Saturday, October 31, 2020

The origin of sugar: From sugar cane to “sweet salt”

Sugarcane is a large grass of the genus Saccharum, tribe Andropogoneae, family Poaceae. Sugar cane is indigenous to Southeast Asia, in particular New Guinea. Sugar cane was first domesticated between 6000 and 8000 years ago; the stalks at this time were chewed so as to extract the sugar.

The earliest known historical record of sugarcane and sugar is from Indian writings from 3000 to 3400 years ago, but sucrose was practically unknown in Northern Europe until around 1000 AD.

By 800 B.C., sugarcane cultivation had spread across India, Mesopotamia, China, and the Pacific Islands; by 800 A.D., crude methods for extracting and processing cane sugar were in place. Soldiers of Alexander the Great are known to have carried it to Europe from India about 325 BC.

According to Nöel Deerr, author of History of Sugar in 1949, claimed that Nestorian Christian monks at the mouth of the Euphrates river were the first to refine the crude raw product into a form of “white” sugar about 450 AD.

A century birth of Islam established from Arabian Peninsula to Southern Spain, an administrative and culturally allowed the development of the sugar industry technology required to successful production of the novel sugar cane crop. Sugar industry began about the time of the Arabian conquest of Egypt in 640 AD. They spread it across North Africa and into Spain by 750AD, where it was important for many years, with 30 000 ha under cane by 1150 AD.

Between 1096 to 1099 AD sugar was first introduced to Europeans by crusaders returning from the Holy Lands. They called it “sweet salt” and soon traded at prices reserved for other rare spices such as saffron and pepper.

Sugar began to reach Europe in sizeable quantities, both overland and via the Mediterranean. In the mid of 8th century, sugar cane was planted for the first time, sugar made from it, on European soil along Spain’s southern littoral.

It is only since the Caribbean islands and tropical north and south Americas were colonized by Europeans, that sugar became available on the world market in a large enough quantity and at acceptable prices for everyday use.
The origin of sugar: From sugar cane to “sweet salt”