Sugar factory in Konya receives 40 tons of sugar beets everyday
WILCO VAN HERPEN
Big trucks, loaded with sugar beets, drive through the entrance gate of the sugar factory in Konya everyday.The factory I went to was not just an ordinary factory; this was a high tech factory that is not only an example for Turkey but for a lot of countries in the world. During the sugar beet campaign, every day 40,000 tons of sugar beets arrive here. To make it easier, imagine the average weight of a person is, let’s say 70 kilograms. That would make about 571,000 people walking through the gates of the factory every day and this for a period of one and a half months.
Standing in front of the gate of Konya’s sugar factory, you do not understand the immense size, let alone the production of the capacity of this factory. But if you are patient and wait for a while you understand what it is. Nonstop big trucks, loaded with sugar beets, drive through the entrance gate. The tractors that enter through the same gate look tiny compared to the trucks…but with at least three or four (and sometimes even five) trailers, pulled by one tractor it suddenly resembles a locomotive. The only examples I have seen of big trucks pulling numerous trailers were in America, Canada and Australia. But here I am on the Anatolian planes and I see a similar picture.
I decided to follow one of those tractor’s routes and see what exactly is happening with the sugar beets. At the entrance, the driver took a number and from this moment the trailer’s was followed step by step. In the past, the farmer had to fill out numerous documents pertaining to the load, but now the computer does it automatically. Before dumping the sugar beets, there are two checkpoints at which the driver has to stop. One is the place where they weigh the trailers and the second one is a quality control point.
The farmer does not have to get off his tractor; a long metal pipe takes a couple of sugar beets and drops them in a huge basket. This basket leads to the laboratory where the beets are grinded. For the farmer, this is one of the most important checkpoints because this is where they check the percentage of sugar his beets contain. This together, with the weight of the load is the farmer’s income.
The next step is where I fell in love with the factory. A place much bigger than the area of the Aya Sophia and the Blue Mosque put together opened up in front of my eyes. Wherever I looked I saw cars, trucks and tractors driving around. It was as if there was no order in this chaos. Looking at the whole situation for more than 15 minutes, I discovered that there is a system. Everything has a route; The cars that have a trailer’s body and can move go to a certain place and the ones that cannot move park near a machine that looks like a tow truck. This vehicle, though, is a bit different. A big truck comes, drives on the machine and then, very slowly, the floor of the machine moves up on one side. Finally, it is as if the car is being parked on a very steep hill slope. One by one, the sugar beets fall on a band that leads them to the top of one of the many large sugar beet mountains. I tried to climb one of those mountains just to experience how big they are. Walking on them is not an easy thing to do. The beets constantly move under the pressure of your feet and many times it felt as if I would fall down the mountain. On top of the sugar beet mountain, I saw a beautiful overview of what is happening. I could see a driver who did not feel like leaving his car. With the car almost vertical up in the air, he hangs out of the car and chats with some friends who are under him. Finally the car is empty and he drives the car, turns around and is, once again, on his way to pick up another load of sugar beets.
Time for procession
Most of the beets, as soon as they are unloaded, directly go into the factory to be processed. A long treadmill transports all of the beets into the factory. That is where they are washed, turned into giant chip flakes and go into a machine that boils them and extracts the sugar. I have never seen such an “empty” factory. A handful of people are in charge of processing all those millions of kilos of sugar.
Huge tanks in which the syrup is boiled and dried stand in an immensely big hall. In just one big hall, all this work takes place. In another building, the sugar is pressed into sugar cubes; long rows of sugar cubes are sucked up and put into cardboard boxes.
It was in front of the sugar beet hills that I decided to make my sugar beet food for my cooking program. This time, I want to make food like my grandmother made during the hunger winter of 1945; a stew made from sugar beets with onion, hot pepper, apple and league. I did not know how sugary a sugar beet is or how long it takes to cook it but I tried. One hour later, a beautiful looking dish is ready but how is the taste? I tried the dish and was happily surprised. It was tasty, sweet… and very spicy.
Perfect as a vegetable dish next to a nice plate of game like deer or wild boar. If you ever manage to find a fresh sugar beet and you want to impress your guests I recommend this dish. I bet nobody will guess that they are eating sugar beet and once they find out you will receive compliments about how beautiful the food was. Sugar beets, how unfortunate, do have a serious image problem. You do not make food out it; all we do is use it for sugar. For me, that is such a pity because the sugar beet deserves much more than that…