AskDefine | Define sugarcane

Dictionary Definition



1 juicy canes whose sap is a source of molasses and commercial sugar; fresh canes are sometimes chewed for the juice [syn: sugar cane]
2 tall tropical southeast Asian grass having stout fibrous jointed stalks; sap is a chief source of sugar [syn: sugar cane, Saccharum officinarum]

User Contributed Dictionary



  1. alternative spelling of sugar cane

Extensive Definition

Sugarcane or Sugar cane (Saccharum) is a genus of 6 to 37 species (depending on taxonomic interpretation) of tall perennial grasses (family Poaceae, tribe Andropogoneae), native to warm temperate to tropical regions of the Old World. They have stout, jointed, fibrous stalks that are rich in sugar and measure 2 to 6 meters tall. All of the sugarcane species interbreed, and the major commercial cultivars are complex hybrids.

Cultivation and uses

About 200 countries grow the crop to produce 1,324.6 million tons (more than six times the amount of sugar beet produced). As of the year 2005, the world's largest producer of sugar cane by far is Brazil followed by India. Uses of sugar cane include the production of sugar, Falernum, molasses, rum, soda, cachaça (the national spirit of Brazil) and ethanol for fuel. The bagasse that remains after sugarcane crushing may be burned to provide both heat - used in the mill, and electricity - typically sold to the consumer electricity grid. It may also, because of its high cellulose content, be used as raw material for paper and cardboard, branded as "environmentally friendly" as it is made from a by-product of sugar production.
Fiber from Bengal Cane (Saccharum munja or Saccharum bengalense) is also used to make mats, screens or baskets etc. in West Bengal. This fiber is also used in Upanayanam - a rite-of-passage ritual in India and therefore is also significant religiously.


For a longer history, see Sugar.
Traditionally, sugarcane has been processed in two stages. Sugarcane mills, located in sugarcane-producing regions, extract sugar from freshly harvested sugarcane, resulting in raw sugar for later refining, and in "mill white" sugar for local consumption. Sugar refineries, often located in heavy sugar-consuming regions, such as North America, Europe, and Japan, then purify raw sugar to produce refined white sugar, a product that is more than 99 percent pure sucrose. These two stages are slowly becoming blurred. Increasing affluence in the sugar-producing tropics has led to an increase in demand for refined sugar products in those areas, where a trend toward combined milling and refining has developed.


Sugarcane first has to be moved to a mill which is usually located close to the area of cultivation. Small rail networks are a common method of transporting the cane to a mill. In a sugar mill, sugarcane is washed, chopped, and shredded by revolving knives. The shredded cane is repeatedly mixed with water and crushed between rollers; the collected juices (called garapa in Brazil) contain 10–15 percent sucrose, and the remaining fibrous solids, called bagasse, are burned for fuel. Bagasse makes a sugar mill more than self-sufficient in energy; the surplus bagasse can be used for animal feed, in paper manufacture, or burned to generate electricity for the local power grid.
The cane juice is next mixed with lime to adjust its pH to 7. This mixing arrests sucrose's decay into glucose and fructose, and precipitates out some impurities. The mixture then sits, allowing the lime and other suspended solids to settle out, and the clarified juice is concentrated in a multiple-effect evaporator to make a syrup about 60 percent by weight in sucrose. This syrup is further concentrated under vacuum until it becomes supersaturated, and then seeded with crystalline sugar. Upon cooling, sugar crystallizes out of the syrup. A centrifuge is used to separate the sugar from the remaining liquid, or molasses. Additional crystallizations may be performed to extract more sugar from the molasses; the molasses remaining after no more sugar can be extracted from it in a cost-effective fashion is called blackstrap.
Raw sugar has a yellow to brown colour. If a white product is desired, sulfur dioxide may be bubbled through the cane juice before evaporation; this chemical bleaches many color-forming impurities into colourless ones. Sugar bleached white by this sulfitation process is called "mill white," "plantation white," and "crystal sugar." This form of sugar is the form most commonly consumed in sugarcane-producing countries.


