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Table sugar or sucrose is extracted from plant sources. The most important two sugar crops are sugarcane (Saccharum spp.) and sugar beets (Beta vulgaris), in which sugar can account for 12%—20% of the plant's dry weight. Some minor commercial sugar crops include the date palm (Phoenix dactylifera), sorghum (Sorghum vulgare), and the sugar maple (Acer saccharum). In the financial year 2001/2002, 134.1 million tonnes of sugar were produced worldwide.
The major cane sugar producing countries are countries with warm climates, such as Australia, Brazil, and Thailand. In 2001/2002 there was over twice as much sugar produced in developing countries as in developed countries. The greatest quantity of sugar is produced in Latin America and the Caribbean nations, and in the Far East.
There is a number of types of sugar.
Raw sugars are yellow to brown sugars made from clarified cane juice, boiled down to a crystalline solid with minimal chemical processing. Types of raw sugar available as a specialty item outside the tropics include demerara, muscovado, and turbinado. Mauritius and Malawi are significant exporters of such specialty sugars. Raw sugar is sometimes prepared as loaves rather than as a crystalline powder: in this technique, sugar and molasses are poured together into molds and allowed to dry. The resulting sugar cakes or loaves are called jaggery or gur in India, pingbian tong in China, and panela, panocha, pile, and piloncillo in various parts of Latin America.
Mill white sugar, also called plantation white, crystal sugar, or superior sugar, is raw sugar whose colored impurities have not been removed, but rather bleached white by exposure to sulfur dioxide. This is the most common form of sugar in sugarcane growing areas, but does not store or ship well; after a few weeks, its impurities tend to promote discoloration and clumping.
Blanco directo is a white sugar common in India and other south Asian countries. In producing blanco directo, many impurities are precipitated out of the cane juice by using phosphatation a treatment with phosphoric acid and calcium hydroxide similar to the carbonatation technique used in beet sugar refining. In terms of sucrose purity, blanco directo is more pure than mill white, but less pure than white refined sugar.
White refined sugar is the most common form of sugar in North America and Europe. Refined sugar can be made by dissolving raw sugar and purifying it with a phosphoric acid method similar to that used for blanco directo, a carbonatation process involving calcium hydroxide and carbon dioxide, or by various filtration strategies. It is then further decolorized by filtration through a bed of activated carbon or bone char depending on where the processing takes place. The use of bone char is an issue for vegans when avoiding all use of animal products. Beet sugar refineries produce refined white sugar directly without an intermediate raw stage. White refined sugar is typically sold as granulated sugar, which has been dried to prevent clumping.
Brown sugars are obtained in the late stages of sugar refining (stopping the refinement before sugar becomes white and free of molasses), or by coating white refined sugar with a cane molasses syrup. Their color and taste become stronger with increasing molasses content, as does their moisture retaining properties. They are also prone to hardening if exposed to the atmosphere although this is reversible.
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