By Hannah Wahlig

The sugar cane family is made up of over 30 sugar cane varieties. Sugar cane is a perennial grass that thrives in hot, humid locations like Brazil and India. The sugar derived from sugar cane is used in syrups, juices, and molasses, but the rest of the plant can also be used in the production of environmentally friendly paper products. Though it is difficult to sift through all the varieties and hybrids of sugar cane, sugar cane can be generally divided into three categories based on their functions and properties.

Sugar cane in field in Cuba
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A field of sugar cane

Chewing Canes

Fresh Sugar Cane Split in Half
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Chewing Canes

Soft sugar canes comprised of sweet fibers that can be chewed raw and without preparation make up the variety of chewing sugar canes. After the fibers are chewed, they can be easily spit out. Many chewing canes are also reduced by boiling and used in making syrups. Noble cane is a chewing cane that is especially sweet and moist. Chewing canes are commonly sold as street food in markets in India. Chewing canes, like syrup canes, are also made of about 90 percent water, making them ideal for juicing. Yellow gal, home green, and Georgia red are all varieties of chewing canes.

Crystal Canes

Falling cane sugar
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Cane sugar

The common packaged cane sugar that can be bought from stores comes from crystal sugar cane varieties. Crystal canes have uniquely high levels of sucrose. When crystal canes are boiled, the high percentage of sucrose facilitates a process of crystallization. Other types of sugar molecules found in sugar cane do not form crystals as easily, so crystal sugars are best for packaged cane sugars. The stiffness of the fibers in crystal canes makes them unsuitable for raw chewing.

Syrup Canes

Blackstrap molasses
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Syrup varieties of sugar cane contain several types of sugar molecules, including sucrose and glucose. The multitude of molecules lowers the percentage of sucrose in the sugar cane, and therefore syrup canes do not form crystals in the same way that crystal canes do. The low number of crystals makes syrup canes ideal for canned juices, cane syrups, and molasses. The husks of syrup canes can be manufactured into types of cardboard and disposable utensils.