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.
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.
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 usually 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 and not swallow the sugarcane fiber. Not sure why it may be a habit. Scientifically, sugarcane is classified as a grass. It's a fun question to get started in the sugarcane world.
What are the example of sugarcane
--> Thanks for your question. Some examples of sugarcane are Cristalina, Chume, Agaul, Kassoer. People may call them red, green or purple sugarcane. In other countries, they have local names based on the growing locations. They also have names like CH.64/21 (a Cuban selection) based on the variety and hybrid. I hope this helps! See Sugarcane varieties for more examples.
How come the sweetness of the stem of a sugarcane
--> Thanks for your question. From my limited understanding, the sugar inside the stem of sugarcane may be for feeding the micro-organisms/bacteria under its roots. After the plants do photosynthesis, sugars will be made and transferred down the stem. This may be a reason why the top part of the stem is usually less sweet than the bottom part.
Similar to bamboo, I'd guess that the roots of sugarcane tend to give out a lot of sugars, and those sugars may then attract a lot of bacterially-dominated microbes and worms in the soil around it. You may also see this with ants around the sugarcane roots. The result of this is building up soil and a nice running eco-system around the plants. In areas where they grow lots of sugarcane, year after year, the soil is not heavily corroded and still good for cultivation.
I think this may be some ideas why nature has made it this way for the sugarcane...
>> Link Vimeo: Korean Natural Farming - IMO Part 1 (Bryan McGrath talks briefly about bamboo, microbes & succession plants at 5:00).
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