Everything Foodie

Random thoughts and musings on all things foodie.



Sugar - Why We Love It & Where It Came From

By James Delaney

Let's face it - we love sugar.  To the foodie, sugar is one of the most magnificent and marvellous ingredients imaginable.  We love it in tea, in dishes, in sweets and treats - sugar has the ability to transform a meal - to add layers of complexity, to add a little taste of the extrordinary - to elevate the ordinary.

Sugar - as a word in the English language - has such positive and delightful connotations that we use it as a frame of reference for people we love - as in 'sugar pie honey bunch - you know that I love you'. The colloquial 'sweeeet' is used by teenagers all over the place to define something wonderful or exceedingly awesome.

Sugar is a primary source of energy for everything on the Earth.  As a compound (think glucose, sucrose, fructose) is found in every single plant - it is, in fact, the primary product of photosynthesis - so sugar literally does come from the sun and is infused on a molecular level in all living things - it is no wonder that this chemical holds a special place in our hearts.  When we eat sugar - in a way we are eating the sun!

Humans need energy to survive.  At a purely instinctual level - our bodies recognise that sugar is the fastest way to get energy.  So those cravings that you feel for a sweet treat are in fact, linked to your primordial survival instincts.  Of course, moderation in all things - and with the average western person consuming 22 teaspoons per day - looking at sweeteners as an alterative to sugar could be beneficial to your waistline and your overall health.

You might be curious to know where and how sugar in its refined form came from.  I traced the history of sugar in order to find out how this brilliant and amazing commodity first emerged in its refined form to tempt us all.

A Brief History Of Sugar

Sugar has a long and complex history - it is inexorably linked to trade, industry, technology and even religion.  Sugar first emerged onto the foodie scene in antiquity - the first evidence of this sweet delight can be traced back to 8000 B.C in New Guinea.  Sugar in the form that we would recognise was apparent in India from 500 A.D. 

India worked out the process of how to crystallize sugar in 350 A. D.  Buddhist monks visiting India brought back samples to China and introduced the sweet to an entirely new culture.  It is recorded that Emperor Tang fell in love and swiftly sent an envoy on an exploratory mission to India in order to glean the secrets of the refining process - from that point sugar became a staple in Chinese deserts and cooking methods.

As the popularity of sugar spread through China, Indochina and beyond, Muslim traders and conquerors began to export this product and ultimately the commodity moved to Europe.  In the 15th Century, Columbus took sugar cane to the New World and it seeped through the Americas.

By the 18th century consumers in the West had latched on to the product initially using it in their tea and then before long, in sweets and chocolate. Sugar was used as an excellent preservative and fruit could be kept for long periods when transformed into jam. In the past suppliers sold sugar in the form of sugar loaves and it was necessary to be equipped with sugar nips, a bit like pliers, to break off an appropriate amount.

Sugar In Australia

The first sugar refinery was built in Australia in 1855 in Sydney.  Massive demand for this sweet treat led to refineries being established throughout the country, first in Melbourne, then Queensland and ultimately partnerships were formed with New Zealand.

Sugar is a monumentally important economic commodity throughout the Asia Pacific region - and Australia is the second largest exporter of raw sugar globally.  Key markets include Indonesia, Japan, Malaysia and South Korea.



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