Sorgo and Imphee, the Chinese and African Sugar Canes. Chapter VIII. Paper - Vinegar - Starch - Dye Stuffs - Cerosie or Wax.

A Treatise Upon Their origin, varieties and culture;their value as a crop;and the manufacture of of sugar, syrup, alcohol, wines, beer, ceder, vinegar, starch and dye-stuffs;with a paper by Leonard Wray, ESE., of Caffraria, and a description of his patented process fro crystallizing the juice of the imphee.
To which are added, copious translations of valuable French pamphlets.
By Henry S. Olcott.
Fully Illustrated with Drawings of the best Machinery.

New York:
A. O. Moore, Agricultural Book Publisher, (Late O. M. Saxton & Co.)
No. 140 Fulton Street.


Like all other saccharine juices, the sap of the sorgho,  raw, and the wines and cider made from it, will rapidly  pass into the acetous fermentation. As soon as the cut  end of the stalk is exposed to the atmosphere, the oxygen  attacks it, and the fermentation commences. I have  found the sap of stalks which had lain in stack on our  place for two months, to be as acid as the best vinegar,  and although I have had no personal experience in vinegar manufacture, I still should not be afraid to testify,  with no other facts corroborative, that the sorgho is a  vinegar-producing plant.

The Count Moigneric, says Dr. Turrel in the Imperial  Society's Bulletin, of September, 1856, made vinegar by  watering the bagasse, already crushed, with fresh juice  of the sorgho. He obtained the acetous fermentation  and a perfect vinegar.

Mr. D. Jay Browne, in his remarks before the United  States Agricultural Society, said that he believed fifteen  hundred gallons of vinegar could be made per acre from  the sorgho. He had a specimen at his house in Washington, and pronounced it very good.

Lacoste says likewise at page fortyfour of his book,  "that the juice of the sugar sorgho submitted to the acetous fermentation, will produce vinegar of excellent  quality; and it will also be profitable to submit to this transformation the weaker alcohols arising from the final distillations."

The methods for the production of vinegar are so  simple, as to be familiar with almost every one of my  readers, and it will, consequently, be useless to occupy  much space in detailing them at length. I would simply  recommend that the practice usually employed in treating  the juice of apples, of the sugar maple, and the various  other saccharine fluids commonly employed for the manufacture of vinegar, be applied to the juices of the sorgho  and imphee as they come from the mill.

Sicard says that he has been in the custom of making  vinegar of the knots of the cane stalks, and of adding to  them such canes as were more or less spoiled. His process is extremely simple, and is as follows:
"Bruise the pieces in the mill, put them in contact with  a sufficient quantity of water to cover them a few inches,  let them ferment then all alone until the liquid has acquired the qualities desired for good vinegar. It is indispensable to draw this vinegar off once or twice, with a  view to removing from it all foreign substances." He  says that his vinegar is of a yellowish white color, and of  a very agreeable acidity. He has sometimes allowed the  knots to ferment before covering them with water, and in  this way has obtained a vinegar very deeply colored.  For the purpose of making vinegar, he has likewise made  use of the cider or piquette of the sorgho, by adding to it  a slight quantity of tartaric acid. He says vinegar can  likewise be obtained by putting into a barrel the residue  of canes from which the juice has been extracted for the  manufacture either of sugar or alcohol. In this case he left them without disturbance until they had acquired a  heat, of which he was made sensible by putting the hand  in the mess; he then added to it water, and let it ferment  as before mentioned.

Starch of the seed.

