A long journey, From sugar-cane to beet-root, From beet-root to beetroot, From digestion to tooth decay, Organic sugar, The names of sugar, The memory of sugar, Recipes 1, 2, 3
Originating in New Guinea, little by little sugar made from cane was discovered by China and by India, the source of its name in the sanskrit language: «sarkhara» and some of sugar’s other names, for example: « Indian salt. »
A long journe After India, sugar was brought to Persia, because of military expeditions in the Indus Valley. Persians used it but kept the cultivation of sugar and the production of sugar loaves (it was actually made in the shape of a cone) a secret. They gave it a very poetic name: « the reed which gives honey without the help of the honey-bee. »
Sugar arrived in Greece through Megasthenes, a Greek geographer living at the Court of an Indian King in the 3rd century and after the battle between King Darius and the Alexander the Great.
It was cultivated in the Indus delta, the Persian gulf, and the Tigris and Euphrates delta. The Hebrews knew it and called it: « the sweet reed. » Egyptians, Phoenicians, Greeks and Romans doctors used it.
When the Arabs conquered Persia, they won the sugar trade and diffused it to Palestine, Egypt, Syria, the Arab-Andalousia Kingdom and the Mediterranian Islands: Cyprus, Malta, Crete andSicily.
Europeans discovered it during the Crusades and brought it to Western Europe.
First Venice and Brugges, then Anvers got the sugar trade monopoly. Changes came about when the New World was discovered, as many of the colonies established there had the necessary climate for growing sugar cane. In Europe, sugar cane could only be grown near the Mediterranean. Further, the cultivation of sugar cane severely depletes the soil where it is grown, making new locations for cultivation even more desirable. The big Portuguese plantations in Madeira, Sao Tome, and Brazil, and the French and English colonies in the Caribbean, intensified the competition among the European countries. The sugar trade was so profitable that in the 18th century, France was willing to sell its holdings in Canada, but kept its interest in the Caribbean « sugar isles, » the Antilles.
When coffee, tea, and chocolate were introduced in Europe, people needed even more sugar and more workers were always necessary to cultivate it.
From sugar-cane to beet-root In 1600 the French agronomer Olivier de Serre observed that when beet-root, which just came from Italy, was cooked, it gave a juice like sugar syrup. He had to do many experiments, finally completed many years later due to the work of two German chemists: Andreas Sigismund Marggraf in 1747 then the work from his student Franz Carl Achard fifty year later. In 1798, sugar from beet-root was produced.
The first factory in Silesia was not really profitable. But politics changed the situation. Napoleon’s blocade against the English stimulated the research and in 1812 Frenchman Benjamin Delessert produced the first loaf of sugar. Napoleon was so enthusiastic that he gave Delessert a medal and ordered that sugar beet-root be planted in all the fields.
From beet-root to beetroot Success arrived little by little and production was encouraged in different ways: each industrialist who had produced 10 tons of sugar had no tax to pay for at least 4 years. Opinions such as that of have us smiling now: « to produce European sugar is absolutely crazy or at least very unpolitic. » But the work of Liebig a French chemist and the abolition of slavery changed forever the nature of the trade.
From digestion to tooth decay During the Middle Ages sugar was only sold by apothecaries because it was considered a medicinal remedy, and thus could be consumed during Lent. But little by little, because of the very good feeling it gave, when consumed with tea, coffee or chocolate, sugar attracted the attention of the Catholic Church and it became a foodstuff, no longer a remedy, so grocers sold it. In old French, the word « espicier » a seller of spices, and today an « epicier » means a « grocer » who sells not just spices but many other foods.
In the 18th century, the advocates and detractors of sugar opposed each other. In 1715 one sugar defender, Slare, was so militant that he advocated using sugar as a dentifrice and said that not giving sugar to childen was « very cruel thing and a crying sin. »
Organic sugar To eat organic, and especially to eat sweetened organic foods, remove refined sugar from your cupboards. It which doesn’t contain anything nutritious anymore. Try a taste of all those sugars from elsewhere: Asia, South America and the Islands, and meanwhile eat a lot of glucose, calcium, iron, magnesium, phosphorus, provitamin A, B1, B2 and C vitamins.
The names of sugar Starting with sarkhara, its name in sanskrit language, the same in Tamoul Language today, look at the names in other languages: sucre (French), sugar (English), Zucker (German), zuchero (Italian), cukor (Hungarian)….the list is long and we all know some words.
The memory of sugar « The trade triangle » of the 17th to 19th centuries consisted of ships full of small glass-ware and trinkets departing from Europe and sailing to Africa. The ships disharged their wares, took slaves in exchange and sailed toward the plantations in the New World. Some people became very rich because of the slave trade, millions of people died in the holds of the transport ships, in the sugar cane plantation fields, and families were separated. These humans were treated as if they were nothing: humiliated, beaten, tortured. This trade existed and lasted too long a time. « I don’t know if coffee and sugar are necessary to Europe’s happiness but I know that the both plants gave unhappiness to both parts of the world. » wrote Bernardin de Saint-Pierre, the famous author of the novel: « Paul and Virginie. »
Recipe 3 – Revani Cake
« Put a half kiyye of butter in a big bowl and work it by hand. Work it until the butter becomes white and mossy, then add ten or twelve eggs and mix well. Then add slowly a half kiyye of sugar and mix well. Then add 300 dirhams of semolina and mix. Then butter a large dish and pour all into and put it into the oven. Make a lighty sugared syrup with 300 dirhams of sugar and 2 ½kiyyes of water and keep it lukewarm. Then pour a little of this syrup with a tablespoon over the cooked cake and put it again into the oven to absorb the syrup. Then pour the syrup again and put it again into the oven. Finish the syrup always in the same way. Serve cut into small lozenge-shaped pieces sprinkled with sugar. »
Kiyye : ancient weight measure, 1 kiyye = 400 dirham : almost : 1,2828 kg or 45 ounces
Dirham / dirhem : ancient weight measure : 1 dirham =1/400 kiyye : 3,27 gr or 0.11 ounces
Ottoman recipe from an 18th century manuscript, translated from the Ottoman Turk into French by Ozge Samanci.
Recipe 2 – Green peas the Flemish way
« Let cook them in boiling water until they became soft. Then cook them with butter, sugar and a little salt «
Anonyme, Dictionnaire portatif de cuisine, France, 1765
Recipe 1 – Capon blanc-manger Remedy
« Let the capon simmer in water until it is well cooked. Add a lot of crushed, peeled almonds. When the capon is cooked, the meat will start to fall off the bones. Take the meat out of the broth and set aside and reserve for another use. Strain the broth through a fine sieve or cheesecloth, let it boil again. Ladle some broth into a soup plate, then put six whole peeled almonds, toasted, on one face of the soup plate, on the other, put some pomegranate seeds and sprinkle with sugar. »
This recipe is my translation from one recipe from the Viandier published in 1370, maybe from Taillevent (1310-1395) The Viandier is the first cooking book written in French.