Sugar beet is a plant.
Its root contains a high concentration of sucrose second only to sugarcane as the major source of the world’s sugar.
Sugar is typically colorless or white when pure, and is commonly used to sweeten foods and beverages.
It is one of the world’s oldest documented commodities.
The sugar beet was grown as a garden vegetable and for fodder long before it was valued for its sugar content.
Sugar was produced experimentally from beets in Germany in 1747 by chemist Andreas Marggraf, but the first beet-sugar factory was built in 1802 in Silesia (now in Poland).
Napoleon became interested in the process in 1811 because the British blockade had cut off the French Empire’s raw cane sugar supply from the West Indies. Under his influence 40 sugar beet
factories were established in France.
By 1840, about 5% of the world’s sugar was derived from sugar beets, and by 1880, this number had risen more than tenfold to over 50%.
The sugar beet was introduced to North America after 1830, with the first commercial production starting in 1879 at a farm in Alvarado, California.
The sugar beet has long been grown as a summer crop in relatively cool parts of the temperate zones of the world. More recently it has been grown as a winter crop in the warm regions of the temperate zones, including parts of South America, Africa, the Middle East, and southern Europe.
Sugar beets are grown from seed and can be sown in various soils ranging from sandy loam to heavy clay. The seedbed is prepared by deep plowing after the preceding crop is harvested.
An ideal soil is loam rich in humus, deep and homogeneous, having appropriate adhesion and mild moisture-holding capacity.
The growing period from sowing to harvesting is 170–200 days.
Sugar is formed by photosynthesis in the leaves and is then stored in the root.
Sugar beet foliage has a rich, brilliant green color and grows to a height of about 35 cm (14 in). The leaves are numerous and broad and grow in a tuft from the crown of the beet, which is usually
level with or just above the ground surface.
The sugar beet has a conical, white, fleshy root (a taproot) with a flat crown.
The average weight of a sugar beet ranges between 0.5 and 1 kg (1.1 and 2.2 lb).
The root of the beet contains 75% water, about 20% sugar, and 5% pulp. The exact sugar content can vary between 12% and 21% sugar, depending on the cultivar and growing conditions.
Sugar is the primary value of sugar beet as a cash crop. The pulp, insoluble in water and mainly composed of cellulose, hemicellulose, lignin, and pectin, is used in animal feed. The byproducts of
the sugar beet crop, such as pulp and molasses, add another 10% to the value of the harvest.
Sugar beet harvesting usually starts in late September or early October for summer crops and is performed rapidly so as to finish before the soil freezes.
Today, sugar beets are grown in almost all temperate areas of the world.
Sugar beets are grown in North America from southern Canada to Mexico at elevations ranging from sea level to near 2,100 meters (7,000 feet). Sugar beet production in the Great Plains region accounts for more than 64 percent of the United States total.
Sugar beet now accounts for almost all sugar production in the European Union and for about one-fifth of total world production.
The biggest producers of sugar beet are the European Union, the United States and Russia.
Together with other beet cultivars, such as beetroot and chard, it belongs to the subspecies Beta vulgaris subsp. vulgaris.
Its closest wild relative is the sea beet.
Sugar beets can be consumed raw when young and are grated and sliced into green salads. The roots can also be used when mature, but the flesh must be cooked to develop a softer texture, primarily utilized in boiled, sautéed, and roasted applications.
In a number of countries, notably the Czech Republic and Slovakia, beet sugar is used to make a rum-like distilled spirit called Tuzemak.
The average person consumes about 24 kilograms (53 lb) of sugar each year, or 33.1 kilograms (73 lb) in developed countries, equivalent to over 260 food calories per day.