Fun with Sugarcane
December 30, 2009
Sugarcane grows in California, so it's not uncommon to see short stalks of it for sale at farmer's markets and in Latin grocery stores. I was at one of these farmer's markets recently looking for un-cured olives that I didn't find, so I picked up a three-foot long sugar cane segment for two bucks.
Sugarcane is a type of grass that was transported to the New World by Columbus on his second journey. Once the stalks are cut, the sweet juice contained within the blade begins to oxidize- sort of like how an apple turns brown as soon as you cut it- which is why we don't see sugar cane juice for sale in bottles. So when sugar cane is harvested it is transported to the factory for processing immediately. I have no idea how old the stalk I bought was.
Sugar cane juice is directly fermented and distilled to make rhum agricole (from French islands like Martinique) and cachaca (from Brazil), or it is processed to make sugar. The byproduct of sugar production is molasses, which can be fermented and distilled to make all other rum.
Seeing as how I don't have a still at home (yet), I just wanted to play with the sugar cane juice. I found the stalk to be far heavier than I expected, but as it's mostly liquid I shouldn't have been surprised. Sugarcane is very fibrous, which makes it hard to cut and squeeze out the juice. Sugar cane refineries use huge roller mills that squish the sugar cane stalks and shred the fibers.
I cut a section of stalk and sucked on one of the pieces. I expected it to taste like sweetened water, but that wasn't at all the case- sugar cane juice has a bright, delicious raw vanilla flavor. (I've identified this as "Mexican vanilla" and "Lik-M-Aid/Fun Dip stick vanilla'" in tasting notes but maybe "sugar cane vanilla" is a better descriptor.) I haven't had the pleasure of visiting Brazil where they crush sugar cane to make juices on the beach (yet), but I completely get how refreshing this juice can be now.
Having sucked the juice out of pieces of sugar cane, I wanted to see how hard it would be to extract the juice from sugarcane at home. It was hard.
You certainly can't just wring it out. I cut the sugar cane into small chunks and tried muddling. I couldn't muddle more than one or two tiny pieces at once, so this was a slow process that produced very little juice.
Then I tried using a rolling pin (in reality, an empty bottle of Purista Mojito Mix, which is surprisingly delicious) to roll over longer pieces of sugarcane and squish out the juice that way. It worked a little.
I poured the juice into a glass with soda water, and found it to be far less tasty than the juice on its own. Oh well.
So anyway, now that I've determined that sugarcane is really hard to get any juice out of, I need to figure out other ways to extract the liquid (Anyone know where I can buy an affordable sugar cane press?) or other uses for raw sugarcane. Since they sell it in stores around here, people must use it for something...
I have seen cane cut verically into pieces about the size of 3 straws bundled together. This was then used as a garnish/swizzle stick in tiki drinks or punch. The drinker can stir, or chew on them. Cute and tasty but not much more than that. If you could get them thin enough, they could be used as picks for fruit garnish I suppose.
Posted by: Randy | December 30, 2009 at 08:59 AM
Perhaps it might go against your DIY leanings, but if you want to experiment more with the juice itself rather than the extraction, you can head over to Irving Cafe (Irving & 20th), and have them freshly extract some sugar cane juice for you.
Separately, sugar cane's often used as a skewer for grilled shrimp (Chao Tom).
Posted by: AJ | December 30, 2009 at 09:01 AM
Or you can get a champion jucier. You probably want one anyways. Ebay is the best bet.
Posted by: Lane | December 30, 2009 at 09:05 AM
Or you can do the experiment Chris (Exercise in hospitality) once taught me, scoop out half the content of one short stick and mix the juice with rum and pour it back in the stick and use as exotic drinking vessel;-)
Posted by: Tiare | December 30, 2009 at 10:18 AM
The cheapest hand crank mills, which work the best for small runs, will still run you somewhere about $300.00.
Search ebay for a "Sugar Cane Mill" and you'll find a few decent ones. They still take a lot of work though.
Posted by: Skillbilly | December 30, 2009 at 11:28 AM
Thanks- I'll have to add a sugar cane press to my wish list of cocktail geeky equipment along with the home Kold-Draft ice machine and vermouth refrigerator.
Posted by: Camper English | December 30, 2009 at 11:57 AM
Just use a pasta maker. Or get a Kitchen Aid and get the meat grinder attachment.
Posted by: Darcy O'Neil | December 30, 2009 at 03:38 PM
Would the fiber kill a Champion juicer? It's the same price as a cane press and you could use it to juice other things too.
By the way, they've got fresh olives right now at Monterey Market in Berkeley. The lye scared me away from the curing process. Let me know if you have success!
Posted by: Jennifer Colliau | December 30, 2009 at 03:40 PM
Thanks Jen for the olive find! You don't need to use lye- a constantly-changed saltwater bath does the same thing. I have a few recipes so that's going to be my next exciting experiment here on alcademics.
Posted by: Camper English | December 30, 2009 at 05:00 PM
If you live near a decent sized vietnamese population, finding fresh sugar cane juice shouldn't be a problem. There usually is at least one sugar cane juice shop in vietnamese mall/foodcourts. For a glass of juice, they usually add a crushed kumquat.
Posted by: Viet Nguyen | December 30, 2009 at 07:15 PM
I second the suggestion of Irving Cafe and Dessert (it's this place: http://www.yelp.com/biz/irving-cafe-and-dessert-san-francisco. Don't confuse it with its sibling, Irving Cafe and Deli, which serves delicious banh mi, mostly to go, just down the street).
