The Smartest Guide to Sugarcane

In this post, we’ll show you the characteristics of sugar cane (both the fruit and the plant), its properties, history, main exporters and importers, how it is cultivated, and some products made from this plant. Don’t miss it!   

What is sugarcane and what are its characteristics?      

Scientific nameSaccharum officinarum
Common nameSugar cane, caña de azucar.
Place of originSoutheast Asia and New Guinea. 
HabitatTropical and subtropical regions and light soils. 
DistributionMainly in South America, Asia, Europe, and Oceania (see section on top sugarcane exporters in the world for more information). 

Characteristics of sugarcane  

Sugarcane is a plant that consists mostly of a long, woody stalk that can measure 5 to 6 meters long and 2 to 5 centimeters wide. Its stem is covered with a series of rather thin and long green leaves. Also, it is distinguished by a series of rings or hoops like bamboo.

Its interior is composed of spongy and sweet flesh, from which the sugar is extracted. This part is white and has a rough texture. In general, this plant has a green color on the outside, but as shown in the image above, it can have red, red wine, yellow, orange or brown colors.  

Properties and benefits of sugar cane  

Nutritional profile of sugar cane  

Check out the nutritional table of sugar cane per 100g, taken from Salud y Buenos Alimentos.  

394,50 Kcal
161,10 mg
Vitam. A
0,00 µg
0,00 g
12,15 mg
Vitam. B1
0,00 mg
98,70 g
0,00 g
Vitam. B2
0,00 mg
1,30 g
0,00 g
Vitam. B3
0,50 mg
42,80 mg
0,00 mg
Vitam. B6
0,01 mg
1,10 mg
0,00 g
Vitam. B9
0,50 µg
0,00 µg
0,00 g
Vitam. B12
0,00 µg
11,10 mg
0,00 g
Vitam. C
0,00 mg
0,10 mg
0,00 µg
Vitam. D
0,00 µg
0,90 µg
0,00 µg
Vitam. E
0,00 µg
20,15 mg

5 properties of sugar cane that you need to take advantage of

Provides a lot of energy   

The daily amount of energy we need comes in 55% or 60% of carbohydrates that are obtained by eating foods rich in starch or glucose, as is the case of sugar cane. This food is a fast source of energy because its glucose is easily digested.

Rich in nutrients  

Sugar cane has a high percentage of minerals such as calcium, potassium, and iron that are responsible for the maintenance of our vital functions such as breathing, our heartbeat or the regulation of our body temperature. Thanks to these elements our body is also fit to participate in physical activity, whether low or high performance.

Helps the liver  

Sugar cane is one of the best remedies for jaundice according to the traditional Ayurvedic system of medicine; it helps to strengthen the liver, as jaundice is often a symptom that something is wrong with this organ of the body. Sugarcane juice has plenty of antioxidants that help fight infections in the liver and keep bilirubin levels under control.

Diuretic by nature   

Sugarcane juice has excellent diuretic properties that help eliminate toxins and infections from the body. Drinking sugarcane juice helps prevent urinary tract infections and kidney stones. This juice also ensures the proper functioning of the kidneys.

It can cure acne  

When sugarcane juice is applied topically, it can reduce skin problems such as acne significantly. Sugarcane juice contains alpha-hydroxy acids, such as glycolic acid, that stimulate cell renewal. Glycolic acid exfoliates the skin and eliminates acne build-up.  

History and origin of sugar cane  

As we mentioned in this blog’s fact sheet, this food is native to Southeast Asia and New Guinea Island. Thanks to the expansion of the Muslims, this plant was introduced in territories where it had not been cultivated until then, such as the European continent on the Spanish coast, specifically in the cities of Motril and Malaga. This was the only European region where the crop prospered due to its climatic conditions.  

After sugar cane reached the continent, the Spaniards took this crop first to the Canary Islands and then to Latin America. It is said that Pedro de Atienza brought the first sugar cane to this continent on Christopher Columbus‘ second voyage to the Dominican Republic and Haiti (these 2 islands together are also known as the Spanish Island). After this event, the plant began to be cultivated in countries such as:

  • El Salvador
  • Panama 
  • Guatemala
  • Cuba
  • Brazil  
  • Honduras  
  • Mexico 
  • Nicaragua  
  • Bolivia  
  • Argentina
  • Peru  
  • Paraguay  
  • Uruguay
  • Ecuador
  • Puerto Rico
  • Dominican Republic 
  • Venezuela  
  • Colombia  

These countries are also some of the largest sugar producers in the world.

Global sugarcane industry  

Learn about the top exporters and importers of sugarcane in the world.    

Top 5 sugarcane exporters in the world

In the following list, you can see the 5 countries that exported the most sugarcane in 2019/2020 according to the OEC.

  1. Mexico with an export value of $193 thousand dollars.
  2. Belgium with $32.2 thousand dollars
  3. Bangladesh with $16.9 thousand dollars
  4. Colombia with $7.83 thousand dollars
  5. Nigeria with $6.11 thousand dollars

Top sugarcane importers in the world

In 2020, the top importers of sugarcane according to the OEC were:

  1. United States with an import value of $937 Thousand dollars.
  2. Saudi Arabia with $834 thousand dollars
  3. Palestine with $44 thousand dollars
  4. United Kingdom with $33 thousand dollars  
  5. Lesotho with $13 thousand dollars

How is sugarcane cultivated?    

To cultivate this plant there are a series of requirements that must be taken into account:


Loamy, clayey or light soils are ideal for this crop, although it can adapt to many soils as it is not too demanding in terms of soil conditions. It is only likely to have problems in very acidic or saline soils and therefore needs a pH between 5.5 and 7.5.


