Sugar, made from sugarcane, has been an integral ingredient of the Great British diet for years.
It graces our kitchen tables, makes cakes and biscuits naughty (but yummy!) and gives most of us the lift we crave as we spoon it into our cuppa. The ingredient we take for granted drove many changes in our modern history and forged the basis of the modern cuisine. Take Stock investigates the history…
Where it all began
Sugarcane was a native of tropical South Asia and Southeast Asia. The earliest historical references date back to Chinese manuscripts from the 8th Century BC. By 500 BC residents of India had begun making sugar syrup and cooling it in large flat bowls to make crystals that were easier to store and transport. China taught methods of cultivating sugarcane after Emperor Taizong of Tang 626-649, and in 1492, Columbus stopped in the Canary Islands. He became romantically involved with the Governor, Beatriz de Bobadilla y Ossorio, and when he sailed she gave him cuttings of sugarcane, which became the first to reach the New World.
Crusaders equally encountered sugarcane and started to trade – leading to Venice becoming the European refining and trading
hub of sugarcane.
In the early 1800s, when a British blockade of the European continent cut off much of the supply of sugarcane, Germany and France established factories for making sugar from sugar beets. Napoleon encouraged the industry and helped popularize this type of sugar.
- Sugar was first recorded in England in 1099
- The household of Henry III was using sugar in 1264, but general use of sugar in Britain was not until 1319 when it was sold at two shillings a pound (£50 today)
- Sugar was heavily taxed and by 1815 the government had collected £3 million in sugar duties, but in 1874 the prime minister, William Gladstone, removed the tax so more people could afford it.
What is Sugarcane?
A grass and the source of 70% of the world’s sugar which is extracted from the sweet, juicy stems.
- Pieces of sugarcane are chewed for their sugary syrup and are a popular street food in South Asia.
- The word ‘sugar’ is thought to derive from the ancient Sanskrit sharkara. By the 6th century BC sharkara was frequently referred to in Sanskrit texts which even distinguished superior and inferior varieties of sugarcane.