At the start of every year, farmers in Tho Dien Commune, Vu Quang District, Ha Tinh Province harvest their sugarcane crop and bring it home.
On average, each family owns from 360 – 1,000 square meters of sugarcane fields. It takes about a year for the sugarcane to grow and be ready for harvest.
During the harvest season, Nguyen Van Dung, 41 and his wife Thai Thi Hai Yen, 35, in Village 1 of Tho Dien Commune, get up at 5 a.m. to get their sugarcanes crushed and their juice extracted.
Unlike most households in the village, Dung’s family continues to use buffaloes for this process, as they have been doing for over 10 years. It is a skill he inherited from his parents.
The place where Dung and his wife make the molasses is a 50 square meter kitchen. In the middle of the kitchen stands a crushing tool with two small iron pillars placed side by side; one with a rotating shaft.
Dung uses a 3 meter long wooden stick to connect to the rotating shaft and ties it to the neck of a buffalo. When the buffalo moves around, one iron pillar will rotate and the cane is squeezed into small gap between the two pillars, where it gets crushed.
This female buffalo in Dung’s family is six years old and has done this job for four years now.
Tho Dien Commune has hundreds of households that make molasses, but most use machines to do the crushing. In the harvest season, it takes around 15-20 days to finish making the molasses.
On the left side of the iron tool is a groove on which the sugarcane juice flows into a plastic bucket below.
Every 30 minutes, this crusher gives about 20 liters of cane juice. Yen pours this into a filter tank in the kitchen.
The filtered juice runs into a large pan on the stove where it is boiled for two hours and filtered again 3-4 times. At this time, Dung keeps collecting the foam that rises so that the juice does not spill out. Another four hours of cooking turns the juice into molasses.
A sugarcane bundle is run through the press about four times. Once the juice is fully extracted, Yen dries the crushed sugarcane in the yard and then uses them as fuel for the stove.
“Many households use machines to get the sugarcane juice faster, but I still want to use buffaloes to preserve the traditional culture of my hometown,” Dung said.
With machines, one ton of sugarcane can be pressed in five hours. But, buffalo power can only process 300-400 kg in the same time.
At 10 a.m every day, the process of getting sugarcane juice is done, the buffalo is allowed to rest and feed on grass. Dung and his family members continue to make the molasses at this time.
After nearly six hours, a pan of molasses is done. At this time, Yen and Dung wash buckets with boiling water and put the molasses into them.
The couple can get 200 liters of sugarcane juice per day, which can make around 30-35 liters of molasses. One liter of molasses is sold for VND45,000 ($1.9).
“The molasses my family makes is clean and delicious. Everyone who tries it once returns to buy it again,” Yen said.
Yen, Dung and her father-in-law (in the middle) scooped molasses into a plastic bucket and let them cool for bottling.
A bowl of thick molasses after cooling. Molasses is often used by locals to cook meat, fish, a variety of cakes and sweet soups.
Among several uses of the molasses are two popular cakes – the banh troi and the banh tro. While the former uses the hard form of molasses, also known as jiggery, the latter uses syrupy molasses as a dip.
“On average, I earn VND30-35 million ($1,300 – 1,520) from selling molasses after the harvest season,” Dung said.