The History of Sugar
EMG Sugar Notes
In this episode of Eat My Globe, our host, Simon Majumdar,
delves back into the often dark history of sugar, from the first cultivation of sugar canes to the current development of natural sugar alternatives. It is an history that is in great part responsible for the rapid development of the international slave trade, and one that takes in Indian Kings, Crusaders, a Pope, and a Moravian housewife who cut her finger while chopping sugar.
Find out more about sugar's fascinating history and tune in now.
EAT MY GLOBE: THINGS YOU DIDN'T KNOW YOU DIDN'T KNOW ABOUT FOOD
White Gold: The History of Sugar
For my wife’s birthday, I bought her a huge bag of sugar.
Yeah, she thought it was cheap but I thought it was pretty sweet.
Comedy gold. Yes, indeed. Indeed.
Okay. Let’s get this thing started.
I’m Simon Majumdar and welcome to a new episode of Eat My Globe, a podcast about things you didn’t know you didn’t know about food.
And on today’s podcast, we will be looking at one of the most controversial ingredients we have ever discussed on Eat My Globe. It’s an ingredient whose global production in 2016 was measured at 168.5 million tons, an ingredient whose global worth is expected to be valued at around $100 billion by 2022. It’s an ingredient that was one of the primary movers in the origins and perpetuation of slavery, and is even to this day criticized for its labor practices, which are often claimed to be coerced labor. And an ingredient whose consumption -- or should that be over consumption? -- is cited as one of the primary challenges to health, particularly here in the United States.
So, today folks, on this episode of Eat My Globe we are, of course, going to be talking about the history of sugar.
So, as always, let’s start by defining what it is we are talking about when we use the word “sugar.”
Turning to our good chums at Merriam Webster, as I often do, sugar is defined as,
“a sweet crystallizable material that consists wholly or essentially of sucrose, is colorless or white when pure tending to brown when less refined, is obtained commercially from sugarcane or sugar beet and less extensively from sorghum, maples, and palms, and is important as a source of dietary carbohydrate and as a sweetener and preservative of other foods.”
So, essentially, sugar is comprised of sucrose, which can be found in most plants, but is a particular component of both sugar cane and sugar beets, from where most of the world’s sugar is derived. The sucrose can be further broken down into two simpler sugars, glucose and fructose. There are also other sugars, such as “Lactose,” which can be found in dairy products. And, “Maltose,” which is also called “Malt sugar,” and can be found in breakfast cereals and beer.
The word “sugar” is derived from the Sanskrit word “śarkarā,” which referred to pebbles. śarkarā led to the Arabic word “Sukkar,” and the Anglo-French word “sucre.”
Sugar from sugar cane accounts for about 80% of the sugar consumed today, with the rest of the amount from other sources such as beets. Sugar from Sugar Beets or Beta Vulgaris, is now responsible for all sugar grown in the European Union and responsible for one fifth of the sugar produced worldwide.
The extraction of sugar from the sugar cane is now quite an elaborate process. However, at its basis, it is still the same as humans have been doing since they first cultivated sugar cane. The cane is cut and rolled through a press to extract the juices it contains. These juices are heated to concentrate them, then evaporated. The result is both crystalized sugar and a liquid called molasses.
So if you’ve ever wondered where molasses comes from, it’s part of the sugar cane production.
Over time, this process has become more and more sophisticated, allowing for the production of the pristine white sugar we are familiar with today.
As I said in the introduction, at the last count, the sugar production around the globe was set at about 168.5 million tons. This makes it the largest food commodity in the world producing almost 22% of the world’s total food commodities, according to 2013 data.
It shouldn’t come as any surprise to anyone that the United States is the world’s largest per capita consumer of sugar. Americans consume 126.4 grams of sugar on a daily basis. That equates to about a quarter of a pound of sugar every day and is approximately ten times the recommended daily allowance. And, we’ll talk more about the causes for this consumption and its impact later in the episode.
Now, while other nations don’t come close to the American consumption, other big indulgers of sugar include the Germans, the Dutch, the Irish, the Australians and from my own homeland, the British.
So, how did this extract primarily from sugar cane go from its humble early origins to become one of the most produced and over-consumed food products in the world?
Given the short nature of this podcast, I can’t touch on the full history of the story of sugar. However, if this episode hits a sweet spot -- see what I did there? -- I can really recommend some books that were very useful in putting this section together: “Sweetness and Power: The Place of Sugar in Modern History” by Sidney W. Mintz, “Sugar: A Bittersweet History” by Elizabeth Abbott, and “Sugar: A Global History” by Andrew F. Smith. Definitely all worth checking out.
Humans have always had an innate desire for sweetness in the food they eat. This desire is believed to have occurred for two reasons. The first, the bitterness in food was often a warning sign of its toxicity. And secondly, because, at birth, we drank breast milk, which had lactose and as I mentioned earlier was another type of sugar, that our bodies turned into energy. This not only led to us seeking out sweeter foods, but also made sure we cultivated sweet food such as fruits.
