Harvesting Sugar Cane and how Barbados sugar is made

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Twelve to sixteen months after the sugar cane has been planted, it is ready to be harvested.

Sugar cane was mainly harvested by hand until mechanisation was introduced to the island. Manually a worker could cut 5 tons of cane daily, a machine can cut up to 300 tons daily. The machine cuts the cane at the base of the stalk and strips the leaves, chops the cane into consistent lengths and deposits it into trailers following alongside.

After harvesting, the canes are taken to sugar factories to produce the sugar. During the process, the natural sugar stored in the cane stalk is separated from the rest of the plant material, leaving behind a fibrous residue called bagasse. This separation begins by grinding the cane and boiling it in water to begin the sugar extraction process. Throughout the cooking process, various substances are added in order to eliminate any impurities that may exist in the sugar cane juice. The sugar-containing juice is boiled until it thickens into a syrup from which the sugar crystallizes, the crystals are spun in a centrifuge where a portion of the molasses is removed to produce raw sugar, and the raw sugar is traditionally dried before shipment to a refinery. Lime juice and coconut milk are then added as refining agents in the processing of muscovado sugar, unrefined sugar, as they do not leave any flavours behind.

POINT OF INTEREST: Have you ever noticed the feathery shoots at the top of the sugar cane plant? When a sugar cane plant has reached a relatively mature stage of development, its growing point may, under certain photoperiod and soil moisture conditions, change from the vegetative to reproductive stage and starts the production of an inflorescence.

The inflorescence, or tassel, of sugarcane is an open-branched panicle. It is also known as arrow. Therefore flowering is also known as “arrowing”. Each tassel consists of several thousand tiny flowers, each capable of producing one seed. The seeds are extremely small and weigh approximately 250 per gram or 113,500 per pound.

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