The consumption of starch in the United States, at all times large, has recently increased, owing to causes,  among which may be enumerated the present universally  prevalent custom of our females wearing stiff skirts; and  much more starch is eaten than formerly, prepared in  various forms for the table, such as starch, farina, tapioca,  &c. The seed, deprived of its envelope, has been submitted to numerous experiments by Mr. Wray, Count  Beauregard, Dr. Sicard and others, chemists and amateurs,  and has been found to yield forty-five per cent, of pure  starch of very excellent quality. In fact, it only needs for a  person to cut in two a fully matured seed, to be convinced  of the possibility of causing starch manufacturers to be  considerably interested in this plant, when the area under  cultivation shall be such as to bring down the prices of  the seed to a moderate rate. On taking off the outside  envelope of the seed, the one in which is contained a  very deep purple dye tint, we see adhering to the starchy  matter, another of a clear brown color, and somewhat  unctuous to the touch. So intimately is it a part of the  composition of the seed proper, that we anticipate an impossibility to separate it, except by the process applied to  barley, which is known as pearling, and in this way the  desired result will be easily attained. What will be a  cheap and expeditious method for removing the seed hulls, we cannot at present say. If it can be shown that the hulls, are valuable for the dyes which they will yield, ingenuity at once will be stimulated to produce a hulling machine; and if, as we think very probable, it shall be found the starch of the seed can be readily made use of, then again the same causes in operation will demand such a machine. But, at present, Dr. Sicard has made his experiments, as I have made my own with the hulls, by rubbing the seeds together in such a manner as to cause the hulls to separate of their own accord. Dr. Sicard made an experiment with about 175 Ibs. of the seed to determine the proportions of coarse bran, middlings, and fine flour, and obtained thirty-three pounds of each of the two former, and about ninety-five pounds of the latter. The coarse bran and middlings were both of a violet tint, arising from the coloring matter impregnating the outer lining of the hull. The fine flour itself offered to the eye an appearance of violet slightly bordering upon a rose color, and even after having been passed through a silken sieve, was still of a very pale rose color. To assure himself that the coloring matter which thus tinted the fine flour was merely contained in the outside covering of the seed, he undertook very minute experiments, completely removing all the hull and the two successive interior coatings before passing the seed through the mill, and even made use of chemical agents to remove the color. The result, it is true, was the production of a starch of very brilliant whiteness, but his experiments proved to my mind that the production of pure white starch will be a matter of considerable difficulty . It will have a pale rose color, which may, or may not, militate against its general introduction. He made from the starch at different times bread and cakes, and in the different cases varied success, some being palatable and others not. The flour of the sorgho is of an inferior quality as compared with wheat flour, and others of the finer grains, and any mixture of that with wheat flour is a fraud upon the stomach, giving a quantity of inferior aliment with an accompaning bribe of a better one, as quack physicians will make palatable to their patients nauseous pills by surrounding them with a coating of sugar. In speaking, however, of starch and the various forms of food to be made from the Chinese Sugar Cane. I would not be understood as embracing in the same category those which the imphee may furnish, for, because of the absence of any coloring matter from its hull, the peculiar plumpness of the seed, and the large quantity of starch found to be present, I have reason to believe that it will indeed be a valuable acquisition, and its culture be duly undertaken with this simple object in view. Be that as it may, we cannot alter the composition of the starch, nor of the other components of the sugar. Whither tinted rose color, or as white as the driven snow, it still will have its own unchanging proportions of carbon, oxygen, and hydrogen, which will represent a certain nutritive value, and for animals it cannot but prove, as indeed experience has already proved it to be, a very excellent fodder crop.

Madinier says, at page 10, that the seed contains 10 to 12 per cent, of nitrogenous matter gluten and about 60 per cent, of starch, which would make it, so far as the proportions of nitrogen are concerned, to resemble our common corn; but where he obtained his analysis, I am not informed. He says that the real use of the sorgho is not for bread-making, but it should be eaten on the farm in the form of broth and soups for the laborer, or to be boiled up in quantities and given for fattening pigs and cattle.

Dye Stuffs

Previous to the receipt of the pamphlets from Messrs. Hedges, Free, & Co., which were sent to them by his  Excellency our Minister at Paris, I had seen in my researches after the facts collated by French experimenters  and published in the French journals, occasional mention  of the experiments of Dr. Sicard of Marseilles, in procuring from the hulls of the seed a tint for dyeing;but  not the slightest clue was given as to how the dye was  produced. Thinking it an interesting aspect of the  sorgho culture, I was anxious to duplicate, if possible, his success; and to this end made various laboratory  experiments with alcohol, sulphuric ether, the various  acids, boiling the hulls in a retort with oxalic acid,  muriate of tin, alum, dilate acids, and plain water, and  obtained a number of tints of greater or less brilliancy.  Of these one was a deep purple, obtained by simply  boiling the hulls in pure water for about fifteen minutes;  another, a beautiful rose colored fluid, was made by  boiling the hulls of another sample (received from  France) in very dilute sulphuric acid, a few drops of the  acid to a pint of water being sufficient. And, by dropping  into the pure water in which the hulls were being boiled a few drops of nitric, muriatic, or acetic acids, as the case  might be, I obtained different shades of red. I inserted  in the liquid strips of cotton and silk fabrics, and .set  them with alum. In one case, I took a piece of white  ribbon, and by boiling it in the tinted solution for a few  moments, obtained a very deep color. In another case,  in a weaker solution, a ribbon was colored pink. Being  entirely unacquainted with the principles of dyeing, of  course my experiments were but imperfect, and were  useful only as proving the fact, that in the hulls was actually contained a tint, which might be very easily  separated. They led me to believe that, under proper  circumstances, this dye could be extracted and made into  pigments with profit.