They have freshly extracted sugar cane juice. I think they use a grinding type juicer, and I bet they would let you take a look at it if you'd like.
Posted by: Andrew | December 31, 2009 at 06:18 PM
I love sweetness of sugarcane.
They are frown in every fields in my hometown!
Posted by: Drink koozies | January 03, 2010 at 11:17 PM
As Randy said they make for a pretty interesting stir stick for caipirinhas and they do work as picks. I use them quite often.
One thing we do with them all the time and it’s just lovely is the “Chewing Caipirinha”:
Cut 1inch pieces of fresh sugar cane.
Leave them immerse in a good quality cachaça (I recommend mildly aged for this one) for a few minutes so they absorb some of the spirit. You may also chill the mix if you want.
Roll the pieces in lime juice and, if you fell like it, in sugar.
Chew and discard fibers!
I think the sugar part is not that necessary but people really like it, especially if you use different sugars.
Posted by: Tony Harion | January 04, 2010 at 06:02 PM
A little late in responding, but as an avid juicer girl,,yes the fibers are too hard on any juicer!
even a Champion...
Posted by: victoria | January 06, 2010 at 09:46 AM
Posted by: Jac | January 07, 2010 at 09:25 AM
here in brazil we drink sugar cane juice very often! In the market they use a very common machine to extract! But I nnever taste it with soda water. Sound interesting!
Posted by: Gabriel | January 16, 2010 at 06:27 AM
i found this blog via Google... as i really need a cheap (under $50 !) solution to extracting the juice from sugar cane at home.
I want a machine preferably (no hand-powered solutions like rolling pins, pasta-makers etc. as they're too slow and time-consuming)
Posted by: john moore | February 01, 2010 at 09:43 AM
Sugar cane juice has been grown pressed and used as juice in Indonesia, Thailand, Burma, Vietnam and Philipines for centuries. Thailand has been making various chili salsa for centuries.
The potugese and spanish traveled to south east asia then took some sugar cane to grow in the Americas and the spanish took the mushed up chili idea
and gave it the name salsa.
Just like how Marco Polo took the meatball and noodles from China back to Italy and called it Spaghetti but never gave credit to China for giving him the idea. Ofcourse not.
Posted by: LG | April 11, 2010 at 06:09 PM
Would a magic bullet work? Then strain through cheesecloth? Just a thought.
Posted by: Crystal | March 09, 2012 at 10:35 PM
I doubt the Magic Bullet would work as the fibers are long and would get wound around any circular grinder. Almost needs to be spaghetti maker type of press so that the cane goes in one side out the other, or a big stone in a pit that you smash it instead...
Posted by: Camper English | March 10, 2012 at 09:56 AM
there is a small manual sugar cane juice extraction machine that is stainless steel,the rollers and the cover the base is cast and the gearb box is steel.it is ab out the size of a toaster oven,weighs about 70 pounds. have been using one for several years just rinse off with when your done , it is truely a gem.they are available at 123sugarcanejuice.com
Posted by: dan reardan | October 29, 2012 at 02:15 PM
Broke my juicer trying this don't recommend
Posted by: Ed | May 25, 2013 at 03:01 PM
Or maybe something like this from Ebay - http://www.ebay.com/sch/i.html?_sacat=0&_nkw=sugar+cane+juicer&_sop=15&_frs=1
Posted by: Tiare | December 07, 2013 at 11:31 AM
Nice - A doable price.
Posted by: Camper English | December 07, 2013 at 11:37 AM
I know , very elderly couple that 'cure their own'; and tripped.out.when I found out that the most common way of curing olives was with (Red Devil) lye !!!!!
Posted by: firstname.lastname@example.org | March 31, 2014 at 10:02 PM
I use my little ninja chopper in small micro batches with a little bit of water and then strain through a sieve. It worked perfectly and didnt hurt my blender. It was only when I tried to stuff it full with too many big pieces that it had a problem. I almost lost the little guy.
Posted by: E Hamilton | July 26, 2014 at 09:51 PM
Use a large knife and hack the inside of the sugar cane into small triangles that you can pop in your mouth and chew on, as well as store them in your fridge.
Posted by: Anonymous | February 18, 2016 at 09:33 PM
Your best bet is a BREVILLE juicer ($149.00) at Macy's, Kohl's, Williams Sonoma. mason too.
I used mine last month and got a pint of juice from an eight foot long cane. Yummy.
Posted by: FV | March 25, 2016 at 06:23 AM
Your best bet is a BREVILLE juicer ($149.00) at Macy's, Kohl's, Williams Sonoma. Amazon too.
I used mine last month and got a pint of juice from an eight foot long cane. Yummy.
Posted by: FV | March 25, 2016 at 06:25 AM
What about those "antique meat grinders" that seem to be at thrift stores and garage sales everywhere? They seem they would pulverize it and make it easier to feed into something else
Posted by: Matt Hill | September 15, 2019 at 07:54 PM
I think getting the last bit of juice out is the hard part rather than separating the fibers. But if I had a meat grinder I'd probably give it a shot :)
Posted by: Camper English | September 16, 2019 at 12:13 PM
I've tried making your recipe and i really love it. I hope you share recipes more often like this.
Posted by: ila | January 28, 2020 at 07:16 PM