As it turns out, Queensland, Australia is the third largest raw sugar producer in the world. Roughly 35 million tons of sugarcane is produced annually, with over 80% being exported. I just happen to LOVE sugar! Can you say, “Field Trip?”
Discovering Australia during the growing season of the sugarcane, unfortunately, none of the sugar mills were in operation; therefore, no tours were available. Luckily for us, the Sarina Sugar Shed has constructed an adorable boutique-sized sugar mill just for this purpose. Using their own micro-milling equipment, they create sugary delicacies and inform the public of the sugar cane industry and its processes.
After being cut down for harvest, a sugarcane stalk will reshoot itself for up to five years. Then the farmer must plow the field and replant by burying six inch cuts of mature cane called billets. The cane grows into 2-4 meter stalks of tall grass and matures after 12-16 months. Harvesting is June through November and the seasonal vocation employs more than 16,000 people from growers and harvesters to millers and transporters.
Upon being harvested, the cane is delivered to the mills within an astonishing 16 hours, via a 4,000 km network of narrow-gauge railway or via highway transport. Time is of the essence as the sugar begins evaporating almost immediately after being harvested.
Arriving at the mill, it is chopped, shredded and crushed, separating the plant fiber, or bagasse, from the liquid sugar.
Burning the bagasse to power the mills, sugarcane is the only crop in the world which provides its own fossil fuels. The excess fifty percent of the electricity produced during burning, is exported.
The sugarcane juice is then clarified to remove soil and other impurities, boiled to remove excess water, and thickened into syrup. The liquid is seeded with tiny raw sugar crystals, causing the liquid to crystalize. The crystals are separated from the molasses using a centrifugal machine similar to the spin cycle in a clothes washer.
The final drying process produces raw sugar which awaits export in large warehouses. (Note: This is not the raw sugar you purchase in the grocery store. A further refining process takes place in the country which receives the exported sugar.)
The molasses, removed in the refining process, is bottled and sold, or used to make alcohol and ethanol.
Other products created using the by products from sugar are: paper, plastic, pharmeceuticals, fuel and clothing, fertilizer for cane farms and gardens.
After having our brains stuffed with knowledge at the Sarina Sugar Shed, the best was yet to come: samples! Sauces and chutneys, relishes and marinades. While the adults partook in several different types of alcoholic selections crafted at the facility, the kids enjoyed fairy floss (aka: cotton candy). Okay, so I opted for the fairy floss, too!