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Can’t Beet This

I suppose that on Thanksgiving Eve I should have a post concerning the holiday, but I don’t have anything apropos. Although my wife is really enjoying using the sweet potatoes I grew, for her sweet potato and carrot puree.

Instead, I’m talking sugar beets, one of my vegetable experiments this year. Sugar beets are generally not eaten by people, but rather used as animal feed. However, they do have even more sugar in them than regular beets and are used to produce sugar, as an alternative to sugar cane. Since we can’t grow sugar cane around here, I thought it would fun to grow sugar beets and see if I could make my own sugar.

Sugar Beets

Sugar Beets

A couple of weeks ago I harvested my entire crop of sugar beets. I made sure not to harvest them until there had been a number of frosts because sugar beets, like many other cold-season veggies, concentrate sugar in the plant after there are frosts. I harvested about 23 lbs. You can see that sugar beets are much larger than ordinary beets (at least when they have enough room to grow-I planted mine a bit to close together) and white, as opposed to the various colors that ordinary beets come in.

Large Sugar Beet

Using the recipe below, I made slightly more than a quart of sugar beet syrup. The recipe claims that the syrup should crystallize, like ordinary table sugar, but I think I just wasn’t brave enough to boil the syrup far enough down to have that happen. So what I’ve got is something about the thickness of maple syrup and, it has a distinct taste, though it’s a different taste than maple syrup.

I placed the syrup in my fridge and will use it in assorted recipes, as I would maple or apple cider syrup. I’ll let you know how they come out.

Making Sugar from Sugar Beets

1) Wash and scrub the beets to remove any dirt or residue.

2) Place a ½ gallon of water in a large pot. Chop small or shred the beets with a food processor and place in pot. Add more water as needed. Be careful to add just enough water to cover the beets (this will save time later when you need to boil down the syrup).

3) Cook until the beets are soft (1-2 hrs).

4) Strain the beets, reserving the juice.

5) Put the juice back on the stove and let it simmer until it reaches a thick, syrupy consistency. Stir occasionally, more frequently as the syrup gets thicker. Also turn down the heat as the syrup thickens. The syrup should be similar in thickness to honey or corn syrup.

6) Remove from heat and let cool. As the syrup cools it will begin to crystallize. Cover with a dishtowel or cheesecloth and let sit overnight.

7) Remove the crystallized beet sugar from the pan. Pound or otherwise break into small sugar crystals. If the syrup does not crystallize, place it in a tightly closed jar and refrigerate it.


You’ll need to cut the beets into chunks to get them in the food processor.

I tasted the beets after I strained them and they still seemed pretty sweet so next time I’m going to boil them a second time and see if I can get more sugar out of them.

3 Responses to “Can’t Beet This”

  1. Jay says:

    Are you the person who called me a couple of days ago?

  2. Really interesting! You have answered a couple of questions I had. I understand that the leftover pulp generated at sugar-extraction plants is used as animal feed, as it’s still pretty nutritious. If you have no livestock which would eat it, I’m sure you could compost it. You said it’s higher in sugar than ordinary red beets–how does it taste in comparison? Where do you get seed for sugar beets? Thanks for your fascinating and educational blog!

  3. Jay says:

    I have to say that sugar beets are not especially tasty. They are more woody and fibrous than ordinary eating beets. I did compost the remains of the beets after the sugar extraction. I got my sugar beets seeds from a local seed company called the Hudson Valley Seed Library, but I don’t think they’re especially hard to get.

    Thanks for you compliments on my blog. Hope your garden is doing well

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