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Alcohol and Health

What Is Cane Alcohol? Is It Bad for You?

April 25, 2024
19 min read
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Reframe Content Team
A team of researchers and psychologists who specialize in behavioral health and neuroscience. This group collaborates to produce insightful and evidence-based content.
April 25, 2024
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Certified recovery coach specialized in helping everyone redefine their relationship with alcohol. His approach in coaching focuses on habit formation and addressing the stress in our lives.
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Recognized by Fortune and Fast Company as a top innovator shaping the future of health and known for his pivotal role in helping individuals change their relationship with alcohol.
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Extracting Details on the Adverse Effects of Cane Alcohol

  • Cane alcohol, especially when labeled as organic, might sound like a better alternative to other alcoholic beverages.

  • Understanding what cane alcohol is and its harmful effects helps us not fall in the trap of this common misconception.

  • Reframe is a neuroscience-based app that provides tools to help us make more mindful drinking decisions!

Organic, natural, and non-GMO, among many other labels, are supposedly “better” alternatives to a normal generic product. But what about organic cane alcohol? We know that there are harmful effects of drinking alcoholic beverages and may be looking for a better option. 

On the surface, cane alcohol can seem like a viable alternative to other alcoholic beverages we may be more familiar with. However, a deeper dive into its adverse effects may suggest otherwise. Let’s further examine what it is and evaluate if it's a healthier option so we can make more well-informed alcohol choices. 

What Is Cane Alcohol?

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Cane alcohol is alcohol that is made from the sugar cane plant. The two main types of cane alcohol are pure cane alcohol and alcohol made from molasses — which we know as rum.

Pure cane alcohol is made from organic sugar cane. The plant is cut and milled with water to produce raw sugar cane juice, which is then heated to remove the impurities. The sugar cane juice is fermented and distilled multiple times to reach a high level of purity, which organic cane alcohol is known for. Rum, on the other hand, is made from fermentation of molasses, a byproduct of the sugar-making process. It falls under the general category of cane alcohol but is distinct from pure cane alcohol.

Pure organic cane alcohol is known for its neutral taste and purity, making it adaptable to many different uses.

How Is Organic Cane Alcohol Used? 

Organic cane alcohol is used in a variety of different industries aside from alcoholic beverage companies. Some of its other uses include the following:

  • Production of pharmaceuticals. Cane alcohol is a quality solvent and is commonly used in producing over-the-counter and prescription medications.
  • Base for perfumes and cosmetics. The purity and neutrality of cane alcohol make it a perfect base for perfumes and cosmetics. It serves as a great solvent for fragrances and colors to be mixed and made into beauty products.
  • Preservative. Pure cane alcohol is commonly used as a preservative due to its high alcohol content. It prevents the growth of unwanted bacteria in skin care products and in flavorings and colorants used in the food industry.
  • Disinfectant. The high alcohol content gives cane alcohol its disinfectant properties. Cane alcohol is used in cleaning products, hand sanitizers, mouthwash, and more.

Cane alcohol is versatile, not just in its applications within different industries but also in the types of alcoholic beverages it can create.

Types of Cane Alcohol Approved for Consumption 

Pure cane alcohol, which is pure alcohol at 98% alcohol by volume, is used to make distilled alcoholic beverages such as liqueurs, vodkas, and bitters. Legality varies widely by country and region. When purchasing or consuming cane alcohol, it’s important to check regional regulations.

Cane alcoholic drinks are extremely popular in Brazil. Three of the most notable include cachaça, aguardente de cana, and simple alcoholic sugar cane distillate — all made from sugar cane juice. Each varies in ABV and has its own minimum and maximum ABV regulations in Brazil.

While cane alcoholic beverages are popular in Brazil, rum is the most popular cane alcohol approved for consumption in the U.S. According to the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB), rum may not exceed 95% alcohol by volume but can vary in regulations depending on the area. 

So is cane alcohol really so bad, given its popularity and various uses?

Is Organic Cane Alcohol Bad for You?

Organic sugar cane alcohol in the context of cosmetics preservation and pharmaceuticals can be a great alternative to synthetically produced chemicals. However, in the context of alcoholic beverages, being derived from an organic plant doesn’t negate the toxicity of alcohol. 