In Dr. Sicard's " Monograph of the Chinese Sugar  Cane," he has introduced a specimen of twenty-one colors obtained by him from the seed, and for which he has  received letters patent. They range through all tints,  from a light buff to a very deep purple, but do not, of  course, present the brilliancy which they do when reproduced on different fabrics. "In fact," as he says himself  in his Postscript, " it would be difficult, by these specimens, to give the slightest idea of the beauty of the tints  which may be obtained on silk, woollen, or cotton  stuff. The first substance has especially a very great  affinity for the coloring matters obtained from the plant  which has occupied our attention;but if silk has more affinity for all the colors in general, there are others  which show remarkable beauty on woollen and cotton  stuffs. The coloring principles which we have obtained  are to the number of nine, entirely independent from each other, and capable of giving colored salts perfectly  crystallized. By combining our coloring principles with  different chemical substances, there are obtained not only  a number of known colors, but, furthermore, tints on the  stuffs which are unknown in France, and like which we  have no specimens except the beautiful embroideries  which we receive from China. We sincerely hope that  the Government, comprehending all the importance of  these discoveries, shall publish the results obtained. It  is impossible that a plant which, in the hands of a single  individual, has given results so extraordinary and so  varied, should not be called to play a great part in all  branches of industry."

I translate as follows the account of his curious researches:" The hulls which envelope the seeds  of the sorgho are tinted with a reddish brown so  deeply that they appear black. The tint is due to a  complex coloring matter condensed in this part of the  seed, but which also exists in the radicular fibers at their  origin, and in the young suckers. This coloring matter  is insoluble in cold water. Boiling water dissolves it,  with a red violet color. Alcohol, even cold, takes it from  the hulls, and becomes colored with a deep red. Ether  dissolves it, and takes on a bright red tint. A boiling  solution of alum takes on a reddish lilac color. Concentrated sulphuric acid dissolves it with a deep reddish  color; chlorohydric acid with a reddish orange color;  the alkalies with a brown. 

"The acid solutions in water, caused to precipitate a  substance of a deep reddish brown tint. Alkaline solutions precipitated by acids brown flakes, which redden  upon repeated washings. The supernatant fluids are  yellow. The alcoholic tincture evaporated, gives crystalline scales, which seem black when viewed in a mass, and that a fatty substance renders brilliant; the liquor and the waters from the washings are of a yellow color.

"Tincture of ether gives, likewise, by evaporation and an addition of water, a red precipitate, upon which floats a yellow liquor.

"There are, then, in the hulls of the sorgho, two coloring principles; the one red, slightly soluble in water, and soluble in alcohol, ether, the acids, and alkalies; the other, yellow, very soluble in water, and in the  other solvents, which is not precipitable from its solutions like the red matter.

"The red matter, which we may call purpurholcine, presents itself under the form of a reddish violet powder, so deep in color that it appears black; it has no smell; its taste (very weak) is a little bitter and astringent. Heated in a closed tube it does not volatilize, but gives empyreumatic vapors, which condense themselves into yellow oily drops. In presence of potashed lime it gives, under the influence of heat, alkaline vapors. It is then an azotized substance, and of which we will, further on, determine the atomic composition. The purpurholcine is but little soluble in water, but dissolves readily in boiling water, in alcohol, cold and warm, and in ether, with a reddish color:sulphuric acid and chlorohydric acid dissolve it with an orange color. Potash, ammonia, lime water, and the water of baryta, communicate to it an intense color; alum, a red violet. It is not soluble in fixed oils; it can be prepared by several processes. First, treat the seeds with concentrated sulphuric acid; allow them to remain in contact with it one or two days; then it is mixed in a large quantity of water; the whole is thrown upon a filter and washed until the liquor is no longer acid; the carbon which remains upon the filter, mixed with the color ing 'matter, is treated by warm alcohol, and gives a tint, which it is only necessary to distill, and add to it water, to obtain the purpurholcine, in brilliant scales, tinged with a little fatty matter. The liquid retains the yellow substances, and a little of the purpurholcine.

