Thursday, June 12, 2008

Sugar: A Short History

The United States is the largest consumer of sweeteners, including high fructose corn syrup, and is one of the largest global sugar importers. The United States ranks among the top sugar producers, and is one of the few countries with significant production of both sugarbeets and sugarcane. USDA

We are the land of milk, honey, and vast quantities of sugar and sugar related products. Yet few are aware of sugar's legacy: of the fall of an empire, the enslavement of millions of people and luxury taxes. That simple bag of sugar in the grocery store, from its humble origins as the sugar cane to the mass production of sugar and sugar products that now inhabit most of our processed foods, we cannot even begin to imagine a life without sugar.

Today we have all types of sugar. There are common forms of sucrose: white table sugar, brown, powdered, cane, corn syrup, sorghum, honey, and maple syrup. There are also types of sucrose: glucose, which is the same as dextrose, lactose, maltose, and fructuse. Last, but not least,the sugar alcohols: sorbitol, xylitol, mannitol, and maltitol.

Sugar was first discovered in its natural state, that of the lowly sugar cane. The technology for processing sugar, pressing out the juice from sugar cane and boiling it into crystals, was developed in about 500 BC India.

Some credit the Emperor Darius of Persia in 510 BC for discovering sugar cane but others point to 325 BC and Admiral Nearchus, under the command of Alexander the Great, who described a "kind of honey that comes from canes".

William Duffy, the author of Sugar Blues believes the fall of the Arab Empire can be traced to sugar and the armies of Islam.

When the armies of Islam overran the Persian Empire in the 9th century the Arabs took over the sugar trade. Duffy wrote that the Arabs fell victim to "sugar addiction" as they soon discovered the joys of "sugared food, sugared drinks, and fermented sugar beverages". Duffy believed the sugar consumption and the assorted ills that went along with it played a "key role in the decline of the Arab Empire".

Sugar was introduced into Europe in the 11th century by the Crusades.

By the 1400's it was the Portuguese who controlled the European sugar trade. The Portuguese abducted Africans from their native west coast and then forced them into slave labor at sugar plantations in Grenada and Valencia. By the turn of the century the Portuguese had expanded their sugar production to South America and Brazil and had begun to import African slave labor for growing and harvesting. It was the commerce of sugar that led to the insiduous and horrific enslavement of an eventual estimated 20 million Africans.

Europeans began to refine sugar in 15th Century AD in Venice. In 1493 Christopher Columbus took sugar cane plants to grow in the Caribbean which flourished in the tropical environment.The first American refinery was built in New York City in 1689.

In the middle of the 18th century the first sugar cane cuttings were planted in New Orleans beginning sugarcane cultivation in the United States. By 1750 there were 120 sugar refinies in Great Britain. Sugar was taxed as a luxury in Great Britain until 1874 until the tax was abolished and lowered the cost.

Read more of Short n Not So Sweet History of Sugar at


Source - - History of Sugar
Source - The Doctor Will See You Now
Source - Common Dreams - Sugar Wars: Taking it to the peddlars of osteoporosis and diabetes
Source - - Hidden Sugars Source
Source - CTV - Sugary cereal sweeter than chocolate bars
Source - Tuberose

Image - Imperial


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