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What is Sugar Cane?

Lightly processed sugar from sugar cane.
A soft drink containing sugar from sugar cane.
Stalks of sugar cane.
Donuts topped with confectioner's sugar made from sugar cane.
Sugar cubes made from sugar cane.
A person sifting powdered sugar made from sugar cane.
Article Details
  • Written By: Malcolm Tatum
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 12 July 2014
  • Copyright Protected:
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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.

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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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Discuss this Article

upnorth31
Post 2

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.

roxytalks
Post 1

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!

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