"Second: The seeds can be treated directly by alcohol and operated with, as above given for the alcoholic tincture; ether conduces to the same effect.

"Third: We can furthermore employ a solution of potash; it makes a brown magma, which is to be filtered; and in the liquor put with care some chlorohydric acid;brown flakes are precipitated, upon which will float a yellow liquid. These are to be separated, washed well, redissolved in alcohol, and the latter gives, by evaporation, the purpurholcine.

"Uses:This coloring matter can be used for dyeing. By varying the dissolvents and the mordants, are obtained, upon cotton, woolen, and especially upon silk stuffs, beautiful tints, which vary as much as can be desired in the browns, the grays, the reds, the oranges, and lilacs. Our conviction, in this respect, is based upon dyeing experiments, on a small scale.

"The yellow matter, which we shall call xantholcine, is  very soluble in water, either cold or warm. Soluble in acids, which cause it to become an orange yellow; the alkalies preserve its colors. It forms with, different metallic oxides, red and orange lakes.

"The stuffs, with the use of mordants, take on various tints of yellow and of orange, brown, and rose color. It is obtained at the same time as the red matter, and remains in solution in the different liquids where the purpurholcine is precipitated; but it is not pure, and is mixed with the red matter. The best process to isolate it, is to make use of potash. It can be purified, by making use of the process indicated by Kullmann, for the yellow matter of the madder which this chemist has named Xanthine. Thus the seeds of the sorgho contain two coloring matters, which applied to dyeing, can replace madder and give all the shades which are obtained from the roots of this plant. The purpurholcine differs from the red matters of the madder by its non-volatility. The Xantholcine seems identical with the Xanthine."

Dr. Sicard's process having been made public, has  created considerable interest in the city of Lyons among  the large silk manufacturers, and experiments are being  made to test the value of his coloring matters, the result  of which will settle the question as to its practical utility.

Cerosie;Or the Vegetable Wax on the Stalks of the Sorgho

In a previous place, I mentioned that as the plant approaches maturity, a white efflorescence makes its appearance upon the outside of the stalks, accumulating, in the greatest proportion, under the footstalks of the  leaves. This vegetable wax cerosie, the French call it is similar in its composition to the wax produced by bees; it is, however, dry, hard, and may be pulverized; fusible at 90, and if mixed with purified tallow, and made into candles, burns with a clear brilliant light. It is employed for this purpose by the inhabitants of the north of China. Mr. Hardy, the Director of the Government Nursery in Algiers, makes a calculation as to its value per acre, by which he shows a net profit of thirty-six dollars, to be added to the other profits given by the cultivation of the sorgho; but I do not see how we can, for a moment, adopt these views as applicable to our conditions of climate and prices of labor. In Algiers, Mr. Hardy could secure the service of Arab boys and women at a very low price; and in China; the labor of a man is remunerated with only a few cents per day;but in our country, we cannot hire a laborer for less than a dollar a day. It seems to me that, taking into consideration the fact that the cerosie is not secreted by the stalks so abundantly as it is in Algiers, we cannot spare the laborers from more important duties, to go over the field and carefully scrape the wax from the outside of the stalks. To obtain a small quantity, to illustrate my lectures before the Legislatures last winter, I employed one of our pupils, for nearly half a day, and the little success that he met with, convinced me at the time, that any calculations of its becoming an important commercial commodity in our own country, were futile, unless, perhaps, by either steaming the stalks in a vat after they were cut, or by the use of some machinery, the wax could be removed more expeditiously, and in greater quantity than it was in this instance.

Any one of my readers can satisfy himself that it is indeed a wax, and burns exactly like wax candles, by collecting a small quantity of it into a heap and setting fire to it with a match. The flame is very white and beautful, so long as it lasts.