Before the first cultivation of sugar cane, it is likely that the primary source of sweetness in Europe, Africa and Asia would have been from honey procured from bees, first in the wild, but then also domesticated. In the Americas, where bees were not native, the sweetness came from syrup from trees, cactus nectar and mashed fruits.
Sugar cane, with the official Latin name, “Saccharum Officinarum,” was originally native to Asia and was first domesticated in around 8000 B.C.E. in New Guinea. It was originally consumed simply by chewing on small pieces of the cane sugar.
Legends from New Guinea tell the story of how sugar cane sprouted a man and a woman, and in turn, they created the human race. Now I understand why my wife tells me I’m so sweet. Haha! I think she wrote that in there.
Legends aside, the general belief of historians is that the origins of sugar in a form that might be recognizable to us today comes from India around 2500 years ago. And there are quite a number of references to sugar in Indian literature of the time.
The work, “Arthasastra,” credited to one Kautiliya is a book written around the 3rd or 4th Century B.C.E. in Sanskrit on states craft and military strategy. In it, the author discusses sugar in various forms including, “Guda,” the least pure form of sugar and similar to what Indians now today call “Jaggery;” “Khanda” a form of raw sugar from which we now derive the word “candy;” “matsyandika” similar to granulated sugar; and “sarkara,” the purest form of sugar.
We also find references to sugar cane in other non-Indian writings of the time. In around 325 B.C.E., we have secondary reports of one Nearchus, a commander under Alexander the Great, who saw from his voyages that
“a reed in India brings forth honey without the help of bees, from which an intoxicating drink is made though the plant bears no fruit.”
His reference to intoxication may also show that it was a kind of cane liquor, perhaps similar to today’s Cachaca.
And we also find mentions of sugar cane in the writings of Ancient Rome. First century Roman herbalist called, Dioscorides, writes in his book “De Materia Medica,”
“There is a kind of concreted honey, called saccharon, found in reeds in India and Arabia Felix (now Yemen), like in consistence to salt, and brittle to be broken between the teeth, as salt is. It is good for the belly and the stomach being dissolved in water and so drank, helping the pained bladder and the reins.”
It is believed that the first process of crystallization of sugar took place in India during the Gupta dynasty around 350 C.E., and it was soon after this that sugar began to be traded by Indian merchants with its near neighbors. For example, in the 7th century, the emperor of China, Li Shimin, was already aware enough of the value of sugar, that he sent emissaries to India to learn the techniques of sugar making.
Around the same period, sugar was also traded from India to the Somali coast to Alexandria. In 641 C.E., the Arabs had occupied Mesopotamia, which was an area where sugar cane was already in heavy production, and they began the production of sugar on the Mediterranean islands of Crete, Cyprus, Malta, Sicily and Rhodes as well as in North Africa and the Southern parts of Spain.
Now, if we have the Papuans to thank for domesticating the sugar cane and the Indians to thank for the original science of crystalizing sugar, we have to thank the Arab-Islamic civilization for the refining -- if you will -- of the art of sugar making and the transfer of the techniques to the “west” through trade and occupation of lands in the Mediterranean. It is a process we’ve seen with a number of other ingredients and skills we have covered on Eat My Globe – episodes including coffee and distillation – whether it’s Gin or Whisky.
At first, sugar was seen and used as a medicine. Its sweetness being seen as a way to balance the humors.
In his book, “Kitab al-Adwiyat al-Mufrada” or “The Book of Simple Drugs,” Arabic geographer, Abu Abd Allah Muhammad al-Idrisi, who is also known as Al Sharif, states that when sugar was mixed with butter, it is good for cleansing placentas, for treatment relating to urinary infections, and for stomach aches.
As well as its medicinal use, the Arab–Islamic culture also began to add sugar to its rich and varied cuisine. This included sweet and sour dishes, and meat dishes where we can still see some of the use of sugar in savory dishes today in North African cuisines, such as the Pastilla or Bestilla – Moroccan Pigeon Pie, for example, and of course in the developing of the art of sweet pastries, like Marzipan. Wonderful stuff. Mmmm, mmm, mmm.
Which reminds me, I also have a fantastic Cornish Game Hen Pastilla recipe on my website at Simon Majumdar dot com forward slash recipe. It’s my take on the Pastilla using Cornish Game Hen instead of Pigeon. If you do check it out, let me know what you think.
Again, you can still see remnants of sugar’s influence today in European dishes that have very definite roots in Arabic cuisine. The Italian classic gelato, for example, has its roots in the Arabic production of “Shrb,” a sugar syrup that was added to fruits to make “sherbet” or “sorbets.”
Around 650 C.E., sugar was already such a part of Arabic cuisine that there are references to a souk in the heart of Cairo, Egypt – well known for its production of the purest white sugar.
