Fix Me A Snack

A blog created by a mom who got sick of feeding her kids crackers and ice cream

Nearly 18 years ago, in Cameroon, someone nonchalantly gave me sugar cane to gnaw on. I clearly remember my amazement over the sweet juices oozing out of what looked like a stalk of bamboo. Having never spent much time wondering where sugar or any of my other food came from, it was an eye opening moment.

Of course, when I tried to recreate that moment for my children it seemed to fall flat. They were extremely excited to try it, evening dancing around the house with the cane and singing songs in it’s honor. But when the moment of truth came, they were a little disappointed by how much work it took to extract the juices. Lazy buggers.

If you cross paths with a piece of sugar cane and want to try it out, here’s what you do:  

1. Wash the cane. Cut off a couple inches at each end.

2. Score the hard outer layer of the cane with a serrated knife. I found it easiest to use the part of the knife closest to my hand for more leverage and pulling toward me when sawing action was required.

3. After the outer layer is cut all the way around it should be easy to cut or break the piece of cane off.

4. Stand the piece on end and cut off the outer layer.

5. If desired, cut the cane into smaller strips or chunks. Serve along with instructions that the cane is to be chewed and sucked on but not swallowed. I did a quick demo for my kids before they dove in.

After all the fun of tasting sugar cane was over, I was curious enough to find a video about how sugar is processed. I used to think white sugar was not nearly as bad as high fructose corn syrup. But I might have been wrong. There’s a mention of sulfur dioxide vapors, powdered lime, and bleach in this video.

[Sigh.]

It’s probably going to take me a couple years to accept this information and do something concrete about it. Has anyone ever tried to cut added sugar out of their family’s diet for a week? Would it be possible?

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10 Comments

  1. Dionne Nichols
    9:43 pm on June 29th, 2012

    It is pretty easy to eliminate all added sugar from a diet. 1.) Do not buy packaged food. 2.) Sweeten with natural sugar like fruit, and natural sweetener like honey rather than using sugar. 3.)Use spice to add flavour. 4.)Empty your cupboards, fill your refridgerator. 5.) Can/freeze your own fresh fruit, that way you know exactly what is in it.

    Canning fruit is easy, only takes a couple of hours, so I recommend buying fruit in bulk to start with, the more you buy, the less it costs overall. Wash all fruit before canning or freezing.

  2. Rob
    1:55 am on January 12th, 2014

    Hi Cindy
    Thanks for the instructions on cutting and serving sugarcane. I tried it on a group of my daughter’s friends (11 year olds) with mixed reviews :) Sigh. Kids nowadays are used to so much highly refined foods.
    As a doctor interested in nutrition, I am no expert but know a bit more than some people who talk about sugar. Overall, I am an advocate of doing our best to go organic, farm fresh, lean toward vegetarian and eat foods as close to the way they come from the earth as possible. As to sugar – any sugar that is refined and readily available to the body is hard on the pancreas, shoots up insulin levels, and is hard on arteries etc. The 44 pounds a year we apparently eat on average (US)is a large part of the reason for obesity and much disease. Not giving kids sweetened foods from birth works (for a while). Our daughter and son love vegetables as a result. But ALL sugars, fruit, honey, sugar cane, or high fructose corn syrup are basically the same to the metabolism. There’s just as much fructose and insulin response for example. Try to avoid fruit juice, pop, eating sweetened foods (Peanut butter is a good example)and cut back on adding sugar. Its the total amount that matters. And obesity makes it worse. If we eat fruit whole the fibre slows the absorption – so thats ok. Hope that helps.

  3. Doreen
    4:02 am on February 15th, 2014

    Thank you for this. I have been fascinated by the “romance” of sugar cane for years – perhaps since reading James Michener’s book ‘Hawaii’ when I visited Hawaii back in the early 1980s.

    The other day I spotted a movie called ‘Picture Bride’ in a thrift store. The backdrop of the Hawaiian scenery was what I was looking forward to. But now I highly recommend the movie, and especially the accompanying story of how the film was made, told by the director who is wonderful.

