History of Favorite American Food Sugar Part 1

About the favorite American food sugar, its use in the diet, history of sugar cane, sweet refined taste.


The typical American diet piles an average of 525 lbs. of food per year into each person's digestive system and about 20% of that is sugar. Table sugar, or sucrose, accounts for a lot of this but there is also fructose from fruits, lactose from milk, maltose from malt, and a combination of fructose and glucose from honey. Glucose is the form of sugar the body utilizes for energy and this is what is meant when we speak of blood sugar. The body must break down what you feed it to get glucose or it can create its own from stores of fat. Since we can get glucose from other sources, most of us don't need the empty calories of plain sugar. Yet, although we lead less active lives than previous generations, we use more sugar than ever. The U.S. is not the worst offender so far as having a sweet tooth; England, Scotland, Ireland, and The Netherlands have an even higher per-capita intake at well over 100 lbs. per year.

Historically, sugar was known in India as early as 3000 B.C. In China "stone honey" was a delicacy, made of boiled sugarcane juice dried in the sun, sometimes with milk added. A pattern of early world competition for the spice routes soon sent table sugar westward from Southeast Asia into Europe; Islamic rule sent sugarcane cultivation into North Africa; and the slave trade in the New World is affiliated with European sugar interests in Latin America. In medieval Europe beekeeping had been important to the Church since beeswax was needed for votive candles. Honey was a byproduct. With the decline of the Church during the Reformation, the honey supply dwindled and so the changing social structure indirectly led to the more widespread use of sugar. At 1st its use was restricted to the very rich; in Italy in the 16th century, fine spun-sugar sculptures bedecked banquet tables. It was also used medicinally as a sedative. This may seem strange since sugar's main characteristic is that it is a pure energy food. However, the sedative effects probably relate to the subsequent lowering of the blood sugar level after the initial energy rush.

In the cultivation of sugarcane, weeds present a problem and, although some mechanical weeding has been developed, a great deal of it is still done by hand using a hoe. Even the harvesting is done manually in some places. Chemical fertilizers and herbicides are used (which is why organic food suppliers usually don't carry sugar). The fields are often burned prior to harvest, which is a poor way of developing rapport with the earth.

Law requires that sugar be refined before it is sold, even if that is not necessarily a virtue. The sugar juice is pressed out of the cane and is purified by heating and adding milk of lime. It is filtered, boiled, centrifuged, and crystallized. Molasses, part of the resulting residue, may be added to the sugar in varying percentages--13% for dark brown sugar while white sugar is 99.96% sucrose. For additional whitening, ash from burned beef bones is used. For powdered sugar, cornstarch is added.

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