Due to its sweet taste and great availability, sugarcane juice (Chinese: 柘浆) is a popular drink sold by street vendors throughout the year. Since sugarcane is grown in warm temperatures in Southern provinces like Guangdong, Guangxi and Fujian, the juice obtained from this plant is commonly found in most cities in Southern China. Depending on the size, a glass costs between 6 and 9 yuan.
Described as “neutral” and “sweet in flavour” in traditional Chinese medicine, sugarcane is considered to be an active antipyretic, so that it effectively reduces fever. While it is a great source of instant energy, this plant drink is also low-glycemic, therefore it doesn’t cause spikes in blood sugar. Sugarcane juice contains folic acid which protects from neural birth defects and increases chances of conception. Great amounts of calcium present in this delicacy help build bones and teeth, while potassium balances the pH levels in the stomach. In addition, flavonoids in sugarcane reduce the risk of breast cancer.
Sugarcane is juiced without any additives. It is naturally rich in fructose, hence the sweet flavour without any added sugar. Occasionally it may be prepared with other ingredients, for example ginger, lemon or lime.
The juice is produced by crushing this plant in a specialised juicer, which are produced on a world scale in China. While today these machines are typically powered, in poorer areas it is still common to find hand-cranked machines. The juice is usually served cold.
Sugarcane is indigenous to the tropical climates of Southeast Asia. It was first planted as a crop in New Guinea around 6000 BC, though it spread around the world soon afterwards. While juicing (and often crystallising) sugarcane is the most popular method of utilising this crop, other uses include producing molasses, liquor, as well as raw consumption.
After Brazil and India, China is the world’s third biggest producer of sugarcane, harvesting 125 536 thousand metric tones a year.