In sugar refining, raw sugar is further purified. It is first mixed with heavy syrup and then centrifuged clean. This process is called 'affination'; its purpose is to wash away the outer coating of the raw sugar crystals, which is less pure than the crystal interior. The remaining sugar is then dissolved to make a syrup, about 70 percent by weight solids.
The sugar solution is clarified by the addition of phosphoric acid and calcium hydroxide, which combine to precipitate calcium phosphate. The calcium phosphate particles entrap some impurities and absorb others, and then float to the top of the tank, where they can be skimmed off. An alternative to this "phosphatation" technique is 'carbonatation,' which is similar, but uses carbon dioxide and calcium hydroxide to produce a calcium carbonate precipitate.
After any remaining solids are filtered out, the clarified syrup is decolorized by filtration through a bed of activated carbon; bone char was traditionally used in this role, but its use is no longer common. Some remaining colour-forming impurities adsorb to the carbon bed. The purified syrup is then concentrated to supersaturation and repeatedly crystallized under vacuum, to produce white refined sugar. As in a sugar mill, the sugar crystals are separated from the molasses by centrifuging. Additional sugar is recovered by blending the remaining syrup with the washings from affination and again crystallizing to produce brown sugar. When no more sugar can be economically recovered, the final molasses still contains 20–30 percent sucrose and 15–25 percent glucose and fructose.
To produce granulated sugar, in which the individual sugar grains do not clump together, sugar must be dried. Drying is accomplished first by drying the sugar in a hot rotary dryer, and then by conditioning the sugar by blowing cool air through it for several days.

Ribbon cane syrup

Ribbon cane is a subtropical type that was once widely grown in southern United States, as far north as coastal North Carolina. The juice was extracted with horse or mule-powered crushers; the juice was boiled, like maple syrup, in a flat pan, and then used in the syrup to form as a sweetener for other foods. It is not a commercial crop nowadays, but a few growers try to keep alive the old traditions and find ready sales for their product. Most sugarcane production in the United States occurs in Florida and Louisiana, and to a lesser extent in Hawaii and Texas.


In India, the states of Uttar Pradesh (38.57 %), Maharashtra (17.76 %) and Karnataka (12.20 %) lead the nation in sugarcane production.
In the United States, sugar cane is grown commercially in Florida, Hawaii, Louisiana, Texas, and Puerto Rico.

Cane ethanol

This is generally available as a by-product of sugar mills producing sugar. It can be used as a fuel, mainly as a biofuel alternative to gasoline, and is widely used in cars in Brazil. It is steadily becoming a promising alternative to gasoline throughout much of the world and thus instead of sugar may be produced as a primary product out of sugar canes processing.
A textbook on renewable energy describes the energy transformation:
At present, 75 tons of raw sugar cane are produced annually per hectare in Brazil. The cane delivered to the processing plant is called burned and cropped (b&c) and represents 77% of the mass of the raw cane. The reason for this reduction is that the stalks are separated from the leaves (which are burned and whose ashes are left in the field as fertilizer) and from the roots that remain in the ground to sprout for the next crop. Average cane production is, therefore, 58 tons of b&c per hectare per year.
Each ton of b&c yields 740 kg of juice (135 kg of sucrose and 605 kg of water) and 260 kg of moist bagasse (130 kg of dry bagasse). Since the higher heating value of sucrose is 16.5 MJ/kg, and that of the bagasse is 19.2 MJ/kg, the total heating value of a ton of b&c is 4.7 GJ of which 2.2 GJ come from the sucrose and 2.5 from the bagasse.
Per hectare per year, the biomass produced corresponds to 0.27 TJ. This is equivalent to 0.86 W per square meter. Assuming an average insolation of 225 W per square meter, the photosynthetic efficiency of sugar cane is 0.38%.
The 135 kg of sucrose found in 1 ton of b&c are transformed into 70 liters of ethanol with a combustion energy of 1.7 GJ. The practical sucrose-ethanol conversion efficiency is, therefore, 76% (compare with the theoretical 97%).
One hectare of sugar cane yields 4000 liters of ethanol per year (without any additional energy input because the bagasse produced exceeds the amount needed to distill the final product). This however does not include the energy used in tilling, transportation, and so on. Thus, the solar energy-to-ethanol conversion efficiency is 0.13%.

