Saccharum officinarum hybrids

Today’s photographs are courtesy of two contributors. Eric Hunt, aka Eric in SF@Flickr shared the first image, and he has a number of additional images here: Saccharum officinarum). 3Point141@Flickr contributed the second image. Thanks to both of you for helping with the Botany and Spirits series!

Saccharum officinarum is a cultigen, a taxon of cultivated origin. Other examples of cultigens previously featured on BPotD include rice and cassava. One of the commercial sugar canes, Saccharum officinarum was hybridized over millenia, with origins in (likely) New Guinea. Many cultivars exist and continue to be bred, in order to improve properties such as disease resistance and sugar production.

Additional reading on the history and use of sugar cane (or noble cane) is available via the Ethnobotanical Leaflets of Southern Illinois University: “Sugar Cane: Past and Present” or James A. Duke’s Handbook of Energy Crops: Saccharum officinarum.

In addition to being the largest source for sugar production, sugar cane is used in the production of the distilled alcoholic beverages rum and cachaça. Unlike yesterday’s Juniperus communis, where the contribution to gin was flavouring, rum and cachaça are derived from fermented and distilled sugar cane liquids. Cachaça, the most popular spirit in Brazil (1.5 billion litres annual consumption), is made from fresh sugarcane juice that is fermented and distilled. Rum is a bit more complex, in that it can either be derived in a similar manner to cachaça or, more typically, produced from molasses (a byproduct of sugar production from the canes).

Given that sugar cane has been cultivated for millenia, it is likely no surprise that fermented drinks from sugar cane also date back to antiquity. However, distillation of the fermented liquids to produce the true rums only occurred in the 17th century, on sugarcane plantations in the Caribbean. Wikipedia again has an excellent entry (it seems like Wikipedia writers like alcohol) on rum, including suggestions on the origin of the name as well as a history of rum (did you know that Rhode Island rum was considered an accepted currency in Europe for a short period of time?).

Saccharum officinarum hybrid
Saccharum officinarum hybrids

11 responses to “Saccharum officinarum hybrids”

  1. Rubén Tropical

    I’ve happen to really dislike this plant because in my region (Valle del Cauca, Colombia) it has replaced the diverse flora with monocultures, promotes deforestation, soil erotion and generates poverty because all the income goes to the big producers, while the farmers have to sell their land for nothing, and go to the cities to try to find a decent job.

  2. Daniel Mosquin

    Thanks Rubén — there is certainly a lot of injustice and sadness associated with sugar cane historically (re: plantations), and, as you mention, it continues today. A December 12, 2011 story: Thousands of sugar cane workers die as wealthy nations stall on solutions, via The Center for Public Integrity (“one of the [USA]’s oldest and largest nonpartisan, nonprofit investigative news organizations”).

  3. phillip

    ..in my crystal ball..do i see the humble potato coming into focus..?

  4. Diana Ferguson

    So beautiful – thank you so much for sharing.

  5. don Fenton

    Hey, G’Day,
    A recipe!
    Make a broth of lemon-grass and sugar-cane. Finely [1/4″ dice pineapple slices, and pour the hot broth over the pineapple dices. Pour the cooled liquid and pineapple little bits over the freshly-chopped fruit-salad of your choice: strawberries are especially reccommemded as an ingrediant. Leave to marinate in cool. And eat it all up!!!

  6. Lorax

    Daniel: technically, there are three main liquors associated with cane: Rum, Aguardiente, and Cachaca.
    Rum is internationally defined as being fermented from molasses; Cachaca is from cane juice with extra sugar added to it, and Aguardiente is from neat cane juice.
    Additionally there are Rhum Agricole and Reposado, which are the 1-3 year aged versions of Cachaca and Aguardiente, respectively.
    I’m with Ruben – I’ve seen cane monocultures replacing more diverse ecosystems, and I have less than a perfect love for the plant.

  7. Eric Hunt

    As interesting as the various cultivars of sugar cane were at the National Tropical Botanical Garden on Maui, I was also keenly aware of the damage done to Hawai’i by the sugarcane plantations.
    Sugarcane has also severely damaged the Everglades. I did read where Florida either is trying to or has bought out the main sugarcane growing company in the Everglades as part of the Everglades restoration effort. The State of Florida realized it was actually cheaper to buy them out rather than stay tied up in court forever, fighting endlessly over everything.

  8. Daniel Mosquin

    Lorax, I don’t know if it is as well-defined as that; WIRSPA has a different definition: Defining Rum. That said, I probably should have written the article better, such that rum and cachaça were only examples.

  9. elizabeth a airhart

    don fenton has the right idea enjoy yourselves
    i live in florida pour yourselves a glass of rum and cola
    save the everglades and the artic and the bears- there you go
    thank you daniel christmas is sunday wheres my present

  10. Lorax

    Daniel: those are the rules used in the entire Latin American market, where Cachaca producers lobbied for a specific definition of their liquor, as did makers of Aguardiente. It left Rum, by default, as the fermentation product of molasses – white rums are, technically, Rhum Agricole here, since they have only the most passing of relations with molasses.

  11. Eric Simpson

    I have a sister-in-law that was born and raised in Belize, and she has very fond memories of sugar cane as a snack. She recently found some at a farmers market and bought a literal arm-load!-)

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