Barbados Pocket Guide

Sugar Factories

Portvale Sugar Factory, Blowers, St. James, Barbados Pocket Guide

Sugar Factories

The seventeenth (17th) century saw a historic introduction of the sugarcane industry to Barbados by the Dutch. As a result of this introduction, sugarcane now outweighed both tobacco and cotton with regards to being a lucrative crop. Initially, sugar was used on the island for internal purposes of feedstock, fuel and rum production but as larger plantations exported sugar, Barbados was seen through the eyes of the British as a major attraction. This new found attraction created an influx of British capitalists who came with a focus and goal of establishing Sugar Plantations on the island. This influx resulted in an increase in land prices throughout Barbados.

 

A vast majority of the plantations throughout Barbados had grinding mills which were used in the capacity of extracting and processing cane juice. Sugar was then dispatched to Britain to be refined together with molasses and rum. By the nineteenth (19th) century, the island of Barbados had just over ten (10) Sugar Factories where cane was harvested manually and subsequently loaded for transportation to sugar factories. The sugar industry in Barbados has evolved over the years as it has since become fully mechanical with the latest in technology.

 

The Sugar Grinding Process in Barbados

Making sugar requires several stages. The cans are ground to extract the juice, leaving behind the fibrous residue called bagasse, a valuable fuel and mulch. The juice is clarified with slaked lime and the resulting precipitate, termed 'mud', is washed on filters to recover any residual sugar. This filtrate and the clarified juice are concentrated by boiling and traditionally the boiling was done in large, open metal vessels called tayches. Eventually, the thick syrup produced was left to cool, causing much of it to crystallise. The resulting 'wet sugar' was then placed in wooden pr pottery containers where most of the uncrystallised liquid would drain off as molasses (which would then be used in the manufacture of RUM), leaving a dark muscovado sugar which was still quite moist. The open tayche method could still be seen in Barbados in the early twentieth century (particularly in small factories which specialised in the production of 'fancy molasses' for the North American market), but it gave way to more sophisticated methods developed in the nineteenth century which still form the basis of modern practice. In these, the syrup (now a 60% sucrose solution) is further boiled in closed vacuum pans and the sugar crystallised out and separated from the molasses by centrifugation. (Guyanese pan boilers were the masters of this, maximising sugar recovery from the final molasses, and in the first half of the last century they would be brought to the island each crop season.) This is a much more efficient process, which extracts a higher proportion of sugar from the syrup and produces a dry crystalline sugar ('yellow crystal'). Most of this is refined overseas to produce the 'white sugar' or 'granulated sugar' which is the most popular form in many markets. In the past, specialty syrups like sling were produced, especially for export, in small factories like that at Frere Pilgrim. Sling was a syrup to which acid was added during the manufacture to 'invert' some of the sucrose to its constituent sugars, glucose and fructose. Another specialty product no longer made is the dark pan sugar which formed as a hard coating on the paddles and interiors of the oscillators used in the now obsolete muscavado process.

 

The above information on the Sugar Grinding Process in Barbados was extracted from A-Z of Barbados Heritage.

 

Reduction in the Sugar Industry

The sugar industry in Barbados sustained a blow when the cost of sugar production on the island escalated and the price of sugar on the international market plummeted. This unfortunate fall-off, caused a dwindling effect in the sugar industry and  consequently the closure of numerous sugar factories.

 

To date, Barbados has two (2) sugar factories on the island. There are Portvale Sugar Factory in the parish of St. James and Andrews Sugar Factory in the parish of St. Joseph.