IFST's South East Branch visit to Tate & Lyle Sugar Refinery

On a rainy May afternoon the SE IFST Branch organised a visit to Tate & Lyle's Thames sugar refinery - which rises on the river bank just in front of London City Airport. This beautiful site has housed a refinery for 130 years. This is the largest in Europe and one of the largest in the world.

Quality manager Katie Carter and several members of staff gave us an overview on sugar refining and then took us around the facilities, including a visit to their packaging lines and NPD Kitchen.

T&L refinery is now owned by ASR Group (American Sugar Refiners) and exclusively works with sugar cane products. Sugar cane processing is a year-round operation, so ASR sources all over the globe for this sweet crop, depending on the harvesting season.

Sugar cane is pressed where it is grown within 24hrs of harvesting, the juice extracted, boiled and spun to create raw or demerara sugar. This gets loaded on a ship and travels to London for further refining. Ships carry 7k to 40 k tons of sugar. It can take weeks to offload it!

Unlike beet sugar, the cane sugar refining & whitening processes creates a variety of valuable byproducts, such as Molasses (Black Treacle) and the famous Tate & Lyle's Golden Syrup. Tate & Lyle harvests the byproducts  at different stages during refining. The syrups are sometimes further processed into added value products, such as flavoured syrups for coffee, invert syrup for ice cream and flavoured granulated spun sugars for the food industry.

The South East Branch of Institute of Food Science and Technology would like to thank ASR's staff, in particular those that acted as guides, for a wonderful afternoon visit.

Fun Facts: Did you know?

  • Tate & Lyle refinery still makes their own tin on site for Golden Syrup.
  • The Thames Refinery is the largest refinery in EU & one of biggest world. However, it is running at half capacity becuse of EU taxes on sugar imports.
  • White sugar is "less processed" than brown. To make brown sugar, raw sugar is first whitened, then molasses is added to it in varying proportions (Dark brown, Soft Brown, etc).
  • Molasses from sugar beet refining is quite bitter, so brown sugar from beet has Cane molasses added to it.