Do you eat sugarcane just because it is exceptionally sweet? Did you know that sugarcane juice is an excellent alternative to sports drinks? Are you aware that this industrial crop is nutritionally and medicinally essential? Whichever category you fall into, here are some interesting facts you need to know about this unique crop plant.
Sugarcane is the world’s largest produced crop that is botanically known as Saccharum officinarum Linn. It belongs to the family of Poaceae that consists of wheat, maize, sorghum, forage crops and rice. The term Saccharum originates from the Greek word “Sakcharon” and it connotes sugar especially sucrose. It is an essential perennial plant used mostly for sugar and bioenergy.
Sugarcane is originally from Asia before spreading to other parts of the world. Also known as a raw sugar cane, chewing cane or noble cane, this industrial crop is popularly cultivated for its high sucrose content, medicinal and economical purposes. It is economically used for producing bioenergy and medicinally used for treating several ailments.
The sweet distinctive taste of this crop is attributed to its high sucrose content. Interestingly, sugar from sugarcane is always in high demand because the source is natural. Furthermore, studies reveal that 70-80% of the world’s sugar is obtained from sugar cane while others come from sugar beets. According to Zhao and Li, (2015), the top 10 sugarcane production countries in the world in 2013 were Brazil, India, China, Thailand, Pakistan, Mexico, Colombia, Indonesia, Philippines, and USA and their cane productions (million Mg of cane) accounted for 34.1, 15.8, 5.8, 4.6, 2.9, 2.8, 1.6, 1.6, 1.5, and 1.3% (a total of 72%) of the world total cane production respectively.
Sugar cane is distinguished by its thick longitudinal stalks that are approximately 3 to 6 meters height and 5 cm in diameter. The pointed green leaves bear thick midribs with serrated edges. The leaves grow approximately 25 to 60 cm height and 5 cm width and the dry fruit usually contains one seed. The jointed fibrous stalks are rich in sucrose that builds up in the stalk internodes.
A mature sugarcane stalk contains 12 to 16% soluble sugars, 63 to 73% water, 10 to 16% dietary fibre and 2 to 3% non-sugars. The plant thrives best in the tropical and subtropical regions especially in a properly drained soil with high organic waste and pH of 7.5 to 8.5. It also requires a humid and hot weather condition to grow well. Rhizomes usually form underneath the soil that distribute secondary shoots close to the parent plant.
The stems can be pinkish, yellowish, greenish or purplish in colour. The internodes of sugarcane are made up of fibrous white pith that is rich in sugary sap. It is worthy to note that sugarcane is ideally harvested before it begins flowering as this greatly reduces its sugary content. Apart from sugar, several other products are produced from sugarcane for example, ethanol, molasse, bagasse, cachaça, falernum, blackstrap molasses and rum etc.
Pests such as beetle Migdolus fryanus, turnip moth, cane grub or cane beetle, termites, Eumetopina flavipes and Eoreuma loftini (the Mexican rice borer) usually attack sugarcane. They can be controlled with wood ash, confidor (imidacloprid) and lorsban.
A sugar industry produces sugar by firstly harvesting raw sugar canes from where raw white sugar is extracted using mills. The liquid raw sugar is crystallized to form cane sugar crystals. Sulfur dioxide is then added to stabilize the liquid sugar during the evaporation process. It also helps to prevent the formation of color-inducing molecules. Afterwards, the refined white sugar that comprises of 99% sucrose is then finally produced.
Nutritional composition of sugarcane
Sugarcane is a rich source of carbohydrates, sugars, potassium, protein, iron, minerals, calcium, sodium and energy.
18 Spectacular Benefits of Sugarcane
Raw sugarcane can be chewed to extract the sugar cane juice. The young inflorescence can be eaten raw, roasted, toasted, steamed, sauteed or boiled. Sugarcane sugar and jaggery can be used for preparing dishes and snacks such as okkarai, almond granola bar with jaggery, pannakam, Peru subzi, suzhiyan, sonth ki chutney, appam pancake, sarson da saag, rice halwa, ragi halwa, paruppu payasam, til ladoo, adirasam, sweet rice pongal, custard apple kheer, karthigai pori.
Jaggery or country sugar is a shapeless form of non-distilled and unrefined sugar prepared from the juice or sap of plants that contain a reasonable amount of sugar or sucrose. Some examples are; Palmyra, palm sugar, sugarcane, date palm and toddy palm etc. Jaggery is a rich source of phosphorous, calcium, iron, sodium, potassium, carbohydrates and sugars. Jaggery can be used mostly in the food and beverage industry as a sweetener for producing candies, alcoholic beverages, chocolates, sorbets, syrups and tonics.
Sugarcane is also used for preparing sayur nganten, which is an Indonesian soup cooked with trubuk stem usacha rass, air tebu, guarab, guarapa, caldo de cana, guarapo, nước miá, papelón, aseer asab, ganna sharbat or mosto (a special sugarcane drink made with sugarcane juice, lemon and ice).
It is also used for preparing panela (solid crystals of fructose and sucrose obtained during the evaporation process of sugarcane juice. This is popular in Central America and Colombia). As well as rapadura or papelón (sweet flour made from sugarcane juice that is popular in Latin American regions such as Venezuela, Brazil, the Caribbean and Argentina.
