The sugarcane plant originated in southern Asia. Christopher Columbus introduced sugarcane to the New World on his second voyage in 1493. Iberville, the “Founder of Louisiana”, attempted growing sugarcane along the lower Mississippi but failed. Jean-Baptiste deBienville, the first administrator of France’s Louisiana Colony, was successful in growing cane in his garden in New Orleans. However, it wasn’t until the 1750s that Jesuit missionaries were able to successfully raise several sugarcane crops on their New Orleans plantation which is now the Central Business District. Several plantations were planted in what is now the city limits of New Orleans. In 1795, Etienne deBore was the first to successfully granulate sugar on his plantation, located on what is now Audubon Park. The industry continued to grow slowly through the early 1800s. The introduction of new varieties in 1825 allowed for more rapid growth. A big boost to the industry came along when Norbert Rillieux, a free man of color born in New Orleans and educated in Paris, invented the multiple-effect evaporation process. His invention has proven to be one of the greatest contributions to the world’s sugar industry. The industry continues to thrive today despite the many obstacles of disease, freezes, hurricanes, droughts and low prices. The states in which sugarcane is grown are Hawaii, Texas, Florida and Louisiana. Louisiana ranks second in sugarcane production in the United States, behind Florida. In 1995, the Louisiana sugar industry celebrated the bicentennial of commercial sugar production.
Sugarcane, Saccharum Officinarium, is a tropical grass that is planted vegetatively, using whole stalks of cane. In Louisiana, the stalks are planted in rows during the fall. They will begin to grow in the spring and mature into stalks over the late summer. Sugarcane beings to grow very fast after the last threat of a freeze is over, but cane grows fastest during the hot summer months. Sugarcane harvesting begins in late September and continues through early January. Large machines called combine harvesters cut the standing cane into pieces called billets and loads the billets into wagons and trailers. The cane is brought to the sugar mill for grinding.
At the mill, the sugarcane stalks are washed and cut into shreds by rotating knives. Then, rollers crush the juice out of the shredded pulp. This juice contains the sugar we enjoy today. There are three steps that turn this juice into golden raw sugar. Step one is purification. This is where the sugar juice is purified through a process called clarification. Clarification removes non-sugar plant materials like wax, fats and gums naturally present in all plant cells. Step two is evaporation, which is when the sugar juice is filtered. The juice is then boiled to remove the water in a process called evaporation. This leaves behind a clear, colorless syrup. Lastly, step three is crystallization. In this step, as the water evaporates from the syrup, sugar crystals begin to form. These crystals are sent to a centrifuge. This machine works like the spin cycle on your washing machine. As it spins faster and faster, sugar crystals are washed, leaving behind golden, raw sugar. There are only 11 sugar mills in Louisiana. In 2018, sugarcane was grown on 470,000 acres.
The first products secured from sugarcane are sugar, syrups, and edible molasses.
By-products of sugarcane are the final, or blackstrap, molasses used primarily in livestock feed, and the stalk residue known as bagasse (BAG-ass). Bagasse is used for making a building material that resembles board, known as “Celotex.”
Sugar, or sucrose, is a carbohydrate that occurs naturally in every fruit and vegetable. It is a product of photosynthesis. Sugar is pure and 100 percent natural. It has only 16 calories per teaspoon and zero fat grams.
TOP SUGARCANE-PRODUCING PARISHES
Kingdom—Plantae - Plants
Subkingdom—Tracheobionta - Vascular Plants
Superdivision—Spermatophyta - Seed Plants
Division—Magnoliophyta - Flowering Plants
Class—Liliopsida - Monocotyledons
Family—Poaceae - Grass Family
Species—Saccharum officinariumL. – sugarcane
TYPES OF SUGAR
Granulated sugar: The white sugar you see the store or on your table
Brown sugar: Sugar that has molasses mixed into it
Confectioner’s sugar- powdered sugar: Small amount of cornstarch is added in it so the particles remain separate
Evaporated cane juice: Sugar that is crystallized in a single-step process versus a multi-step process
Raw or turbinado: Sugar that has been refined to a light tan color by washing in a centrifuge to remove surface molasses
Bagasse - The fibrous leftover material of the sugarcane plant after the juice has been squeezed from the cane
By-products - Something produced in addition to the main product
Clarify - A process to remove impurities in a liquid
Commodity - A raw material or primary agricultural product that can be bought and sold
Palatable - Tasty, acceptable or agreeable
Renewable - Capable of being replaced by natural ecological cycles
Variety - Any of various groups of plants or animals ranking below a species
American Farm Bureau Foundation
American Sugarcane League