Professor Gray, at page 60, section 86 of his " Botanical Text-Book," supposes from the fact that bees produce wax from sugar, and that the wax of the sugar cane sometimes passes into sugar, that the vegetable wax found in plants is formed of sugar, or similar products. The Ceroxylum Andicola, or Wax-bearing Palm, is an instance of the considerable secretion of wax by a vegetable. Mr. Hardy has been attacked in various French journals for his unwise championship of this novel product; but with a persistence either the result of constitutional proclivity, or because warranted by the facts which he has actually arrived at in his Algerian experience, he writes to Count Gasparin that he desires his investigations to be remembered, and his assertions to be put on record for future reference, that he is more convinced than ever that the wax of the sorgho will indeed be one of its most valuable products.

Sorgho Paper

In the books of M. Duret and Dr. Sicard are pasted specimens of paper, respectively obtained by them from the pulpy sorgho stalks, of which that in Dr. Sicard's book is, I think, the best. It presents the appearance and texture, to a great extent, of fine parchment, and is naturally sized, so that it is pleasant to write upon. It is quite strong, and for that reason suitable for wrapping paper. Of it he says, excusing himself for its unfinished quality, "I think it better to give this product in all its primitive purity, rather than to color it. Its composition presents doubtless defects, which explain themselves easily when it is remembered that this paper has been made by a person entirely unacquainted with paper-making, in want of all objects necessary for this industry, and aided simply by my little son; it will be understood by the result obtained, how much can be obtained under proper conditions from this plant."

Duret gives the process for making paper from corn stalks, as follows: " One hundred and twenty-five pounds of pulp of the stalk, which is yet moist, and from which the saccharine matter has been separated, are put in a copper, with about fifteen pounds of quick lime and a sufficient quantity of water to form of it a sort of clear paste. The mixture is moistened from time to time, and after several days of contact the pulp is triturated in a cylinder mill, as is the custom with common rags. After having reduced into paste the residue of the stalks, as we have just explained, it was mixed with twelve and a half pounds of paste of coarse rags; and the mixture was then submitted to a new trituration. This one hundred and twenty-five pounds of the stalk mixed with twelve and a half pounds of coarse rags have yielded sixty-three pounds of wrapping paper, well sized.

M. Hudelist thinks that, with fifty per cent, of common paste, he could have obtained a paper very strong and very well sized, by giving no more care to the trituration than in working on rags.

M. Felix Yospette has also made paper with the stalks of corn by a process analogous to the preceding; but in place of ten per cent, of the pulp of rags, used in the experiment made by M. Hudelist, he made use of twenty per cent., and has obtained, with but little trouble, the same proportion of paper. If, in the place of using his corn pulp moist, that is to say, immediately after it had been pressed, he had let it dry before turning it unto paper, it would have been necessary to boil it to resoften it, and submit it afterwards, as we have above mentioned, to the successive action of lime water and of the cylinder. The paper made by M. Yospette is pliant, close in texture, very solid, of a pale shade, and made without  other odor than that of the stalk from which it was made; it is naturally sized, for, in writing on it, it is impenetrable to common ink.

The quire of twenty-five sheets weighs one pound six ounces; consequently the ream, which has twenty quires, gives a weight equal to twenty-seven pounds. The pulp of the stalks loses by desiccation nearly two thirds of its weight. Twenty pounds of this pulp, very dry, produced twenty pounds twelve ounces of manufactured paper. There would then be an advantage in making cornstalk paper with the moist pulp, which would be impossible in a large manufacture, where the mass of matter to be worked up should be dried in order that it might be manufactured as it was wanted. For the military service, cartridges have been made with this stalk paper, and it has been proved that it resists humidity more, and is less combustible than that which is usually employed for the same purpose.

As yet, of course, no experiments have been made in making paper from the sorgho stalks in this country, but from the specimens in the books of Dr. Sicard and M. Duret, I think it possible that our manufacturers will apply themselves to experiments in this respect, and doubtless improve upon the results of the French investigators.

Thus, through all its different aspects, have we traced this wonderful plant; which, although so lately introduced, has created such very general interest with those who have had any experience in its cultivation. It now only remains for me to present the result of my labors to the American farmers and planters, and to express the wish that the Chinese Sugar Cane may realize the flattering promise which it now gives, and prove itself worthy of adoption into the list of our most valued economical plants.

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