    Anyway, in one scene in the film the two main characters are snacking on pieces of sugar cane. I have actually bought some in the past, and had no idea what to do with it – and my grown kids weren’t interested in finding out.

    Just yesterday, I was in a Chinese organic produce shop and they had a box of sugar cane, and the owner said he had just enjoyed some. I actually left the shop – I’m on a diet and my husband is diabetic, why would I be buying sugar cane?! But I stopped half way down the block and went back for it.

    After watching the men’s ice-skating finals this evening I tried to deal with the cane the way the man in the shop had told me – peeling back the husk, but I couldn’t do it, and nearly cut myself on the knife.

    So I googled and the first thing I came across were the stories of workers in the fields in India getting attacked by tigers! This was sad, but fascinating and gave me pause about some of our (distant) insistence in the West about protecting tigers in the East. But that’s yet another digression.

    I had not realized that sugar was a product of India originally and now.

    There was another nice site about preparing the cane – though the handling of a knife on a plate seemed a little short on technique.

    Then I came to your page, and the instructions, coupled with the previous ones, are great and I’m sure I’ll be able to prepare my cane tomorrow. I may find it sweet enough as I have been eating so much less sugar that everything tastes over-sweet. I could barely eat a miniature banana that I bought at the same store.

    And THEN – drumroll ! I came to your video and of course watched that as well, now way way way past my bedtime which was before the Olympics! But – oh my! I had no idea at all how much processing was involved in sugar cane. How can they produce it so cheaply? I know it is expensive relative to beet sugar (isn’t it?) and corn syrup, and I guess we would be surprised at the processing involved in a lot of foods. But what a lot of work. This really highlights that it would be better us humans to do the “work” on extracting the treat direct from the cane. Or getting a precious “candy cane” once a month in a country store.

    It’s not that I don’t know a lot about sugar in the diet etc. but I have always been focused on the finished product. Why go to so much bother to produce something that has no food value? (Apart from the fact that it was at first invaluable for keeping people alive cheaply – that’s an important point. I’m originally from England and I grew up on sugar. But I’m talking here about where we have enough nutritious food).

    It really seems like a drug when looked at like this. I won’t name the drug, but it reminds me of it.

    I remember reading a book years ago called “Sugar Blues” and I think in there it was described as “white as the driven snow”.

    Thank you so much for this. It’s something as a shock and kind of sobering.

    Thank you also to the doctor – very concise and useful comment also.

    I am writing so long because that tends to be my way, but also because I’m very tired. It’s now after 1am. I’ve got side-tracked and sidetracked. But it has been really really worth it.

    And it all started with the cover of a DVD “calling” to me on a pile of other stuff in a Goodwill store. Do take a look at Picture Bride. I think you will like it.

  4. Doreen
    4:40 am on February 15th, 2014

    P.S.
    Looked up the book I was referring to – it’s called Sugar Blues by William Duffy. I must have read it in 1975 when it was first published. Probably stumbled on it. I recall being shocked by it at the time, and as I read on worried that it was just another fad book. Why did I wait from 1975 to 2013 to heed its advice?

    I have been meaning to take another look at it for a couple of years now, because I don’t remember much of it at all, perhaps I didn’t even finish it.

