Back to Basics: Sugarcane

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The comedian Stephen Wright mused: “I put instant coffee in the microwave oven and almost went back in time.”

But seriously, doesn’t it seem as though sometimes our convenience food has become completely disconnected from its origin? Although some people enjoy the great satisfaction of making their own bread, yogurt, or pickles, folks making their own cereal, crackers, or cheese are rare. Rarer still are the people who grind their own wheat into flour.

Here’s an anomaly for sure: someone who goes to a sugar plantation, grabs a machete, chops down her own sugarcane, extracts the juice, throws it into a centrifuge with a dash of calcium phosphate, dries it, and boom—makes her own table sugar

Sugarcane is a grass, growing in tropical climes. Sugar also comes from sugar beets, a major U.S. crop with production centered primarily in the Midwest. Although both beet and cane produce identical sucrose, some skilled bakers can tell the difference and prefer pure cane sugar. The rawest form of sugar, besides a fresh cane, is turbinado, sometimes called demerara or Barbados sugar. It’s the crystallized state before the molasses has been removed.

Sugar and the sugar business are an inextricable (often sullied) part of our colonial history, as well as part of current commerce and our own personal eating habits. Some scientists even posture that we have sugar receptors in our taste buds, illuminating many people’s struggle with sweets. The presence of sugar in our lives may indeed be complicated, but it is refreshing to get a chance to see it in its purest form—a simple stalk of grass.

Preparation: Cane Sugar is fun to chew on, or cut into slices and place in a cup of tea.

Storage: Wrap canes tightly in plastic to retain moisture and keep in the fridge. They’ll last about two weeks.


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