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What is Sugar Cane?

Malcolm Tatum
Updated May 16, 2024
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Sugar cane is a tall and relatively strong class of perennial grasses that are known to have a high sugar content. Strictly speaking, there is not a single plant that is known as sugar cane. Instead, there are as many as thirty-seven different grasses that are sometimes considered to be part of this particular cane family. Many of these grasses can be crossbred, thus creating hybrids that can adapt to various types of climate conditions.

The various sugar canes are native to tropical locations around the world. Africa, South America, parts of Asia, and India are examples of some of the areas where one or more types of canes are cultivated, grown, and harvested. Just under two hundred different countries around the world are involved in the production of the canes and various cane sugar products of some type.

The varying types of sugar products made from sugar cane cover a wide range. Along with basic sugar used in different recipes, commercial enterprises can make use of the sugar to create molasses, sodas and other soft drink products, rum, and a variety of sweeteners that are used to slightly flavor frozen foods. The raw sugars can also be used in the manufacturing of hard candies and other confections that may be stored at room temperature for extended periods of time.

Sugar is not the only product of the cane that is used in the production of various products. Both the pulp and the outer portions of the stalk can be utilized in the creation of woven furniture, cardboard and other paper products, and disposable eating utensils. Sections of the cane husk can also be utilized to generate heat by burning them in furnaces. The husks can be burned alone or mixed with other substances such as coal or wood.

While preparation processes vary slightly, extraction of the sugar from sugar cane usually involves two basic steps. First, the sucrose is removed from the cellulose within the cane itself. This leaves the basic raw sugar. The second step involves running the raw sugar through a refining process, producing sugar products such as granulated or powdered sugar. At the same time, the husks can be carried away for use in the creation of other products.

While it is somewhat difficult to determine exactly when and where the first extractions of sugar from sugar cane took place, many experts believe the practice originated somewhere in modern day Asia. There appears to be evidence that processed sugar crystals can be traced as far back as five thousand years, although the use of sugar cane as both food and raw materials for other products is thought to have originated well before that time.

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Malcolm Tatum
By Malcolm Tatum
Malcolm Tatum, a former teleconferencing industry professional, followed his passion for trivia, research, and writing to become a full-time freelance writer. He has contributed articles to a variety of print and online publications, including DelightedCooking, and his work has also been featured in poetry collections, devotional anthologies, and newspapers. When not writing, Malcolm enjoys collecting vinyl records, following minor league baseball, and cycling.
Discussion Comments
By upnorth31 — On Feb 19, 2011

Sugar cane sounds like a very versatile plant. I thought that you could only make sugar from it. I had no idea it could be used to make things like paper and plastic utensils.

I'm very curious about what scent it puts off when burned. I bet it's a lot different than the smell of burning wood.

By roxytalks — On Feb 18, 2011

I didn't realize that sugar cane is actually a kind of grass. If it can be woven together to make furniture, it must be a pretty big grass! A lot different than the grass that covers our lawns!

Malcolm Tatum
Malcolm Tatum
Malcolm Tatum, a former teleconferencing industry professional, followed his passion for trivia, research, and writing...
Learn more
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