Just the way a basket of french fries or a carton of apple juice doesn't count as our serving of fruits and vegetables for the day, alcohol made from a plant doesn’t exactly make it a green juice. Organic cane alcohol has the same harmful effects as other alcoholic beverages that are made from other plants. It goes through the same fermentation process that creates alcohol by turning sugar into ethanol. When we consume ethanol, it’s broken down into a toxic compound known as acetaldehyde — the culprit of many of alcohol’s detrimental effects.

A particular study focused on sugar cane spirits found that their consumption produced anxiolytic-like effects in mice, reducing their inhibitions and causing them to behave out of the ordinary, while also causing them liver injury. While the alcohol content in organic cane alcohol can vary depending on the type of alcoholic beverage, it still contains toxic compounds that harm our health. 

So, we’ve learned that cane alcohol has the same harmful effects as grain alcohol, but let’s dive into the difference a little more.

Comparing Grain and Cane Alcohol

Grain and cane alcohol are similar in that they have various uses, and they’re both derived from plants: cane alcohol is from sugar cane and grain alcohol is from other grains such as corn, wheat, or barley. But grain and cane alcohol are distinct due to three main differences:

  • Sustainability. Sugar cane is more eco-friendly than grains as it requires less land and energy to farm. One sugar cane plant can yield seven harvests, whereas some plants such as corn would yield only one. This makes cane alcohol better for the environment and more cost-efficient to produce. 
  • Presence of gluten. Since cane alcohol is made from the sugar cane plant, it doesn’t contain gluten like most grain alcohols. This makes cane alcohol a better gluten-free alternative for those of us who are gluten intolerant or diagnosed with celiac disease. 
  • Popularity. Grain alcohol is more popular than cane alcohol in the U.S. due to the high availability of grains. Sugar cane is a tropical plant mostly grown in warm areas such as Brazil, India, and China — making cane alcohol more popular in these areas.

While sugar cane alcohol has some benefits over grain alcohol, consuming cane alcohol is still associated with many risks.

Risks of Consuming Sugar Cane Alcohol

Sugar cane alcohol is just like any other alcohol in that it is a toxic compound that opens the door to many different complications and consequences. Some of the issues that drinking alcohol leads to include the following:

  • Acute health effects. Alcohol depresses our central nervous system, which affects functions such as our coordination, judgment, and thinking. It also disrupts our blood pressure, impacts our blood sugar, and decreases our immune function. In short, drinking impacts all of the systems in our body, decreasing overall function. Another specific study on the effect of sugar cane alcohol in mice showed that consumption had negative effects on their nutritional and metabolic health.
  • Long-term health impacts. Prolonged exposure to the toxins in alcohol directly increases the risk of developing diseases and cancers. Long-term health conditions are the leading cause of alcohol-related mortalities.
  • Mental health issues. The stimulant and depressant effects of alcohol create mood fluctuations and can impact our stress response over time. Excess drinking is linked with poor mental health and can also lead to other mental health conditions, such as anxiety and depression.
  • Risk of dependence. Alcohol is a drug that can cause dependence and misuse. Cane alcohol typically contains a high alcohol content, adding to these risks.

Due to the way sugar cane alcohol is presented, it also comes with its own risk factors. 

  • Fluctuating alcohol content. Pure cane alcohol can come in varying levels of ABV. When mixing drinks at home (common in crafting cane alcoholic beverages), it can be difficult to determine the alcohol content in our drink. Cane alcohol is also made into distilled spirits such as rum. Distilled spirits have a high alcohol content, adding to their dangers.
  • Common misconceptions. False beliefs about cane alcohol can make it more dangerous. For example, if we believe cane alcohol has health benefits, we may be more prone to excessive consumption

Let’s clear up some of the confusion surrounding organic cane alcohol so we can make well-informed decisions about drinking.

