We all know that sugar cane is the world’s most productive source of natural sugar. But the sugar industry uses by-products from sugar cane to improve millions of people’s lives, industry analyst Gunawan Jusuf says.
Sugar Cane Can Become Medicine
You know the Julie Andrews song from the movie Mary Poppins if you are old enough. “Just a Spoonful of Sugar Helps the Medicine Go Down.” It’s true. Sweeteners do make oral medications more palatable. But sugar cane can also be transformed into a medicine called policosanol.
Doctors and trainers recommend policosanol as a treatment for leg cramps. In people who have a circulatory disease called intermittent claudication, this sugar cane derivative increases circulation and oxygenation in the calf of the leg, so walking is less painful. Athletes can use it to prevent cramping on long runs.
There have been clinical trials of this sugar cane derivative as a treatment for high cholesterol. One clinical study found that volunteers taking 40 milligrams of policosanol daily had 37 percent higher HDL (good cholesterol) and 17 lower LDL (bad cholesterol) in just six weeks.
Sugar Cane Can Be Used in Construction
Sugar comes from sugar cane juice. When the juice is pressed out of the cane, what is left is called bagasse. It’s a pulpy, fibrous, surprisingly strong material that has been used for making fiberboard for nearly 100 years.
In the United States, a company in Louisiana has been making a product from bagasse called Celotex since the 1930s. It’s used as insulation. Nowadays, fire-resistant cane board is used for acoustics in choir and band practice rooms, floor covering beneath the carpet, and wall coverings. Bagasse can also be heated to form ash, without actually burning the cane, which can substitute for sand in making cement. Many developing nations have sugar cane, but don’t have sand, so bagasse ash greatly reduces the cost of construction everywhere Portland cement is used.
Sugar Cane Can Rejuvenate the Soil, Gunawan Jusuf Says
People love white crystalline sugar made from sugar cane. Bacteria love the brown, sticky mash that collects in the bottom of the sugar cane press, and scientists have learned how to modify nitrogen-producing bacteria to feed on this “sugar cane cake.”
Nitrogen-fixing bacteria take nitrogen from the air and change it into a form that plants can use as fertilizer. Farmers can use chemical fertilizers to provide nitrogen to their plants, and most farmers all over the world do. Making chemical fertilizers that are high in nitrogen requires natural gas, however. In many countries, natural gas has become extremely expensive. Sugar cane byproducts super-charge nitrogen-fixing bacteria to become powerhouse nutrient producers for growing crops, without the expense and environmental problems associated with chemical fertilizers.
We haven’t even touched on turning sugar cane into ethanol to fuel cars or burning bagasse to make electricity. Sugar cane makes sweet contributions to the quality of life around the world, Gunawan Jusuf says, far beyond providing a sweet treat.