Sugarcane has become a controversial topic lately. Some say sugarcane is a vegetable while others insist it’s a fruit. Which side are you on?
Would you be surprised to learn that sugarcane is a plant, but not a fruit or vegetable? Sugarcane juice is also often confused with fruit juices because it’s sweet, but it’s not fruit juice either.
In this article, I’ll cover what sugarcane is, how it compares to bamboo, and how to consume sugarcane.
- Related article: Definition of Vegetable vs Fruit
Is Sugarcane a Fruit or Vegetable?
Sugarcane is neither a fruit nor a vegetable. Sugarcane is actually a type of grass. Surprised?
Sugarcane is not the result of a flowering plant, nor does it develop through seeding. So, sugarcane cannot be considered a fruit.
Sugarcane fiber and stalks cannot be eaten or digested, so it does not qualify as a vegetable either. Vegetables are botanically defined as the edible parts of plants including stems, leaves, roots, and even fruit.
So, what is sugarcane and why is it a cash crop?
What Is Sugarcane?
Sugarcane is a tropical and subtropical perennial grass. It is botanically named the Saccharum oficinarum and belongs to the Poaceae family. This family includes maize, rice, and wheat, among others.
The sugarcane plant is recognizable for its green stalks and green sword-shaped foliage. It can grow to heights of approximately 10 to 23 feet.
Harvesting time varies, depending on where Sugarcane is cultivated. The sugarcane crop can require 9 to 22 months to mature for harvesting.
The sugarcane trees are usually harvested before they flower. Once they flower, the sugarcane stems no longer contain any of the sweet juice they’re known for. Sugarcane stores starch inside its stem in the form of juice. It boasts a juicy, sweet flavor.
Sugarcane is a cash crop because it’s very valuable commercially. This is one of several crops that are used to produce sugar. Sugar is extracted from the sugarcane juices through boiling and evaporation.
The sweet juice found inside the stems is squeezed out. The juice extraction is obtained using a machine equipped with rollers that press the stems down and apart. The inside white hued stem can also be chewed to taste the sugarcane’s juice directly.
Is Sugarcane Juice a Fruit Juice?
Although sweet sugary juice is extracted, sugarcane juice is not considered a fruit juice. The sweet taste may confuse sugarcane’s classification.
Fruits are usually identified as plant produce that is sweet. But this is a general culinary definition and not a botanical classification.
It is also worth noting that we do not consume anything other than the juice contained in the stem of this plant. We don’t eat the stalk or the leaves, because they are not digestible.
Does the Sugarcane Plant Flower?
Yes, sugarcane trees do produce flowers, but they serve no food purpose. Only mature trees flower. Sugarcane trees are usually harvested before they flower.
Trees that have flowered and bloomed will not have sweet juice in their stems, so they are of no use to growers.
Once juice has been extracted from the stems, the remaining stem parts are composted or used for industrial purposes.
How Is Sugar Obtained from Sugarcane?
Raw sugar is produced from sugarcane and its juices. Here is how raw sugar is obtained from sugarcane:
- Stems are pressed with roller machines to remove juice.
- The juice then is evaporated leaving a syrup.
- Sugar producers spin the syrup using centrifugal force to eliminate all the liquid and light brown raw sugar crystals remain.
- The sugar crystal remains are concentrated raw sugar.
Sugarcane vs. Bamboo: What’s the Difference?
If you look at the sugarcane and bamboo plants externally, the stalks may appear to be the same. But when observed closely, there are differences.
b of these distinct plants are classified as grass and members of the Poaceae grass family. But they have different characteristics and uses.
What is Unique about Bamboo?
Bamboo has hollow stems, whereas sugarcane has stems full of juicy, fibrous pith. Bamboo stems will grow wider and taller than sugarcane.
Bamboo cannot produce sugar because the plant’s internodes do not contain sugar. Bamboo, however, grows more rapidly than sugarcane and features more varieties.
Bamboo is used for flooring, fabrics, and construction. It is particularly appreciated as timber because it grows more rapidly than traditional forest trees, allowing for continual harvesting.
As a crop, it can grow in marginal lands, and plays an environmental role of air purification because it collects carbon quickly.
What is Unique about Sugarcane?
The documented use of sugarcane dates back to 8th through 10th centuries in both Northern India and the Mediterranean region. Sugarcane was historically utilized by the Papuans as food for domesticated pigs.
Today, sugarcane is used to make raw sugar. It provides for roughly 80% of the world’s sugar production with the remaining 20% from sugar beet crops.
Can You Eat Sugarcane?
No, you can’t eat sugarcane because it’s not edible or digestible. Only the sugarcane juice extracted from the stem is edible. Stems are squeezed through roller machines for commercial extraction.
Sugarcane can also be chewed for the juice. The juice is said to taste like sweet water. Chewing sugarcane is common in Asia for a sweet snack or dessert.
No other part of a sugarcane tree is edible. This includes the inner stem containing juice because it cannot be digested.
If you have the chance to get raw sugarcane stem, cut it into smallish 3-inch sections. Remove the outer green stem layer. You will now have the inner white stem visible. This is the part of the cane that can be chewed for its sweet juice, but cannot be swallowed.
Is Sugarcane a Fruit or Vegetable? Final Thoughts
Sugarcane is neither a fruit nor a vegetable. It is botanically a perennial grass used to produce sugar from its juice upon extraction. Sugarcane juice is made into sugar and refined into crystalline form.
You can also check out the USDA’s Agricultural Research Service (ARS) site for their research on many agricultural topics, including sugarcane.
To learn more about fruits and vegetables, check out these articles: