is sugar cane a fruit or vegetable

Is Sugarcane a Fruit or Vegetable? All You Need to Know

What comes to your mind when you take a sip of your favorite sugarcane juice? Do you stop and wonder how or where the stalks get the sweet juice from? Another common question is: Is sugarcane a fruit or vegetable? This article addresses these concerns so that you can enjoy your next glass of sugarcane juice in peace.

What Is Sugarcane?

Sugarcane

Sugarcane is a perennial plant that belongs to the family, Poaceae. This family consists of economically vital flowering plants, including maize, rice, sorghum, wheat, corn, etc. Just like other plants in this family, sugarcane is available in over a hundred countries around the world.

Traditionally, sugarcane has been used to produce sugar and rum. However, more industries are now discovering ways to use this plant to produce different products, including pharmaceutical, energy, and chemical products.

A sugarcane stalk stores crystallizable sugar (sucrose). Once the juice has been extracted from the stalk, the waste material can be converted into combustible materials like charcoal and biofuel. This waste material is also rich in molecules that can be used to produce different types of chemicals, including ethanol.

This plant thrives in areas with plenty of sunshine, heat, and moisture. But it can also grow in dry areas, provided that you do proper irrigation. As a giant perennial plant, sugarcane grows back after harvesting.

However, you need to uproot the old plants and replace them with “virgin canes” after six harvests for maximum yields. Virgin canes are cuttings from old stems that are buried horizontally in the soil. Sucrose builds up in the stalks as the plant grows.

So, if you’re planting sugarcane for sugar production, you have to wait for your plants to reach maturity to get the desired amount of sucrose. The process of harvesting sugarcane involves cutting the stems without removing the bottom (stubble) to allow regrowth.

You can cut the stems using a machete or a hand-held cutting machine. This makes the harvesting process labor-intensive. Sugarcane stems can be very hard, especially when they reach maturity.

Its leaves are very sharp and can graze your skin if you’re not wearing protective clothing. Sugarcane plantations are a habitat for many insects and rodents like rats, mice, and snakes. These rodents and reptiles are attracted to sugarcane fields because the plants are perfect habitats for their prey, including insects and other smaller reptiles like frogs.

The sugarcane crop reaches maturity after nine months to one year, depending on the climate. In hot areas like Louisiana, Indonesia, and Brazil, the crop is ready for harvesting after 12 months. But in cooler, highland areas like South Africa and Hawaii, your sugarcane will reach maturity after 18 to 24 months.

After harvesting, the sugarcane stems must reach the mill within a day or two because their sucrose content tends to fall rapidly after cutting. So, if you’re growing sugarcane for commercial purposes, make sure your harvested stems don’t take long before they’re processed to prevent excessive loss of the sugar content.

To obtain sugar from sugarcane stems, you have to press them with a roller machine and squeeze out the juice. Then, evaporate the juice to obtain the sugary syrup. Spin the syrup through centrifugal force to remove the liquid.

You’ll be left with light brown sugar crystals. This is concentrated raw sugar. You can turn the raw brown sugar into white sugar by running it through the refinery. It’ll be melted and 50 percent of its brown color removed.

Is Sugarcane a Fruit or Vegetable?

Vegetable

Since we’re now aware of what sugarcane produces and how it grows, the other important concern we need to address is whether it is a fruit or vegetable. Shockingly, it’s neither. It’s shocking because we know that almost all types of juices we enjoy come from fruits and vegetables.

However, sugarcane is a perennial grass belonging to the Poaceae family, which is made up of different flowering plants as mentioned above. But it’s quite confusing to imagine that a giant plant like sugarcane can be considered a type of grass. We all know grass to be short, weak plants that mainly grow up to one or two meters tall.

The best way to understand why sugarcane is a grass plant is to understand its botanical and culinary aspects. These aspects include the plant’s growth habit, reproductive structure, and usage.

Botanical Arrangement of Sugarcane

The botanical name of sugarcane is Saccharum officinarum. This is a perennial plant that grows tall and doesn’t produce ovaries that can be fertilized to produce fruits. That is why sugarcane can’t be categorized as a fruit.

Fruits are defined as mature ovaries of flowering plants that are formed through fertilization of flowers and normally have seeds. So, clearly, sugarcane is not a fruit because it doesn’t have seeds. It is also not a vegetable because vegetables are considered to be the non-reproductive parts of a plant.

These parts include leaves, flower buds, stems, and roots. Common examples of vegetables include cauliflower, carrots, potatoes, and broccoli. From these examples, it’s obvious that sugarcane doesn’t qualify to be either a fruit or a vegetable.

However, it’s difficult to categorically say that sugarcane doesn’t belong to the category of vegetables because the sugarcane juice is extracted from its stem. So, if we say some vegetables come from stems, why not sugarcane?

Culinary Classification of Sugarcane

As noted above, vegetables can come from different parts of a plant, including its stem. But vegetables that come from stems are savory edible plants that are consumed and digested directly. The only edible part of a sugarcane stem is its juice.

So, the stem itself can’t be consumed directly by humans. Even when you chew a raw sugarcane stem, you only squeeze out the sweet juice and spit out the sugarcane fiber. Sugarcane juice isn’t fruit juice because even though it’s natural and sweet, it’s not extracted from a fertilized flower.

Furthermore, the sugarcane stem doesn’t have seeds. Please note that although the sugarcane plant produces flowers, its flowers don’t serve any culinary purpose. Furthermore, most sugarcane plants are harvested before they flower.

You shouldn’t wait for your sugarcane plants to bloom because they tend to lose sweetness in their juice, rendering them useless, especially if you’re growing them for sugar production.

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