Get to know your sugar better, start with the facts.
SUGAR WAS ONCE CONSIDERED A SPICE, NOT A SWEETENER.
When sugar was first introduced to England in the twelfth century, it was grouped with other tropical spices like ginger, cinnamon, and saffron, and used by the very wealthy to season savoury dishes.
IT WAS USED AS A MEDICINE FOR CENTURIES.
The use of sugar as a medicine dates back at least as far as ninth-century Iraq, where it was combined with fruits and spices to make medicinal syrups, powders, and infusions. Centuries later, British doctors prescribed sugar to cure a range of diseases—one 18th century physician even suggested blowing sugar powder into the eyes to cure eye ailments and irritations.
EUROPEAN ROYALTY WOULD MAKE GIANT SUGAR SCULPTURES CALLED 'SUBTLETIES.'
Similar in consistency to marzipan, ‘subtleties’ were sculpted into different shapes and wheeled out at royal feasts starting in the 13th century. Though they were visually impressive, they weren’t particularly tasty—the sugar was mixed with a range of nuts, pastes, and gums in order to make it more malleable, giving it a slightly clay-like consistency.
IN EUROPE, IT STARTED AS A LUXURY…
Initially, sugar was so rare and expensive only royalty could afford it—and in very small quantities at that. In the 13th century, for example, British monarch Henry III once tried to order three pounds of sugar but expressed doubts that so much sugar could even be found in England.
… BUT BY THE 19TH CENTURY, HAD BECOME A STAPLE OF THE WORKING-CLASS DIET.
By 1850, working-class consumption of sugar had eclipsed that of the wealthier classes. As the price of sugar dropped, the working classes began using it in a range of baked goods, porridges, and “hasty puddings”—so-called because they could be prepared quickly and with ease. Perhaps most importantly, the working classes began adding sugar to tea—a tradition which, of course, persists to this day.
SUGAR CANE WAS FIRST DOMESTICATED IN NEW GUINEA AROUND 8000 BCE.
It was later carried to the Philippines and India - in fact, the first written mention of sugar may be in The Mahabhashya of Patanjali, a study of Sanskrit written around 400-350 BCE.
IT CAN BE USED AS A FOOD PRESERVATIVE.
Sugar has been used as a preservative for hundreds of years, and now scientists understand why: high sugar concentrations cause bacteria to lose water through a process called osmosis—and without water, bacteria can’t grow or divide.
SUGAR CAN BE USED AS FUEL.
SUGAR HAS BEEN FEATURED IN SONGS AND POETRY FOR HUNDREDS OF YEARS.
In 1436, Adam de Moleyn singled out sugar in a poem about English sea power called "The Libelle of English Polycye." The phrase “sugar and spice and everything nice,” meanwhile, first appeared in a 19th-century poem called “What Are Little Boys Made Of?” And, over the last century, the word “sugar” has been featured in song titles by The Archies ("Sugar Sugar"), Talking Heads (“Sugar On My Tongue”), Nina Simone (“I Want a Little Sugar in My Bowl”), Bob Dylan (“Sugar Baby”), and many more.