Cane Sugar: The reed that gives honey without bees
What a journey our simple cane sugar, once dubbed “the reed that gives honey without bees,” has taken through history!
First discovered on a Polynesian island, it made its way to India, where invading forces from what was then Persia in 510 BC brought “the reed…” back to their homeland.
And it was treasured there, kept secret for a millennium from all except those rich enough to buy into its sweetness.
We’ve learned much more – and persevered through misinformation – in the centuries since. There are many benefits to cane sugar, which others discovered as the Arab culture spread around the world in the seventh century AD. We’ve learned, too, that all things in moderation, including cane sugar, is the path we need to take to a healthier us.
As recently as 100 years ago, the only sugars available were cane sugar, sorghum, honey, and maple syrup, and most Americans ate only two pounds a year. That has increased to 70 pounds a year, with many more options available to us.
Counter this with the American Heart Association’s (AHA) suggestion that women have no more than six teaspoons of added sugar a day – about what you’ll find in a single serving of flavored yogurt – and men no more than nine teaspoons. It makes a powerful argument for sugar reduction.
Economics naturally controlled the amount of cane sugar people consumed when it was first brought to Europe during the Crusades in the 11th century AD. By 1319, cane sugar was selling for two shillings a pound – about $100 for a 2.2-pound bag – in London.
And a year after Christopher Columbus sailed the ocean blue in 1492, he was transplanting sugar cane plants in the welcoming climate of the Caribbean islands.
Today, cane sugar is largely a sub-tropical and tropical crop. It requires copious amounts of sun and water, but not so much that it waterlogs the plant’s roots. It takes approximately 12 months to fully mature and grows again from its roots.
Once harvested, it’s off to the processing plants:
- The harvested stems are shredded, mixed with water and run through rollers like the ones once used for laundry, again and again until all the sweet juices are extracted.
- The juice is filtered and evaporated to remove impurities and then filtered again and boiled to take out the molasses and color.
- The resulting syrup is spun in a centrifuge, leaving large and slightly brown crystals which again go through evaporation. And the processing ends here for raw cane sugar, which is then packaged and sold.
- The rest continues to the refinery where it is washed, filtered and dried again in granulators before being shaken through several screens to leave the perfectly sized pure crystals you expect in your granulated cane sugar.