Sugarcane Cultivation And Sugar Cane Uses
About the sugar cane
If you have ever been to Jamaica you probably have enjoyed this wonderful treat. If you haven't, make sure you do the next time you visit.
The sugarcane or sugar cane is a member of the grass family. The grass plant likes the tropics or warm climates. It somewhat has an appearance like bamboo with joints. But whereas the bamboo is hollow the sugar cane isn't and has a juicy fiber under the skin.
The skin of the sugar cane is hard and even though many Jamaicans peel the cane using their teeth it is recommended to use a knife or machete to do so.
The fiber or of the sugarcane cannot be eaten or swallowed and the fibers are very hardy or rough. They are not soluble at all. The sugar cane is usually enjoyed by chewing to extract the juices then discarding the fibers or as we say "thrash".
In some cases a cane juice extractor is used. This contraption is usually made by locals for squeezing the juice from the fibers thus getting the sweet liquid to enjoy over ice.
There are several types of 'cane' as we call them in Jamaica, as a matter of fact there might be over 30 species of canes and the sugarcane is just one of them. Actually, the sugar cane is the one that is grown specifically for the purposes of making sugar, rum and ethanol. If you noticed I use the spellings interchangeably because both spellings are used: sugarcane and sugar cane.
Here are some of the types of "cane" we have in Jamaica:
- Sugar cane
- Ribbon cane
- Black cane
- Craw fish cane
- and a few more that I don't quite know the names of.
The different kinds of cane has to do with the colour of the skin, it's pattern, the texture of the fibers and the taste of the juice.
The type known as sugarcane is the one most people are familiar with so they will call any cane sugarcane but the other types of canes are not used to make sugar. These are used for domestic purposes only like eating/chewing or to make syrup.
How Sugar Cane is Cultivated
The sugarcane can be grown on almost any soil but the sugar cane loves temperate or warm climates, however, a minimum of about 24 inches of rainfall per year is required. The sugar cane loves a lot of water and sun.
The land is usually cleared, then ploughed and the baby canes are planted in rows. This can be done on flatlands or hillsides. The root of the sugarcane is sturdy and helps to prevent erosion. The sugarcane is usually reproduced from the harvest even though they can produce seeds, meaning that each cane that is harvested must contain at least one bud so that it can be replanted to produce another.
This plant is one of the lowest maintenance crops around. The only maintenance that might be needed is water via way of irrigation or rainfall. Farmers must make sure the soil is ready for the cane but most of the nutrients do not come from the soil but the sun. This plant is one of the highest photosynthesizers around. It is able to capture the energy of the sun and put it to good use.
It takes about a year or year and a half to mature where it can be harvested. At this time the field is set on fire to reduce the bushiness, dry leaves, kills dangerous pests like snakes, rats and any other pests that might have taken up residence in the field or root of the canes. It is now easier for the harvesters to cut through the field. In some countries a mechanical harvester is used and even a mechanical planter.
The sugarcane begins to lose its sugar content after being cut so must be taken to be processed as soon as possible.
Even though the plant is grown for commercial purposes many people will have a patch of cane in their yards. For instance, I just went over to my own house ( I live with my partner), next door, and just got a cane from the garden and took some pictures. You will find this happening right across the island.
Countries that grow sugar cane for making sugar
Jamaica was one of the leading sugarcane growers in the Caribbean but in the 1990s the crop fell and some sugar plantations and mills were closed. We started importing sugar. Recently some of these plantations were re-open and talks of re-opening some of the mills have been ongoing.
These are the countries that grow the most sugar cane:
The sugar making process
After being cut a machine will gather the sugar cane then take it to the processing plant or sugar factory. The sugar cane is then taken through the washing machine where it is thoroughly cleansed. It then goes through another machine where the juice is extracted.
The trash or remaining fiber of the cane is reserved to be used for several purposes such as:
- mulch for farmers
- to make paper
- to make panel boards
- to make cardboards or paper boards
- for fuel
- other purposes
The sugar making process is a very complicated one. In olden days it was just boiling the sugar in a very large pot then drying to make crystals but now there are different processes involved.
A mill extracts the raw sugar from the cane then bleaches it to make what is sometimes called "mill white" sugar. The refinery processes the raw sugar to make a refined white sugar. Now the two processes are merging because there have been a demand for refined sugar and refined sugar products.
The refining of the sugar is another long process where it is then mixed with a heavy syrup then washed to remove the outer impure layer. The sugar is then dissolved into a syrup then a combination of calcium hydroxide and phosphoric acid is added. The impurities will then float to the top of the sugar where they are skimmed off. After a long process the sugar is then dried by heating then blow drying with cool air for several days to make granulated sugar.
Other purposes of the sugar cane
- The sugar cane is used in the processing of ethanol which is an alternative to gasoline
- The Jamaican Rum is also made from sugar cane which is made via a distillation process
- To eat. The cane is chewed and the juice extracted while eating...please do not swallow fiber.
- Rock candy made from crystallized cane juice
- Cane juice is the juice extract from the sugarcane
- The fibers are used as fuel, mulch and the producion of paper and panel boards
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