My husband has been making sales calls in the coastal areas of Louisiana during the past couple of weeks. He mentioned that it was fascinating to see the sugarcane harvest in progress which is in full swing in October and November. I decided write this week’s blog post about Louisiana sugarcane.
Here is a sugarcane field just a few miles west of Baton Rouge in Brusly. The sugarcane plants are well over 10 feet tall.
The sugarcane industry is big business in Louisiana. It is one of the major agricultural crops in the state. Cross the Mississippi River bridge on Interstate 10 from Baton Rouge going west towards Texas and then turn south at Lafayette. You are headed towards the heart of sugarcane country. (Don’t worry, this is not the highway–just a road through a sugarcane field.)
There are 11 sugarcane mills in Louisiana according to the American Sugar Cane League. The mills produce 1.4 million tons of raw sugar each year. The milled value of the crop was 1 billion dollars 2012 with an overall economic impact to the state of $2.79 billion dollars.
Harvesting and processing sugarcane
To harvest the sugarcane, plants are cut with farm machine equipment, loaded into Star Wars-looking wagons and taken to mills for processing. On a busy day, you can see row after row of these tractor rigs lined up in the fields.
After the cane is delivered to the mills, it is rolled, crushed and the sugar syrup squeezed out and extracted. This is boiled to concentrate the sugar and the syrup is poured off from the sugar crystals. This process is repeated several times with further concentration of sugar crystals. The syrup that is poured off after the third extraction typically is sold as molasses. It has less sugar than refined sugar–since the concentrated sugar crystals are removed. The molasses retains some the flavor and nutrients of the unprocessed sugarcane.
Here is sugarcane gorwing in the field. It is easy to see the canes.
And here are a few pieces of sugarcane that landed on the ground. For novelty, it is possible to shave and whittle off the exterior with a knife and taste the sweetness in the interior of the canes.
“Raw sugar” is the product of sugar mill processing. It is minimally processed sugarcane and is course, light brown and has a slight molasses flavor. This is shipped out to refineries where it is centrifuged and processed into refined sugar. Light and dark brown sugar are made during this process.
Domino Sugar, owned by American Sugar Refining, Inc., operates four sugar mills in Louisiana and processes over half of the raw sugar in the state. Steen’s Pure Cane Syrup is a family owned business and concentrates the sugarcane into a sweet cane syrup. Unlike molasses, it is not the elixir of the sugar crystals, but a sugar syrup with a light molasses-like flavor.
The Jesuit priests brought sugarcane to Louisiana in 1751; so sugarcane has been grown in Louisiana for over 250 years. For interesting trivia, these one of these early sugarcane plantations was located at what is now Audubon Park in uptown New Orleans.
Sugarcane is really a tropical grass and farmers in the sub-tropical climate of this state have had to learn to adapt to successfully grow the crop. The LSU Agricultural Center, along with private industry, does research to improve quality of sugar cane, control diseases and pests and keep this crop vibrant and competitive with foreign markets.
Sugarcane production in the United States is quite small compared to Brazil, the major producer, and other several other countries such as India and China. However, agriculture in this country is important and I believe that is it is not wise to be dependent totally on foreign sources for an agricultural crop.
Cane sugar vs beet sugar
Once sugar is refined, from either sugarcane or sugar beets, there is no difference between the two. Sugar is sugar which is sucrose. Except for labeling, you might never know the source of the sugar.
Is sugar “unhealthy” for you?
Is sugar “unhealthy” for you? This is the real question and it is a matter of opinion. For me, the real culprit is the excess of processed foods and sweetened beverages that we eat leading to low intakes of fresh fruits, vegetables and whole grains. Eat a variety of foods and sugar can fit into a daily meal plan.
This week I used a Louisiana sugar product, Steen’s Cane Syrup, in a recipe and variation. The recipes give different ways to cook the same ingredients. “Roasted Sweet Potatoes with Satsuma and Steen’s Syrup Gaze” is oven roasted. The sauce has a mildly sweet and fruity flavor which brings out the bland flavor of the sweet potatoes. I used fresh rosemary from my garden for a flavor accent.
Both Louisiana sweet potatoes and satsuma oranges are in season now. I combined satsuma orange juice, rosemary, salt and pepper and Steen’s Cane Syrup to make a glaze for the sweet potatoes. I roasted these with pork chops which were butterflied. The thinner pork chops didn’t take as long to roast. I had some Fuji persimmons around and added these; however, this is optional.