Sugarcane can be used for making gâteau de Sirop, rock candy (crystallized cane juice), canes sauce, brown sugar, sugar cane drink, cane syrup, cane sugar, raising canes sauce, sugarcane juice, rum (liquor made from sugarcane juice and molasses especially in the Caribbean regions), falernum (sweet alcoholic sugarcane drink), cachaça (distilled Brazilian alcoholic beverage) and basi (fermented alcoholic sugarcane juice beverage popular in Guyana and Philippine). Interestingly, some restaurants even have special sugarcane restaurant menu.
Suitable as a Sports Drink
Sugarcane juice (ScJ) can serve as a sports drink for combating dehydration and excessive heat during hot weather. Kalpana et al., (2013) studied the effect of sugarcane juice on exercise metabolism and sports performance of athletes in comparison to a commercially available sports drinks. Their findings showed that drinking sugarcane juice significantly increased the blood glucose levels during and after exercise compared to sports drink and plain water.
However, there was no significant difference between plain water, sports drink and sugarcane juice for total exercise time, blood lactate, heart rate and plasma volume. As a result, sugarcane juice is deemed as an effective rehydration drink than a sports drink or plain water in post exercise as it boosts muscle glycogen resynthesis.
Studies reveal that sugarcane juice contains diuretic properties thus can cause increased passage of urine (Karthikeyan and Simipillai, 2010). Regular intake of sugarcane juice is essential for keeping the urinary flow fast and clear thereby supporting the functioning of the kidneys.
Singh et al., (2015) report that sugarcane is an excellent source of phytochemicals such as policosanols, phenolic compounds and plant sterols. The policosanols and plant sterols are present in the plant oils and wax while the phenols defend the plant against diseases and pests. These phytochemicals act as antioxidants for eradicating potentially damaging oxidizing agents in the body.
Costa et al., (1989) administered 95% ethanol extracts of both fresh leaves and shoots of sugarcane intragastrically to mice at a dose of 1 g/kg. The leaf extracts were active against benzoyl peroxide-induced writhing and tail-flick response, while the ethanol extract of the shoots was only active against the tail-flick method. These findings suggest that sugarcane can offer relief from pains.
Treatment of Jaundice
Singh et al., (2015) report that sugarcane juice is used in Unani system of medicine for treating jaundice. Jaundice is a medical condition marked with yellowing of the skin or whites of the eyes. This is caused as a result of liver disease, excessive breakdown of red blood cells, excessive bilirubin pigment or by the obstruction of the bile duct.
Sugarcane juice is essential for the liver thus patients suffering from jaundice are highly recommended to take large quantity of sugarcane juice for instant relief. Furthermore, studies reveal that sugarcane juice is a rich constituent of flavonoids such as tricin, apigenin and luteolin glycosides (swertisin, orientin, schaftoside and vitexin), phenolics, sinapic acid, hydroxycinnamic and caffeic.
Abbas et al., (2014) investigated the antioxidant and phenolic properties of sugarcane. They studied the leaves and juices of 13 varieties of sugarcane to ascertain their antioxidant activity and protective effect on DNA damage. 2,2-Diphenyl-1-picrylhydrazyl radical (DPPH) assay was used to confirm the radical scavenging activities in both the leaves and cane juices. Various varieties of sugarcane exhibited good antioxidant properties against DNA damage induced by hydroxyl radical generated in Fenton reaction.
Sugarcane is an excellent source of potassium thus aids easy digestion through peristalsis of food in the gastrointestinal tract. Furthermore, it helps to prevent stomach infections and constipation.
Treatment of Throat and Lung Infections
Studies reveal that jaggery is suitable for treating lung and throat infections. Okabe et al., (2009) reported that jaggery supplement reduced the toxicity of arsenic and incidence of arteriosclerosis (the hardening and thickening of the walls of the arteries, especially during old age).
Sugarcane contains aphrodisiac properties thus effective for stimulating sexual desire.
Sugarcane has laxative effect thus can be taken to stimulate or facilitate bowel evacuation of waste products.
Sugarcane juice is rich in glucose, CHOs and electrolytes thus it serves as an energy booster.
Sugarcane is anti-inflammatory in nature thus cools and relieves the body from inflammation.
Both the stems and roots of sugarcane are used in folk medicine for treating skin infections.
The bagasse from sugarcane production can serve as an alternative source of pulp for producing paper and paperboard products.
Sugarcane is used as a raw material for generating electricity. Sugarcane is one of the plants with the highest bioconversion efficiency. The bagasse produced from this crop can serve as fuel for energy production. Bagasse is normally burned to generate steam that produces electricity.
Both the leaves, roots, stalks and stems of sugarcane can serve as an agricultural mulch and natural fertilizer for boosting the soil nutrients.
Both the stalks, rhizomes, flowers and leaves of the sugar cane plant can serve as fodder for feeding livestock.
Where to Buy Sugarcane Products!!!
Where to Buy Raw Sugar Cane!!!
DISCLAIMER This post is for enlightenment purposes only and should not be used as a replacement for professional diagnosis and treatments. Remember to always consult your healthcare provider before making any health-related decisions or for counselling, guidance and treatment about a specific medical condition.
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