Monday, September 3, 2012

Sugar Sweets - Making Fresh Cane Juice

fresh sugar cane
 Sweet mother. 
Where do you come from?

loading up the truck
I was treated to so many taste pleasures on my trip to Ecuador, one being fresh cacao, and another being a refreshing drink with a taste all its own, known as freshly pressed cane juice. I felt almost guilty enjoying something so pure and thirst quenching.  As hot and sticky as the jungles can be, and as you sweat out the long day in the sun, cane juice fills you back up with the coolness of the morning dew and the essence of the afternoon shade.

pressing the sugar cane in the press/trapiche - mindo, ecuador
One of the more spontaneous trips in Ecuador involved a trip up and out of the valley of Mindo to a town about thirty minutes away.... or so we thought (read on). Our mission was to pick up some freshly harvested sugar cane or caña de azúcar. Every month or so, at El Quetzal de Mindo, sugar cane is sought out, brought back to Mindo and pressed into fresh cane juice and then boiled down into a cane syrup which is used in several of the artisan products produced there. (my personal favorite being the ginger ale). The lucky part of being around on pressing day is that you can fill up your glass with fresh cane juice, add a bit of fresh squeezed lime juice and drink up! (Thank you Jorge for filling my water bottle to the brim) You can also chew on the cane, which is exquisite in it's own right because of the texture and crunch it gives while filing your mouth with this delicious sweetness we call cane juice.

sugar cane juice being boiled down into a syrup
We were given a set of very crude and very Ecuadorian directions to pick up the sugar cane. If you ask one person for directions in Ecuador they may tell you that it will take you 20 minutes to get somewhere and tell you to just drive straight. Another will tell you one hour and turn left (when they really mean right) and when exasperated, you finally reach your destination, you will see it neither took you twenty minutes or an hour, it took two hours! Our directions were; stop at kilometer marker 71 and pick up the cane in front of the cemetary. Really? Cryptic? Yes, we drove all around the tops of the mountains looking for the right kilometer marker. We finally found it. Was there any cemetery near by? Nope. Just a small dirt road about 1/4 mile past the marker. So being that that was our only clue, we took a left down the road and headed into a small village. Cemetery in sight? Nope? We stopped three times and asked three different people where the cemetery was. Each person zig zagged their hands in the air told us to just snake our way through the streets, right, left, right, straight back, right before the big hill, and then your will find it. We zigged, we zagged... and we finally found it. Sure enough way in the back of the village, near the edge of the forest, there stood the cane, standing on end, right in front of the cemetery.

We loaded up the cane, well actually the men loaded up the cane, I watched and snapped photos. The gentleman who grew the sugar cane was a sweet older gentleman, who lived with his son in a humble home on a hill next to the cemetery. Small sugar cane fields surrounded his house along with the most manicured gardens. You could tell that his gardens were so important to him. Each plant more beautiful than the next. He was being visited that day by an older woman who kept insisting to me that she was just his "friend" and she just does his laundry. Yep..I've heard that before. I think she was actually quite sweet on the man, no pun intended here. She led me up the path to the house where I snapped several shots, as you see here some of the beautiful flowers in the garden.

Sugar cane ready to be pressed
The next day back at El Quetzal, Don Victor prepped the canes for pressing. Prepping involves cleaning the canes of anything extraneous and halving them both lengthways and width-ways with the machete. This makes it much more reasonable for the press to manage the canes. I found that out quickly enough when I fed too many canes into the trapiche and plugged up the works. Luckily Don Victor wasn't too upset and was able to fix the machine.

The canes are run only once through the press, the juice is collected and run though a sieve. After being filtered once, the juice is then brought over to another set of filters where more of the impurities are taken out. After it's final filtering, the juice is put into a giant vat where it boils down into a sweet thick syrup that we call cane syrup. During the process of boiling down the sugar juice, you constantly are skimming off more impurities off the top.

The videos below are loud, due to the noise of the press, so adjust your volume.

Freshly squeezed cane juice is a far cry from the sweetness of sugar that we are accustomed to. It is hard to adeptly describe the flavor. I like to say it tastes fresh, crisp, spring tasting, and yes of course sweet. But in order to get the sweetness needed to use it as a sweetener, it has to be boiled down and concentrated. Once in its concentrated form, it can be used to flavor all sorts of beverages and sauces.

Thankful for my time in Ecuador and happy to share it all with you - xoxo Megan

Because I am happy to be alive, make chocolates, climb mountains, drink fresh cane juice, love, and let the sun warm my skin~


  1. Oh Megan - what a great post! I saw that truckload of sugarcane and was transported back to south Louisiana. :) I do remember cane juice, but I have a stronger memory of chewing on the stripped sugar cane and having the juice squirt in my mouth. Oh so good! Hilarious story about getting directions! More wonderful pictures and more exciting adventures - thanks for sharing!

  2. Awesome blog post.....:)


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