As mentioned above, this plant grows in subtropical or tropical climates, and for this reason, temperatures must be at least 14°C or 16°C.

Sugarcane planting method  

Cultivation by cuttings  

This plant is grown by planting pieces of it; a new crop equal to the original grows for each node, ring, or hoop. After planting, the plant begins to flower and accumulate sugar in its stalk, which is cut when it matures.

Plant growth  

This crop often gives several shoots and so can continue to be sown. These shoots are called zafras. It takes 11 to 17 months for this plant to grow fully.


Sugarcane gets damaged over time and due to the use of machines that run over its roots, for this reason, it is necessary to replant it every 7 to 10 years; however, some cane plantations can live for 25 years or more.


This cane requires plenty of water, it should be watered every 4 or a maximum of 8 days if it is an adult plant and every 6 to 11 days in the case of sprouts.


It also needs phosphorus, nitrogen, and potassium to fertilize it. Sulfur is added in saline soils to keep the sodium level of the soil under control.

Harvesting sugarcane  

Sugarcane can be harvested by hand or by machine. Hand harvesting requires cutting the stalk with a machete (bush knife). After this, the crops are organized for transport.  

Machine harvesting is done with harvesters that cut the plant and remove the leaves from the stems. Mechanical harvesting enables 30 tons per hour, but this technique has a disadvantage as it ruins the roots, which means that fewer new plants are born and thus more replanting has to be done.

Corn post-harvest  

The cane must be transported immediately after being cut to avoid damage caused by the presence of yeasts and microbes. It is transported by rail in wagons that can hold up to 20 tons each; if this is not possible, it can be transported in a truck or on a tractor.

Once it reaches its destination, it is stored in a place free from humidity, pests that can damage the wrapping material and sources of fire, sparks or cigarettes, since it contains sugar and is flammable.

Uses and products made from sugar cane 

Sugarcane is used to make sugar, so it is most commonly consumed in this form, although some people also consume it in its original state, so it can be said that it is eaten fresh or processed. Certain products made from sugarcane have also been launched in the market, like the ones listed below.

Industrial products made from sugar cane


This alcoholic beverage is produced by distilling sugar cane. There are some varieties of this product, such as agricultural rum, which is made from 100% sugarcane juice. On the other hand, there is another type of rum like industrial rum that is made from molasses, which is also a sugar by-product. This last variety is not only distinguished from agricultural rum by its ingredients, but also by having a higher content of alcohol.

By JC971 – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0,


This is an alcoholic beverage derived from the juice of unfermented or fermented sugar cane. This product is consumed in many parts of the world, especially where sugarcane is traded, such as Southeast Asia, India and its surroundings (also known as the Indian subcontinent), Latin America and North Africa. Sugarcane juice is obtained by peeling the cane and crushing it in a mill. According to the RAE, in some countries, the infusions made from sap, nuts or cane are also called “guarapo”, depending on the region.

Unfermented Guarapo
From Dtarazona – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0,


Also known as common sugar, table sugar, or by its scientific name sucrose, it is made from a fructose molecule and a glucose molecule that is extracted from sugar cane and less from sugar beet since 73% comes from sugar cane and only 27% of the world production is taken from sugar beet.

Industrially, the term “sugar” can be used to refer unofficially to different products with a sweet taste, even though they are actually carbohydrates and not directly glucose or fructose.

From Editor at Large – Own work, CC BY-SA 2.5,

Aguardiente (spirits) 

Aguardiente is an alcoholic beverage distilled from alcoholic fermentation. There are a large number of organic agricultural substances from which their fermented juice or paste is taken for the extraction of this beverage, like anise. This substance is the most commonly used for the elaboration of this beverage, however, other elements are also used, such as sugar cane, to which we refer in this section. Sugar cane brandy can be obtained not only from sugar cane juice but also from various products of the sugar industry such as molasses.

Aguardiente de caña
From User:JorgeFCortes – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0,


Cachaça is a Brazilian distilled alcoholic beverage. It is obtained as a result of the distillation of the fermented juice of sugar cane. Fuba, which is a kind of corn flour, is used in its fermentation and is distilled in a copper vessel to obtain this product. The cachaça is often left to age to improve its flavor and quality.

Cachaza divininha
By Abu Badali. – Own work, CC BY-SA 2.5,


Bagasse is a product made from recycled sugar cane and is considered an ecological and classy alternative to replace the polystyrene that is sometimes used in tableware or plates; it is ideal to hold hot or cold food, even better than the paper containers that take so long to decompose and, when they do, leave only chemicals in the soil. Bagasse plates decompose in an average of 3 months and, during this time, they become compost.

Bagasse tableware is made from the natural fibers of bagasse, making it less expensive compared to the prices of polystyrene tableware.

Bagasse can also be taken as a renewable fuel and is essentially greenhouse gas neutral because the carbon dioxide produced during the combustion of bagasse is offset by the carbon dioxide absorbed by the photosynthesis of sugarcane in the field.  

This element is used in countries such as India to make energy. When burned in a sugar mill, bagasse generally produces enough electricity to power all of the mill’s operations.

Below is a list of other products that are also made from sugar cane:

  • Molasses
  • Panela
  • Candy
  • Fuel alcohol
  • Ethanol


Sugar cane is a food that contributes in great proportion to humanity, not only for its components but also thanks to all the products that are obtained from this food. For many people, these products are indispensable today, like sugar, which is used for the preparation of so many dishes and at the same time is so widely used as an accompaniment to them. However, as long as you want to have a natural source of sugar at home, we recommend consuming sugar cane, which is healthier and allows you to enjoy the taste and properties of sugar cane.