Clearing Up Common Misconceptions About Cane Alcohol

Cane alcohol, specifically organic cane alcohol, is associated with many common misconceptions, such as: 

  • Organic cane alcohol is better for our health. Cane alcohol and grain alcohol both contain the same toxic compounds. Cane alcohol may be better for those of us who are gluten intolerant or celiac, but it is not better for our health than grain alcohol. 
  • Organic means nothing toxic. Grain and cane alcohol both come in organic varieties. According to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), certified organic products must not contain more than 5% nonorganic ingredients. Synthetic pesticides and fertilizers, growth hormones, and genetic engineering are prohibited. However, organic products can still have residue of these substances as long as it doesn’t exceed the 5% mark. Decreasing exposure to pesticides and chemicals is beneficial; however, it’s important to note that organic alcohol doesn’t take away the toxicity of alcohol. Alcohol is still alcohol.
  • Cane alcohol has high levels of antioxidants. Sugar cane is high in antioxidants, which help get rid of free radicals, the molecules that cause cell damage. However, research shows that alcohol causes oxidative stress, creating an imbalance between free radicals and antioxidants. This can counteract the antioxidant levels found in sugar cane.

After we understand exactly what cane alcohol is we are able to consume more mindfully and safely.

Navigating Safe Cane Alcohol Consumption

Navigating Safe Cane Alcohol Consumption

As we’ve learned, consuming cane alcohol comes with many risks. If we choose to drink cane alcohol, we can limit its negative consequences through mindful drinking practices:

  • Learn more. Alcohol itself is a complex substance that interacts with our body in multifarious ways. The confusing aspects of cane alcohol can further add to its complexity. From a quick glance, organic cane alcohol doesn’t sound too bad compared to Everclear and other better known substances. However, learning more about organic cane alcohol’s negative effects can help us better understand the consequences and consume more mindfully.
  • Quit or cut back on alcohol. Although alcohol is such a large part of our social culture, at the end of the day, it’s still a toxic substance that can have substantial impacts on our well-being. Finding alternatives and seeking support are ways we can reduce our overall alcohol consumption.
  • Keep track. Tracking our alcohol consumption helps us identify any triggers we may have and helps us set intentional goals to quit or cut back. 
  • Manage other facets of our health. We’ve established that alcohol is detrimental to our health. However, other substances and activities can also be harmful to our well-being. Aside from quitting or cutting back on alcohol, prioritizing a balanced diet, connecting with others, and engaging in physical activities can improve our overall health.

Mindfully approaching cane alcohol and alcohol in general can help minimize its adverse effects. However, at the end of the day, alcohol is still alcohol, no matter if it’s organic or derived from a sugar cane plant.

Without “Sugarcoating” It

We may have all been duped at some point in our lives by product labeling. Free-range, all-natural, and organic may not always be what we think. Debunking common myths about organic cane alcohol helps us see it for what it is. Pure cane alcohol is a useful, eco-friendly substance when used in the cosmetics, pharmaceutical, and food industries. However, as an alcoholic beverage, organic cane alcohol has the same toxic effects as grain alcohol, which we may be more familiar with. The lack of clarity and regulations surrounding cane alcohol makes it even more dangerous than other alcoholic beverages. Gain a better relationship with alcohol by cutting back, whether it be from grain or cane!

Summary FAQs

1. What is organic cane alcohol?

Organic cane alcohol is made from organic sugar cane plants. It needs to meet certain requirements to be labeled as organic. Some USDA requirements include having no traces of chemical fertilizers, pesticides, ionized radiation, or preservatives.

2. What are the differences between grain and cane alcohol?

The main difference between grain and cane alcohol is how they are made. Grain alcohol is made by fermenting different types of grains. Cane alcohol is made from fermented sugar cane juice or molasses derived from sugar cane.

3. Is sugar cane alcohol better for me?

Not necessarily. If you have celiac disease or are gluten-sensitive and choose to drink, sugar cane alcohol will help you avoid alcohol-related triggers. However, cane alcohol still has the same negative effects as any type of alcohol on overall health.

4. What are the risks of using sugar cane alcohol?

Consuming sugar cane alcohol increases the risk of developing alcohol-related health conditions and can lead to worsened mental health and alcohol dependence.

5. How much alcohol is in cane alcohol?

Cane alcohol ranges in alcohol by volume, as it is used in many products and industries. Cane alcoholic beverages are similar to other distilled spirits ranging from 30-50% ABV. Pure cane alcohol can range from 90-98% ABV, which is used as a base for other distilled spirits or to make perfumes and disinfectant products. 

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