Sugar Cane
Resources > Food > Spices > Sweet Spices > Sugar Cane

Are you a Smart Kitchen™ Chef?

Try it FREE or take a TOUR to explore Smart Kitchen!
+ -

 

Sugarcane (Saccharum spp.) is a giant perennial grass, native to South East Asia, that grows in tropical and sub-tropical climates because it does not tolerate frost. Sugar Cane is harvested for the Sugar (Sucrose) stored in their stems.

Conventional wisdom in the field posits that Sugarcane was first domesticated as in New Guinea around 8,000 B.C., where it was likely consumed as juice or from the stalk. The Sugar Cane species native to New Guinea are S. edule and S. officinarum, the latter species, S. officinarum, and its hybrids account for roughly 70% of the world’s Sugar crop.

The S. barberi species originates in India where crystallized Sugar was first noted around 3,000 B.C. The local Indian people called the sweet, granulated powder “saccharum.” By about 500 BC, ancient Indians were making sugar syrup and cooling it in large flat bowls to make raw sugar crystals that were easier to store and transport. These sugar crystals were called “khanda” in the local language which is the root for our modern word “Candy.”

Alexander the Great’s army found the people of the Indian sub-continent already growing and refining sugar when they halted their eastward march on the banks of Indus river around 327 B.C. Macedonian soldiers carried the "honey bearing reeds" with them on their return home.

The crop remained hard to grow and therefore scarce for a thousand years or more. As the agricultural knowledge about growing Sugar Cane expanded, Arab Traders introduced Sugar Cane from India and South Asia to the Mediterranean, Mesopotamia, Egypt, North Africa, Andalusia and other regions of the Abbasid Caliphate around the eighth century A.D.  A hundred years later, there wasn’t a village in Mesopotamia that didn’t grow Sugarcane.

The merchant city of Venice became the corner stone of the Sugar trade between the Arab world and Europe, where Sugar was originally used medicinally. It was considered a "cure-all" that was good for ailments of the blood, stomach, lungs, even melancholy. Only after the Crusades, when European nobility acquired a “Sweet Tooth,” did Sugar become a common place sweetener. 

In 1506, 14 years after Columbus’ maiden voyage, the Spanish began transplanting Sugarcane from their Canary Islands possessions to their new fields on Hispaniola (Haiti & Dominican Republic today) in the West Indies. The Portuguese first transplanted Madeiran Sugar Cane to Brazil in 1532. Sugar production became a major agricultural business.

In colonial times, Sugar formed one side of the triangular trade of New World raw materials, for European manufactured goods, and African slaves. Sugar (often in the form of molasses) was exported from the Caribbean to New England or Europe, where it was distilled into rum. The proceeds from the sugar sales were then used to buy more sophisticated manufactured goods, which were then brought to West Africa to be bartered for slaves. The final leg of the triangle was to bring the new slaves to the Caribbean where they were auctioned off to the Sugar plantations. Profits from the slave auction were then sunk into more Sugar and the triangle trade started all over again.

The Sugar production was so profitable that at the end of the 7 Years War, France negotiated away its portion of Canada (its "few acres of snow"), to England in exchange for the return of Guadeloupe, Martinique and St. Lucia. Similarly, The Dutch chose to retain Suriname, a sugar colony in South America, over the securing the return of New Amsterdam (New York).

When slavery ended, Sugar Planters turned to Indentured Labor from China and India which lead to a large influx of Southeast Asians and ethnic Chinese into Sugar Cane country, so much so that in some islands and countries, South Asian migrants now constitute between 10 to 50 percent of the population. Asian ethnic groups and Sugar Cane continue to thrive in regions / countries such as Fiji, Natal, Hawaii, Burma, Ceylon, Malaysia, British Guiana, Jamaica, Trinidad, Martinique, French Guiana, Guadeloupe, Grenada, St. Lucia, St. Vincent, St. Kitts, St. Croix, Suriname, Nevis and Mauritius. Sugarcane is also still an important economic sector in Belize, Barbados, Haiti, and the Dominican Republic.

As production and trade increased Sugar went from being a luxury of the nobility to a product available to the masses.

Availability

Sugar Cane is available all year long.

Cultivation

Sugarcane is one of the most efficient photosynthesizers in the plant kingdom, able to convert up to 1% of incident solar energy to biomass.  When harvested, Sugar Cane is 12% to 20% Sucrose by dry weight. Eighty percent of the world’s Sugar is sourced from Sugar Cane which is the world’s largest crop.

To thrive, Sugar Cane needs a frost-free climate with sufficient rainfall during the growing season. Sugar Cane requires four times more water to farm than Sugar Beets need.

Sugar Cane can be grown from Seeds but modern stem cutting is much more efficient and more common. Sugarcane is harvested mechanically and by hand. Mechanical harvesting uses a combine, or sugarcane harvester to reap the Sugar Cane stalks.

