How Redpath refines a shipload of raw sugar

How Redpath refines a shipload of raw sugar

Last year, dozens of ships delivered two million tonnes of cargo to the port of Toronto. Of that, more than half was raw sugar received by the Redpath Sugar plant. In operation since 1959, the plant employs 250 people and refines about 2,000 tonnes of sugar 24 hours a day, seven days a week. From the inside, the whole operation smells delicious, like toasted cotton candy. (Outside, it’s a little more unpleasant.) Redpath has seen Toronto’s waterfront undergo a lot of changes in recent years with encroaching development presenting a new array of challenges—across the street, the iconic Guvernment has already been dismantled to make way for condos. But as Redpath’s president Jonathan Bamberger says, “We were the first to get here and hopefully the last to leave.” Here’s how Redpath turns the raw stuff into white gold.

(Image: Giordano Ciampini) (Image: Giordano Ciampini)
 

The raw sugar arrives by ship and takes up to four days to be unloaded. “It’s enough to keep us in sugar for about 10 days,” says Redpath president Jonathan Bamberger. The Tundra travelled from Brazil and was the first ocean vessel to come into Toronto’s port this season.

(Image: Giordano Ciampini) (Image: Giordano Ciampini)
 

A crane unloads the ship’s sweet cargo.

(Image: Giordano Ciampini) (Image: Giordano Ciampini)
 

It’s then dropped into the appropriately named raw sugar shed.

(Image: Giordano Ciampini) (Image: Giordano Ciampini)
 

But first, it’s funnelled through a mesh grate.

(Image: Giordano Ciampini) (Image: Giordano Ciampini)
 

The raw sugar shed is the length of two football fields on Redpath’s 10-and-a-half acre site and can fit 16,000 tonnes of unrefined cane sugar. Excavators break up and smooth the sugar to every corner of the shed.

(Image: Giordano Ciampini) (Image: Giordano Ciampini)
 

Conveyors move sugar from the storage shed to silos. Backhoes help shove the pile onto a conveyor belt, while holes underneath let sugar fall through so that the belt can transfer it to the processing facility.

(Image: Giordano Ciampini) (Image: Giordano Ciampini)
 

After the raw sugar has been cleaned and fine-filtered to remove impurities (that can include bugs and birds), the remaining syrup is boiled in sugar pans until an employee blessed with the job title of “master sugar boiler” decides that conditions are right for sugar crystals to grow. “We pour syrup in, boil it very gently, and the water evaporates. It gets more concentrated and the crystals start to grow,” explains refinery manager George Carter.

(Image: Giordano Ciampini) (Image: Giordano Ciampini)
 

To help get crystals forming, very fine sugar dust is added. “If you keep boiling sugar, eventually it’s going to thicken up and crystallize. We do that at a lower temperature so the crystals don’t dissolve,” explains Carter.

(Image: Giordano Ciampini) (Image: Giordano Ciampini)
 

The resulting mixture of sugar crystals and liquid is spun in a centrifuge to separate the two.

(Image: Giordano Ciampini) (Image: Giordano Ciampini)
 

The still-brown sugar will start to turn white as the syrup is squeezed out through the holes of a stainless steel screen. After a few seconds, a spray of water will bring out more of the sugar’s whiteness. Then, the centrifuge will spin-dry the sugar as much as possible—it can spin upwards of 1,100 times per minute. “Then it will stop, go backwards, and a knife will come in and cut off the sugar,” explains Carter.

(Image: Giordano Ciampini) (Image: Giordano Ciampini)
 

The crystals are then given a final dry with hot air before being packed. They go through a spinning tube, and as the sugar falls, hot air is blown through it. Then it’s ready for packaging.

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Redpath does all of its packaging on site, from the tiny packets that sweeten coffee to one-tonne “tote bags” used by major food manufacturers. The company also produces icing and liquid sugars. Here, packaged dry sugar is piled high on skids.

(Image: Giordano Ciampini) (Image: Giordano Ciampini)
 

Some of the one-tonne “tote bags.”

(Image: Giordano Ciampini) (Image: Giordano Ciampini)
 

A worker loads a tote onto a truck.

(Image: Giordano Ciampini) (Image: Giordano Ciampini)
 

About 20 liquid sugar trucks, 30 bulk trucks carrying dry bulk sugar and 90 packaged-goods trucks set out each day to customers within a two-hour radius of Toronto. This truck here is filled with 6,000 gallons of liquid sugar.