Roasted Sweet Potatoes with Satsuma and Steen's Syrup Glaze
- 2 cups sweet potatoes, peeled and diced in 1 inch pieces (2 small/medium sweet potatoes or 12 oz)
- 1 cup Fuji persimmons, peeled and diced in 1 inch pieces (2 persimmons), optional
- 1/4 cup fresh satsuma orange juice (1 large satsuma)
- 1/4 cup Steen’s Cane Syrup (or substitute 2 Tbsp molasses)
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 1/4 tsp pepper
- 1 Tbsp fresh rosemary, removed from stems and chopped
- 2 center cut boneless pork chops, butterflied (about 1 lb)
- 2 Tbsp olive oil
- sliced satsuma and rosemary sprig for garnish, optional
Instructions and Steps
- Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Line baking sheet with aluminum foil.
- Place the peeled and diced sweet potatoes and persimmons (optional) in medium bowl.
- In another small bowl, combine satsuma orange juice, Steen’s Cane Syrup (or molasses), salt, pepper and fresh rosemary. Stir to combine and pour over sweet potatoes. Stir to mix the sauce with the sweet potatoes.
- Place pork chops on center of baking sheet. Sprinkle with salt and pepper to taste.
- Place the sweet potatoes in single layer onto baking sheet around the pork chops. Pour remaining the juice over the sweet potatoes.
- Drizzle olive oil over the sweet potatoes and toss the sweet potatoes to coat.
- Bake in center rack of oven for 15 minutes. Using a spatula, carefully turn all the sweet potatoes over.
- Bake 15 – 20 minutes longer until the pork chops are baked. Avoid over-roasting the sweet potatoes.
I have to say that sweet potatoes were never my favorite vegetable when I was growing up. Once I made a recipe which combined fresh sweet potatoes with apples, apple juice and brown sugar and baked in the oven. The tart flavor of the apples complemented the sweet potatoes. Using fresh sweet potatoes, rather than canned ones, made all the difference. It won me over. This recipe is the similar to above recipe and is covered and baked rather than roasted.
Baked Sweet Potatoes and Apples with Satsuma and Steen's Syrup
- 3 cups sweet potatoes, peeled and diced in 1″ pieces (2 medium/large sweet potatoes or 1 lb)
- 1 cup Cripps Pink or Lady Pink apples, peeled and diced (1 large apple-8 oz) or other tart cooking apple
- 1/4 cup fresh satsuma orange juice
- 1/4 cup Steen’s Cane Syrup
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 1/4 tsp pepper
- 1 Tbsp fresh rosemary, removed from stem and chopped
- 1 Tbsp olive oil
- 4 center cut boneless pork chops (1 1/2 lb)
Instructions and Steps
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Lightly oil bottom of 8″x8″ casserole dish.
- Place the peeled and diced sweet potatoes and diced apples in medium bowl.
- In another small bowl, combine satsuma orange juice, Steen’s Cane Syrup (or molasses), salt, pepper, fresh rosemary and olive oil. Stir to combine and pour over sweet potatoes and apples and sir to mix and coat the apples and sweet potatoes.
- Place pork chops in casserole dish. Sprinkle with salt and pepper to taste.
- Arrange the sweet potatoes and apples over the pork chops, pouring remaining the juice over all.
- Cover casserole dish tightly with aluminum foil. Bake in center rack of oven for 1 hour.
American Sugar Cane League. 2014. http://amscl.org/
What is Raw Sugar? Wise Geek. wisegeek.com/what-is-raw-sugar.htm Conjecture Corporation. 2003 – 2014.
Louisiana’s Sugarcane Industry, Louisiana Agruculture LSUAg Center. Fall 2001. lsuagcenter.com/en/communications/publications/agmag/Archive/2001/Fall/Louisianas+Sugarcane+Industry.htm
Domino Sugar’s Louisiana Sugar Refinery Reaches New American Manufacturing, Milestone presswire, 2014. prnewswire.com/news-releases/domino-sugars-louisiana-sugar-refinery-reaches-new-american-manufacturing-milestone-172668011.html
Domino Sugar’s Chalmette refinery’s history and production recognized, NOLA.com The Times-Picayune, Dec 13, 2012. nola.com/business/index.ssf/2012/12/domino_sugars_chalmette_refine.html
Welcome to Steen’s Syrup. Copyright ©1996, 1997 by C. S. Steen’s Syrup Mill, Inc.Contact Info: firstname.lastname@example.org
Sugarcane. Wikipedia Foundation. Nov 3. 2014. wikipedia.org/wiki/Sugarcane
200 YEARS OF PROGRESS IN THE LOUISIANA SUGAR INDUSTRY: A BRIEF HISTORY by Dr. Charley Richard American Sugar Cane League assct.org/louisiana/progress.pdf