Production

Today most of the Earth’s Sugar Cane is grown between 22°S and 22°N (and some as far as 33°S and 33°N) because growing Sugarcane requires a tropical or temperate climate with a lot of sunshine, with a minimum of 24 inches (60 cm) of annual moisture. With sunshine, water and warmth, Sugar Cane can grow for a continuous period of more than six to seven months each year.

As mentioned Sugar Cane is the world’s largest crop with an annual yield of 1.69 billion tons. Brazil is the top producer of Sugar Cane. India, China, Thailand, Pakistan and Mexico are, in descending order, the next 5 largest producers.

Almost half of Sugar Cane production is hand harvested, especially in the developing world. In hand harvesting, the Sugar Cane field is set on fire so that the flames, which don’t harm the cane stalks or roots, can burn the dry leaves, and chase away or kill any snakes. Workers, who can bring in 1,100 pounds (550 kg) an hour, then harvest the cane by cutting it close to the ground with cane knives or machetes.

Processing

Sucrose is extracted from Sugar Cane by washing and slicing and then crushing or pressing the harvested crop. The raw sugar juice that results has Milk of Lime added to it and then the juice is carbonated in stages, for purification.

To get the Sucrose separated from the raw juice, the Syrup is Boiled so that the Water evaporates. Next, the syrup is cooled and seeded with Sugar Crystals to encourage further crystal growth. The next step is to separate the Sugar Crystals from the Syrup. A centrifuge is used to separate the brown Sugar Cane Sugar crystals from the liquid. Once separated from the liquid, which is now called Molasses, the Sugar crystals will have a sticky brown coating. They can either be used as is or further processed. Further processing can include bleaching the Sugar Crystals with sulphur dioxide or treated in a carbonatation process to produce a whiter product.

Devoid of valuable Sugar Crystals, the Molasses from Sugar Cane is either packaged for human consumption, animal feed or for fermentation feed stock for distilleries. Molasses from Sugar Cane does make a good commercial food product.

Other than sugar, non-culinary products derived from sugarcane include bagasse and ethanol. In some regions, people use sugarcane reeds to make pens, mats, screens, and thatch.

Culinary Uses

Sugar Cane can be used either directly, lightly processed or more fully processed.

Some foods that are derived directly from Sugarcane include: Raw Sugarcane (chewed for its juice) and Sayur nganten (an Indonesian soup made with the Sugar Cans Stalk).

Lightly processed Sugar Cane products include: Sugar Cane Juice (extracted by crushing or pressing by hand or with a small mill or press), Sugar Cane Syrup, and Molasses.

More highly processed Sugar Cane products include: SugarGranulated SugarBrown SugarPowdered SugarSanding SugarDemarara SugarJaggeryPanelaRapadura and Rock Candy.

Many Sugar producers claim that there is no difference between Sugar Cane Sugar and Beet Sugar, but many bakers prefer Sugar Cane Sugar because they are suspicious of Beet Sugar, especially Brown Beet Sugar. Rely on labeling if you develop a preference for Sugar Cane Sugar as it is almost impossible to determine which is which with the eyes or taste buds. It requires chemical analysis to be certain. Luckily, most brands selling pure Sugar Cane Sugar trumpet the claim on their labels.

Sugar Cane can also be processed and then distilled into alcoholic beverages such as Rum, CaciqueFalernumGuaro, or Cachaça.

Portion Size

Allow 1-2 t of Sugar Cane per person.

Pairings

Basil, Cloves, Almonds, Brazil Nuts, Cashews, Macadamia Nuts, Pecans, Peanuts, Walnuts, Beets, Carrots, Corn, Daikon, Garlic, Ginger, Jicama, Onions, Parsnips, PeppersPotatoes, Pumpkin, Squash, Tomatoes, Apricots, Bananas, Berries, Cherries, Currants, Dates, Figs, Grapes, Lemons, Limes, Mangoes, Melons, Oranges, Nectarines, Papaya, Peaches, Pears, Persimmons, Pineapple, Plums, Barley, WheatButter, Cream, Milk, Chicken, Duck, Crab, Lobster, Pork, Turkey, Beans, Lentils, Rice, Spirits, Wines, Vinegars, Marinades, Sauces

Nutritional Value USDA
SYRUP,CANE
Amount Per 100g
Calories 269
%Daily Value*
 
0%
Total Fat 0g
0%
Saturated Fat 0g
Polyunsaturated Fat 0g
Monounsaturated Fat 0g
0%
Cholesterol 0mg
2%
Sodium 58mg
1%
Potassium 63mg
24%
Total Carbohydrate 73g
0%
Dietary Fiber 0g
Sugars 73g
Protein 0g
* Percent Daily Values are based on a 2,000 calorie diet. Your Daily Values may be higher or lower depending on your calorie needs.
Gluten Free

Yes

Low Fat

Yes

Low Calorie

No