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Sugarcane: The sweet stalk of nature

 The sweet stalk of nature (Photo: iStock)

Saccharum officinarum is the scientific name of the tall perennial grass popularly known as sugarcane.

Revered for its juicy, fibrous stalks, sugarcane is nature's gift to tantalise the taste buds and sweeten our lives.

Also known as muwa in Swahili, it is sold in Kenya by vendors who peel the stalks and cut them into small pieces for easy consumption.

Sugarcane's growth cycle is fascinating, typically taking 12 to 18 months to reach maturity, with tall stalks resembling bamboo shoots, sometimes reaching up to 20 feet in height.

Farmers plant small sections of the stalks, called 'setts', in well-prepared fields, and from these setts, the sugarcane stalks grow.

There are many varieties of this gift, which are divided into three categories: sugar cane, food cane and biofuel cane.

Sugar cane has a high sucrose content and is mainly grown for the production of sugar, while food cane is grown for its juiciness and flavour and is intended for direct consumption.

With the growing interest in renewable energy, specific varieties of sugarcane have been developed for ethanol production, contributing to the biofuel industry.

In addition to sugar and renewable energy production, sugarcane also serves as a raw material for products such as molasses, rum and bioplastics.

In terms of health benefits, these stalks are a good source of energy as they are rich in carbohydrates and natural sugars such as sucrose.

The water content of sugarcane juice is high and helps keep the body hydrated, especially in hot climates.

While moderation is key due to the sugar content, consuming sugarcane or its juice in controlled amounts can be a tasty and refreshing addition to a balanced diet.

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