise as crystalline sugar, the cane goes through multiple steps at the mill, starting with its arrival from the fields to the point it gets shipped out in bulk loads to sugar refineries. 

Sugar cane arrives at the mill from the fields and is crushed before extracting the juice to produce sugar.


After being washed, cut up and shredded, high pressure rollers extract the juice from the canes. Hot water is added to maximise the yield before the dry stalks (known as ‘bagasse’) are burnt to produce electricity or used to feed cattle.  

Juice is extracted from the shredded canes.


The natural juice is heated to 80°C and neutralised with lime, making impurities settle as sediment which then goes back into the fields as fertiliser. 

Lime helps impurities to settle as sediment, which becomes fertiliser for the fields.


To make a thick, amber liquid, industrial evaporators boil the juice for up to two hours. 

Steam is used to heat industrial evaporators.


The amber juice the mill produces is then seeded with tiny sugar crystals and boiled again to allow the crystals to grow in the mixture, turning it into a ‘massecuite’ syrup. 

Tiny sugar crystals placed in the mixture turn it into a ‘massecuite’ syrup.


The massecuite syrup is spun at 1,050 rpm for two minutes to separate the crystals from the liquid.  

The centrifuge spins the massecuite syrup to separate the crystals from the liquid.


Once the sugar crystals are separated, it’s time to pass them through drum rotating driers for cooling. 

Industrial driers cool the sugar crystals.


The sugar is passed over a vibrating screen and through a rare earth magnet to remove foreign particles. 

Sieving the sugar removes impurities.


The raw sugar is either bagged and loaded into containers or loose and loaded into trucks headed to port terminals and final destinations across the world. 

Finally, the sugar is bagged and shipped to destinations in every corner of the world.

Manufacturing sugar products 

As a bulk cane sugars manufacturer, this is where Ragus takes over. We take the crystallines and molasses and manufacture products for our customers—industrial food and beverage manufacturers—to use in their own products. 

Molasses isn’t a crystalline sugar: it’s a by-product of crystalline refining. When the cane juice is boiled into the highly concentrated syrup, forming sugar crystals, after boiling again, the resulting liquid is cane molasses. It has a smoky, spicy flavour profile and dark, decadent colour, suiting it to Christmas puddings, toffee, savoury sauces and cooking marinades. 

Molasses is a deliciously dark, smoky sugar.

Molasses arrives at our Slough factory in temperature-controlled road tankers, where our laboratory staff test it to ensure it meets our high standards. After being pumped into evaporating vats, heated to over 80°C, purified, and adjusted to meet specific sugar content and acidity levels, it goes through a 300-micron filter to remove any remaining impurities. Finally, it’s cooled and matured in holding tanks. 

Dark cane muscovado sugar also starts its journey at the mill. It’s shipped to Ragus where we blend it with sugarcane molasses, giving it a sticky texture and unique flavour. After a number of quality processes—such as metal detection—to remove any impurities, we pack it and distribute it to our customers, ready for them to use in their end products. 

Dark cane muscovado sugar is blended with molasses for a rich colour and flavour.

The moisture density of dark cane muscovado sugar makes it popular in the baking industry for applications like fruitcakes, Christmas puddings and cakes, and chocolate-based cakes and desserts, where its rich flavour and dark colour give an unmistakeable intensity to products. 

Demerara sugar’s path from field to final bagging is very similar to muscovado’s, just with slightly less molasses content, resulting in a drier texture. The looser crystals make it a perfect table sugar for coffee, and ideal for sprinkling on porridge, fruit and desserts. 

Demerara’s looser crystals make it ideal for sprinkling onto porridge or puddings.

Because at Ragus, we never stop monitoring the quality of our products and processes—both our own and our suppliers’—to ensure they keep pace with the latest, highest standards, we can guarantee all our customers the very highest quality pure cane sugar syrups and crystalline cane sugars. 

Our sugars are not only sweeteners enhancing the taste of foods and beverages, but functional ingredients that provide foundational properties to food products, such as colour and texture. 

At Ragus, quality and customer service are our top priorities.

To learn more about our pure sugar products, contact our Customer Services Team. For more sugar news and Ragus updates, keep browsing SUGARTALK and follow Ragus on LinkedIn.  

Ben Eastick

A board member and co-leader of the business, Ben is responsible for our marketing strategy and its execution by the agency team he leads and is the guardian of our corporate brand vision. He also manages key customers and distributors.

In 2005, he took on the role of globally sourcing our ‘speciality sugars’. With his background in laboratory product testing and following three decades of supplier visits, his expertise means we get high quality, consistent and reliable raw materials from ethical sources.

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