Samui Wining & Dining
Tropical Pick

Why sugar cane is the way to go when you need a sweetness kick.


Page-04Remember that old Elvis song, “You’re the Devil in Disguise”? Well the subject of today’s amazingly informative treatise is much the same. Sugar is both a delight and a poison (yes, I’m afraid so!), very much depending on which of its many forms it comes in. Various sugars occur naturally in the plant world, such as sucrose, dextrose and fructose which, when thrown into the mix, only seems to complicate matters. In today’s health-conscious world, whacking the ‘organic’ label on anything carries a lot of weight. But many of the so-called ‘organic’ offerings are also subject to enforced additives, simply to comply with whatever the current government regulations might be.

      It might seem to some that the more we advance and progress, the more complicated everything becomes. And any of you who are old enough to remember taking a drink from a hosepipe on a hot summer’s day (without giving it a second thought) will know what I mean. Back in simpler times, sugar, as such, was virtually unknown. But the longing for sweetness wasn’t. Next to rare spices from the Orient, something as sweet as honey was highly prized. It was eaten ‘raw’, it was added to foods, it was used as the base for mead, the ‘wine of the gods’. The poet-warrior, Alexander the Great, is

accredited with discovering the alternative to honey – he brought sugar canes back to Europe after a military expedition to India, around 300 BC. Which seems a little strange . . .

      Because today’s authorities are agreed that sugar cane was originally discovered growing in the Pacific Islands! What is known for a fact, however, is that the Arabs brought sugar to the western part of the Mediterranean. They cultivated sugar cane in southern Spain and on Sicily, after having conquered these regions. In the Middle Ages, Venice was Europe’s leading importer and exporter of sugar. The raw sugar was imported from India and consolidated in Venice before being exported to the rest of Europe – and not an E-number or chemical additive in sight.

     It’s tempting to waffle on about Columbus, the Age of Discovery, the spread of European colonies into the New World and all of the things that sailing ships brought back to Europe in the early 17th century. But it gets us no closer to the concept of sugar: the bags of sugar we know today, and their torturous relationship to the original canes of sugar, from whence they sprang. Today the entire business of sugar has become streamlined and industrialised – enter the devil in disguise.

     Dr. William Coda Martin, as far back as 1957, posed the question: ‘when is a food a food and when is it a poison?’ His answer, “. . . a poison is any substance which, within the body, causes or may cause disease.” He classified refined sugar as a poison because it had been depleted of its ‘life forces’, vitamins and minerals. “What is left consists of pure, refined carbohydrates and results in the formation of ‘toxic metabolite’ such as pyruvic acid and abnormal sugars containing carbon atoms. Pyruvic acid accumulates in the brain and nervous system and the abnormal sugars in the red blood cells cannot get sufficient oxygen to survive and function normally. In time, some of these cells die. This interferes with the function of a part of the body and is the beginning of degenerative diseases.”

      The operative word here is ‘refined’. In the process of refining sugar cane, there are repeated processes of washing, boiling, centrifuging, filtering and drying, in which nearly all of the plant’s nutritional elements are removed. What remains is 95% sucrose, along with nutritionally insignificant minerals. It’s then ‘sanitised’ by steaming. And then, to produce the white crystals we call table sugar, bleaching agents such as lime and carbon dioxide are added. The sugar is then further ‘purified’ and whitened by being filtered in a liquid state through the burned, ground bones of cattle. And the average first-world person, on both sides of the Atlantic, gets through 150 pounds of this stuff every year, either by the spoonful or as an intrinsic part of their diet.

       Back to sugar cane – eat some! What happens to refined sugar is exactly the same as what happens to ‘white’ bread. (I remember a wonderful law case in America, where a laboratory proved there was actually more nutrition present in the cardboard box than in the cornflakes inside. The company was then forced to add powdered chemical nutrients!) The cane itself is raw and basic. Cane juice contains several essential nutrients and minerals, such as calcium, potassium, iron, magnesium and phosphorous, although it has to be said not a lot! But it clears the urinary flow and helps the kidneys to perform their functions smoothly, along with reducing enlarged prostates, and helping with cystitis and nephritis. Sugarcane is also good for digestion, as it can effectively work as a mild laxative because of its high potassium content. Furthermore – it’s grown ‘locally’.

      Thailand is now one of the world’s leading exporters of sugar cane (Indonesia being the front-runner) but this is also a problem. As in – it’s all exported by the container-load. Nobody wants to use it here. Trying to get hold of it is tricky – it’s not on sale in any of the big supermarkets. An additional cultural disadvantage is that the Thais hate anything that’s not white. They try to bleach their skin. Even Thai ‘toast’ comes out carefully un-browned! Bleached rice and (when they eat it) bleached white bread is their order of the day. (They feed the good stuff – the brown ‘low-grade’ rice – to the prisoners in their jails.) So they are not, as a nation, queuing up to buy wild rice or brown sugar. There’s just no demand for it. But, if nothing else, you can now stop sprinkling refined sugar on your chemically enhanced cornflakes. Thai honey is on sale everywhere. It’s pure and sweet and it might have a few lumps in it, but at least they’re natural ones! Stir some in your coffee. Mix it with your muesli. You can even dab it behind your ears if you want because, whichever way you look at it, it just has to be better than ‘a devil in disguise’!


Rob De Wet


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