Sugarcane as food

In most countries where sugarcane is cultivated, there are several foods and popular dishes derived from it, such as:
  • Direct consumption of raw sugarcane cylinders or cubes, which are chewed to extract the juice, and the bagasse is spat out
  • Freshly extracted juice (garapa, guarab, guarapa, guarapo, papelón, aseer asab or caldo de cana) by hand or electrically operated small mills, with a touch of lemon and ice, makes a delicious and popular drink.
  • Molasses, used as a sweetener and as a syrup accompanying other foods, such as cheese or cookies
  • Rapadura, a candy made of flavored solid brown sugar in Brazil, which can be consumed in small hard blocks, or in pulverized form (flour), as an add-on to other desserts.
  • Sugarcane is also used in rum production, especially in the Caribbean.
  • Cane sugar syrup was the traditional sweetener in soft drinks for many years, but has been largely supplanted (in the US at least) by high-fructose corn syrup, which is less expensive, but is considered by some to not taste quite like the sugar it replaces.


  • Bailey, L. H. and Bailey, E. Z. 1976. Hortus Third: A Concise Dictionary of Plants Cultivated in the United States and Canada. MacMillan Publishing Company, New York

Further reading

sugarcane in Arabic: قصب السكر
sugarcane in Guarani: Takuare'ẽ
sugarcane in Bengali: আখ
sugarcane in Min Nan: Kam-chià
sugarcane in Bulgarian: Захарна тръстика
sugarcane in Catalan: Canya de sucre
sugarcane in Czech: Cukrová třtina
sugarcane in Chamorro: Tupu
sugarcane in Danish: Sukkerrør
sugarcane in German: Zuckerrohr
sugarcane in Estonian: Suhkruroog
sugarcane in Modern Greek (1453-): Ζαχαροκάλαμο
sugarcane in Spanish: Saccharum officinarum
sugarcane in Esperanto: Sukerkano
sugarcane in Persian: نیشکر
sugarcane in French: Canne à sucre
sugarcane in Galician: Cana de azucre
sugarcane in Hindi: गन्ना
sugarcane in Upper Sorbian: Cokorina
sugarcane in Croatian: Šećerna trska
sugarcane in Indonesian: Tebu
sugarcane in Italian: Saccharum officinarum
sugarcane in Hebrew: קנה סוכר
sugarcane in Javanese: Tebu
sugarcane in Haitian: Kann
sugarcane in Lithuanian: Cukranendrė
sugarcane in Hungarian: Cukornád
sugarcane in Malay (macrolanguage): Pokok Tebu
sugarcane in Dutch: Suikerriet
sugarcane in Japanese: サトウキビ
sugarcane in Norwegian: Sukkerrør
sugarcane in Polish: Trzcina cukrowa
sugarcane in Portuguese: Cana-de-açúcar
sugarcane in Quechua: Misk'i wiru
sugarcane in Russian: Сахарный тростник
sugarcane in Simple English: Sugarcane
sugarcane in Serbian: Шећерна трска
sugarcane in Finnish: Sokeriruoko
sugarcane in Swedish: Sockerrör
sugarcane in Tagalog: Tubo
sugarcane in Tamil: கரும்பு
sugarcane in Thai: อ้อย
sugarcane in Vietnamese: Mía
sugarcane in Tonga (Tonga Islands): Tō
sugarcane in Turkish: Şeker kamışı
sugarcane in Ukrainian: Цукрова тростина
sugarcane in Chinese: 甘蔗
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