Sugar cane - food

Sucrose is a highly valued food and sweetener and also serves as an edible preservative. It does not normally occur in the wild and is an important cultivated crop particularly in India, which is the world's second largest producer.

An important resource

Photo of raw sugar cane crystals
Image: Sugar cane is mostly used to produce raw and refined sugars.

Sugar cane in India mainly goes towards the manufacture of gur or jaggery, and raw and refined sugars. It is also used in the preparation of many industrial chemicals. The rest in India is used for chewing and drinking. Chewing cane is popular in India, and canes for this purpose are frequently sold from carts in markets.

Types of sugars

Traditionally sugar was processed by crushing of the canes using wooden or stone mortars, and then filtering it before concentration by heating. Modern methods use mechanical crushers, and the leftover stalks are used to heat the cane juice in the final stages of processing.

Gur, or jaggery, is the concentrated sugar cane juice traditionally produced throughout India. It is available either in a block-like solid lump or as a soft dough-like consistency. It is an everyday item in the diets of most people in India used for sweetening drinks and foods, making sweets, brewing alcohol and feeding livestock.

Raw and refined sugars in simple terms are produced by heating, removing impurities and crystallising sugar cane juice. Sucrose is the main constituent in this juice. Raw and refined sugars are exported all over the world for use in pretty much everything from sweet and savoury dishes to processed foods and drinks and preserving fruits and meat. These sugars are also compressed into sugar cubes or made into syrup. White sugar can be further processed into icing sugar to be used in desserts, baking and confectionery. A by-product of sugar refining is molasses. It is a dark, syrupy product and is used for the preparation of edible syrups and for numerous industrial products.

In India, the young shoots of sugar cane are sometimes steamed and roasted as a vegetable.