Sugarcane is not a fruit nor a vegetable. It is a type of perennial grass like bamboo. Sugarcane stores its sugar in the stems (aka the canes), which makes them sweet. This confuses people because of the idea that fruits are sweet. However, as the sugarcane stems are not formed by flowering and they don't contain seeds, this cane part is not a fruit.

Sugarcane, however, does put out purple or white flowers and bear seeds like other grasses do in plumes. This usually means the sugarcane plant is too old though and has lost most of its sugar content in the stem.

Sugarcane flowers

Although people nib or chew the sugarcane to extract out the sugarcane juice, ultimately the fibrous cane itself is not eaten (by humans).

Recently, we've found that that sugarcane fiber may not be digested by some worms. There's actually a word for this that I learned today. It's bagasse for the left-over of sugarcane juicing. So here's the bagasse and it's not enjoyed by insects nor humans.

Sugarcane fiber residue inside a sugarcane leaf

As a vegetable in culinary term generally refers to a savory edible plant–something not too starchy, not too sweet, sugarcane is not considered a vegetable either by this definition. The cane fiber is also not directly consumed.

At the end of the day, we can simply refer to sugarcane as a grass. And it is one of the tallest, largest and sweetest grasses out there. You should give it a try.

Responses to Readers' Questions

Why is sugarcane not a fruit or vegetable?

--> Thanks for your question. From what I've searched around, the sugarcane stem (although it's sweet) is not usually considered a fruit because fruits are formed by pollinating, flowering and contain seeds. And the sugarcane stem we're referring to is only a stem part.

Regarding a vegetable, by definition to some folks, it is something that's more of a savory edible plant that can be consumed/digested directly. The sugarcane stem, the edible part, is sweet and may not be consumed directly by humans or some insects. People usually spit out the sugarcane fiber. Not sure why it may only be a habit. Scientifically, sugarcane is classified as a grass. It's a fun question to get started in the sugarcane world.

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