A sweet assist: why sugar testing is so important

For industrial sugar producers, the ability to discern the purity of their product is essential to business. Gary Bailey of American Crystal Sugar explains how UV-visible spectrophotometry provides the data needed to ensure his company’s products make the grade.

In the rolling farmlands of the northern Great Plains, from Michigan to Oregon, an unlikely remedy to Americans’ collective sweet tooth can be found in the form of a humble root vegetable: the sugar beet.

According to the USDA, more than half of all domestically produced sugar – around 55 to 60 percent – comes from sugar beets. The unassuming tuber must be processed to extract and purify the sucrose, separating the desired sugar from the rest of the vegetable matter.

But sugar comes in many shades and the differences are sometimes too subtle for the naked eye to see. So, as the refinement process advances, quality checks must be implemented regularly, most often in the form of colour testing.

A spectrophotometer can generate quantitative colour values more precisely than other analytical options. With its rapid response and ease of use, the spectrophotometer provides immediate feedback that allows for real-time adjustment to the refinement process, potentially saving a sugar production facility time and money.


Based in the Red River Valley of Minnesota and North Dakota, the agricultural cooperative known as the American Crystal Sugar Company is the one of the largest sugar beet producers in the United States. With scores of farmers working the land across these two states and five different processing plants, the company faces constant and ongoing challenges to manage all that natural variation and produce a consistent finished product.

As a Quality Analyst for American Crystal Sugar, it is my job to make sure our refinement process gets the sugar to where it needs to be, regardless of where the beets started. These quality checks begin almost as soon as the source beets come into the building.

sugar beet

More than half of the US’ domestic sugar comes from sugar beet according to the USDA