    So this is another way that your page is really useful to me. I think it will help me continue with my exercise and diet – I have been at it since 2008 very slowly coming to terms with what I need to do and last year I was particularly successful at cutting sugar and slowly but steadily losing weight. The South Beach diet is another very good book about the perils of sugar – and one that I believed much more than Sugar Blues, but I ended up just slowly moving towards cutting the sugar (and other foods) still giving myself a treat, and meanwhile trying to find new ways to make desserts. (As another aside, I had a terrible episode at Christmas which I strongly suspect might have been caused by Splenda, but I have not recovered from the symptoms long enough to give it another try — just to be sure it was indeed that – again this is another discussion). I’m doing extremely well, but I am so grateful for this site as I feel that it is something that will naturally motivate me. I admire the technology of the factory shown and find it truly amazing, but it’s not nearly as romantic as the cane fields themselves, and perhaps there is a glimmer of change about that too. Right now in my mind I am walking the red “sugar road” on the island of Kauai on a sunny afternoon, the cane towering on either side. And remember we were singing “C&H, pure cane sugar, from Hawaii, drying in the sun.”? In a way it is sad, and so many lovely things have been dreamed up to make with sugar. Such a magical substance – how it can be spun for example. I sometimes think of poor old Henry VIII – was he one of the first victims? Well, now I’m getting REALLY off the wall – a quarter to two. Look what even thinking about sugar can do to you!

    Forgive me for my rambling – but again, THANK YOU.

  5. Doreen
    4:56 am on February 15th, 2014

    So sorry … one more.
    I was forgetting – surely it’s most tremendous value was as a preservative for foods. We have the luxury of that not being so important, but it is still of considerable importance, even for us.

  6. Doreen
    3:21 am on February 17th, 2014

    Wish I could remove those other posts, too long. Thanks for the instructions – it has worked perfectly 2X and OMG what a delicious snack. It has to be good for you, it’s so good. Chewed like gum, it’s perfect, a mouthful of extraordinary, delicate sweetness, which such a clean taste on the tongue. That’s why Mexican Coke is better, but why go to all that bother when this is so perfect?! Thank you.

  7. Bob
    10:46 pm on February 17th, 2014

    Funny to read this as I’m sitting here munching sugar cane. I was looking for info on calorie content, health benefits, etc
    I live in South China 16 years now and was introduced to sugarcane by my wife here back before we moved here on a visit to see relatives. Great stuff. Around here you can buy it at sidewalk shops. They’ll strip it for you and people walk around with a two foot stick of it just ripping it apart with your teeth. Alternatively, a lot of the places have crusher/juicers. They’ll strip and crush stalks and the juice goes into the bottle right in front of you. You can buy a quart and a half bottle for about a buck or a smaller bottle for half that. Fantastic!

  8. hi all
    I am Faheem from punjab Pakistan.
    in my city we use Jaggery (gurh or Shakar) Instead of suger.
    It contains up to 50% sucrose, up to 20% invert sugars, up to 20% moisture
    it is tasty and sweet made by sugercane.
    by this process
    the sugar cane cultivators used crushers which were oxen driven. Nowadays all the crushers are power driven. These crushers are located in fields near the sugar crop. The cut and cleaned sugar cane is put into the crusher. The extracted sugar cane juice is collected in a big vessel. Certain quantity of the juice is transferred to a smaller vessel for heating on a furnace.

    The vessel is heated for about one hour. the dried wood pulp from the crushed sugar cane is used as fuel for the furnace. While boiling the juice, some lime is added to it so that all the wood particles are collected on top of the juice in a froth during boiling which is skimmed off. Finally the juice thickened and reduced to nearly one- third of the original volume. This hot liquid is golden in color. It is stirred continuously and lifted with a spatula to observe whether it forms a thread or drips dropwise while falling. If it forms many threads, it has completely thickened. Now it is poured into a shallow flat bottomed concrete tank to cool and solidify. The tank is large enough to allow only a thin coat of this hot liquid to form at its bottom, so as to increase the surface area for quick evaporation and cooling. After cooling down the jaggery becomes a soft solid which is now pressed into the desired shape for selling at the market.

  9. Sharon
    1:50 pm on April 25th, 2014

    nice pictures & clear instructions. thanks for input from Doc and Faheem. Will make for my 5 year old as part of “where food comes from” conversations. Whole Foods has lots of options to refined sugar and most of it tastes better than bleached sugar. Think I’ll consider Faheem’s post and look at local Indian markets for Jaggery, likely much cheaper than Whole Foods. I get palm sugar from Thai market, very inexpensive to use.

  10. This is a sweet snack. Although very hard to get to the taste