Where Sugarcane Originated
Sugarcane is a vigorous perennial grass in the genus Saccharum and was originally cultivated in Southeast Asia. Sugarcane usually doesn’t grow much taller than 12 feet but can grow up to 20 feet tall.
The earliest known cultivation of sugarcane was in India, around the 8th century CE.
China is also thought to have originated sugarcane cultivation independently at about the same time, through contact with Indian Buddhist monks.
Many people believe that sugarcane originated in India or New Guinea, but there is no definitive evidence to prove this claim.
Different Types of Sugarcane
There are two major types of sugarcane, namely “sorghum” and “tropical.”
Sorghum derives from East Africa and was domesticated in India.
The three most common types of sugarcane found in India are Saccharum officinarum, Saccharum spontaneum and Saccharum robusta.
The “tropical” type is indigenous to Brazil and has been grown in countries like New Guinea, South Africa, Japan, Australia, Taiwan, and Hawaii.
These different types of sugarcane are processed differently because of their different composition of chemicals which affects the taste and quality of the final product.
How Does Sugarcane Grow and Reproduce?
Sugarcane is a warm-season crop and is planted in the spring. It can be harvested up to 12 months after planting.
Sugarcane produces both male and female flowers.
Female sugarcane produces seedless sugarcane which can be eaten after harvesting. Male sugarcane produces seed-containing sugarcane which is not edible.
The seed-containing sugarcane is used to make alcohol through the process of fermentation.
When the pollen from the male flowers meets with the female flower, it results in fertilization and new cane growth.
Sugarcane reproduces by spreading runners that produce new shoots near the soil surface. These young shoots eventually mature into full-grown sugarcane plants if conditions are favorable.
Sugarcane has long stalks that are made up of three cells: an outer cell, middle cell, and inner cell. The sugar inside of these cells is called sucrose which can be turned into table sugar or syrup by boiling it down to remove water.
How Sugarcane is Processed Into Sugar
The processing starts with cutting the top leaves off the stalk, followed by cutting them into smaller pieces so they can be easily transported to a more traditional processing site.
The processing site consists of two parts: the mill and the refinery.
To extract pure cane sugar at large volumes, mills are used to grind down or crush the stalks into fine particles that are then mixed with water and boiled until they become liquidized.
Refineries that process sugarcane into sugar can be either a “vertical” or “horizontal” operation.
A horizontal refinery is typically set up in a series of rows with each row containing one or more tanks. The tanks are used for crushing and boiling the cane, and finally crystallizing the juice. The juice from the last row is then fed to the first row to achieve a continuous process.
A vertical refinery is typically set up in a series of columns with each column containing one or more tanks. Similarly, the tanks are used for crushing and boiling the cane, and finally crystallizing the juice. The juice from the bottom tank flows into an adjacent column’s top tank every few seconds to maintain a continuous flow of juice throughout the process.