Sugar has been Around for a LONG time
So long, in fact, that we do not know when people discovered how to make sugar from sugar cane. Historians believe that the sugar cane was first domesticated in New Guinea and spread from there to Southeast Asia and southern China. The refining of sugar cane to sugar crystals began in India, and by the 6th century sugar cultivation and processing had reached Persia. Arab peoples always had sugar on their expeditions, resulting in its spread.
Sugar was introduced to Europe and the Canary Islands via the Spanish and Protugese conquests, and Columbus introduced sugar to the New World on his second voyage.
It seems we are not the first culture to have a problem with sugar over-consumption! Britain, for example, consumed five times as much sugar in 1770 as they did in 1710. By the end of the 18th century, sugar surpassed grains as the most valuable commodity in European trade. This speaks volumes because grain was often the primary source of nutrition for many people. Once the many uses of sugar had been discovered, the sugar market boomed. Prices soared, making sugar a commodity available for only the wealthy. Before the boom the majority of sugar came from the West Indies, but island producers from Barbados and the Leeward Islands capitalized on demand soon took the lead in sugar exportation.
Around the same time, mechanization became a reality in sugar processing much the way it is accomplished today. It began with the development of a succession of closed heat chambers and evaporators to prevent loss of product, and the centrifuge process developed around 1852.
As we all know, all good things usually come to some sort of demise. With the combination of depletion of soil from existing crops, the establishment of more sugar plants in the Caribbean Islands, and political unrest, the price of sugar significantly decreased. What was once a food for the rich became available to all of society.
Sugar beets became a source of sugar in the mid-1700’s when it was realized that sugar beets contained sucrose but commercial production did not occur until the early 19th century in Berlin. The concept of extracting sugar from beets soon spread to France, Europe and the U.S.
The first successful sugar beet factory in the U.S. was built in 1870 but waited nine long years to see a profit. By 1914 the sugar beet industry had grown to equal that of Europe negating the need for large imports.
As of 2013, the world’s largest sugar beet harvester was Russia, while the most successful sugar beet harvesters in the U.S. come from the Imperial Valley in California.
In our current age of sugar-addiction, many of us are always looking for something sweet to satisfy our craving. The latest statistics tell us that the average person eats 60 pounds of sugar a year, which amount to approximately 16% of our daily food intake, according to the CDC. Yikes!
And, if you are not highly particular about the type of sugar you eat, most of that sugar you consume will be in the form of white sugar. As an interesting note, white sugar obtains its white color by exposure to bone char, or cow bones that have been incinerated turning them into a coarse dust. This acts as a carbon filter of sorts, rendering the sugar crystals white.
Consuming white sugar can have detrimental effects on your immune system, and therefore your ability to fight off infections. Sugar has a similar make-up to that of vitamin C. Because of this, when we consume sugar it takes the place of what should be vitamin C in and on our immune cells. Without vitamin C, the immune cells cannot fight off bacteria or viruses. This effect on the immune system lasts for several hours after consuming sugar! So if you consume sugar at regular intervals throughout the day, you are essentially compromising your immune system all day long….if you are sick often you need to consider severely limiting or even completely eliminating your sugar intake.
What About Brown Sugars?
As a processed food, sugar goes through a multi-step process. Imperial Sugar has created a helpful diagram to understand this process with cane sugar, from which brown sugar is derived. The shade of the brown sugar is determined by how many filters the sugar is filtered through to remove minerals and impurities. The fewer minerals that are filtered out, the more nutritional benefit there is in the sugar so I always recommend using brown sugar when at all possible.
The taste will vary quite a bit between darker brown sugar and white sugar as well. Brown sugars are less “sweet” so they are often not used for baking or beverages. I personally enjoy using brown sugar in baking because of this very fact (and I feel like it’s better for us nutritionally).
The process is different for producing beet sugar, from which the majority of white sugar is currently made. Sugar beets slices are first soaked in hot water to extract the molasses. The liquid is then filtered, leaving the liquid without solids. The molasses is placed in a centrifuge (a machine that spins at a high rate of speed) where the majority of the molasses is spun off. The remaining molasses is rinsed off with hot water and the crystals are dried and packaged.
Watch out for GMO
In the U.S., 95% or more of sugar beet crops are genetically modified in the form of gylphosate resistance.
Cane sugar has presently not been genetically modified but 70 field trials have been carried out in the U.S. to create GM sugarcane that is resistant to viruses, bacteria and pests, strains that are herbicide tolerant and strains that have a modified sugar content to increase yield. Because current crops losses are at or exceed 50% due to pests and weeds, genetic modification may very well be on the horizon.
Find Non-GMO Sugar
While you may be tempted to think that using solely cane sugar is a sure way to avoid GMO’s, with the looming threat of cane sugar genetic modification I would suggest seeking out non-GMO guaranteed brands.
Find non-GMO cane sugar on my cane sugar review blog.