During this period of Arab expansion in the Mediterranean, sugar also began to be traded with European countries in small quantities. However, it was a rare and very expensive treat.
It was not until the 11th century and the time of the first crusades -- around 1095 to 1102 -- that the western nations began to widely demand sugar. This happened particularly when Crusaders captured Jerusalem, and islands such as Sicily and Cyprus. Both pilgrims and soldiers returned home carrying this new “spice” and also wrote about their discoveries of sugar which they called, “Sweet Salt.” Sounds like a bit of an oxymoron to me. Sweet salt.
Jacobus de Vitriaco, who was a 12th century Crusader, wrote about discovering sugar in Syria.
“There is a reed, from which flows a very sweet juice, called cannamelli zachariae; this honey they eat with bread and melt it with water, and think it more wholesome than the honey of bees. Some say that it is the honey that Jonathan, the son of Saul, found in the earth and disobediently tasted. With the juice of this reed our men, at the siege of Albarria, Mara and Archa (Acre), often stayed their hunger.”
The crusaders soon learned the methods of sugar production from those they encountered in the territory they recaptured. It was an area of land that was dubbed,“Outremer,” which referred to the land that the crusaders held in the East. For example, at the beginning of the 12th century, they established large estates in Lebanon at Tyre with the intention of growing sugar for export to Europe. The work here was performed by a mixture of free and slave labor. They began to produce sugar so successfully that it is often argued that all of the sugar brought into the west during the 11th and the 12th century was from this source.
However, I don’t think that’s quite true. Although the vast majority of sugar that headed west may well have come from this source, the Arabic merchants I mentioned before, have been trading with western nations well before the Crusades. Most of all, it is in their trade with the city state of Venice that we really begin to see the arrival of sugar in Europe. After the first crusades, the Venetian traders were quick to establish their own facilities for the production of sugar on the recaptured islands of Sicily and Cyprus, and they began to trade it with their European neighbors.
Despite this increase in trade, sugar was still a very rare and enormously expensive ingredient. So much so that in Venetian houses, it was kept under lock and key, and was often used by the very wealthy to make into extravagant confectionery displays to show off their wealth at lavish parties. Kind of think of sugar sculpture.
Sugar production was also a very labor intensive business.
In the 1340s, Europe was hit by the arrival of the bubonic plague, also known as the “Black Death.” Its impact on the available labor market was catastrophic. The reduction in labor had a number of consequences including the reduction of land being cultivated due to worker shortage, and the demand for higher wages by those workers who had survived the plague for any agricultural work they undertook.
These posed serious problems for the nascent sugar industry in Europe. The nations that had already begun to make sugar began to look for ways to increase their own production. The first of the major sugar plantations was started in the middle of the 15th century by the Portuguese who had colonized the island they named Madeira, situated about 400 miles off the coast of Morocco. They took note of the use of slave labor in sugar production in the east and populated the island with enslaved laborers from the Canary Islands and Africa who toiled to cut lumber, raise animals and, most of all, work in the fields tending sugar canes. It was the beginning of what has been called a quote, “new Mediterranean – European economic system,” end quote, where the plantation was overseen by the Portuguese crown, and funded by the Genoese and Flanders. The raw sugar was shipped from Madeira to the port of Antwerp, where it was refined and then traded. So successful was this operation that by the end of the 15th century, over 70 ships were involved in the transportation of sugar between Madeira and Antwerp, and the plantation produced 2,500 tons in one year at its peak.
In 1492 – very famous date – Christopher Columbus took stalks of sugar cane with him on his voyages to Hispaniola, now the Dominican Republic and Haiti, where it thrived in the tropical environment. This prompted the Europeans to realize that the lands they had occupied in what we now think of as the “New World,” such as the Caribbean and Central and South America, were also eminently suitable for the production of sugar cane.
Enslaved labor, already used in Madeira and the Canary Islands to cultivate sugar, would become the dominant labor form used in the sugar plantation of the Caribbean and Brazil, as well. European laborers were initially put to work in sugar cane fields in places like Barbados, but over time, the English, Portuguese, Dutch, French and Spanish colonizers came to use mostly enslaved Africans, brought to the Americas to work in the burgeoning sugar industry.
The Portuguese crown began producing sugar cane in Pernambuco and Sao Vicente on the Atlantic coast of Brazil in the 1550s. By 1630, the territory had switched to Dutch ownership, and by the 1640s, Brazil was producing at least 24,000 tons of sugar annually. Despite this relatively huge amount, Brazil alone was not able to meet the increasing demand for sugar in Europe, and the Europeans began to look to their territories in the West Indies as another ripe land for the production of sugar cane.
By the mid, 17th Century, large scale sugar production was brought to the West Indies by the British. And with it, they brought the use of slave labor.
The demographics of these islands began to change. Before Europeans arrived, the Ciboney, Arawak, Carib, and Tainos peoples populated these islands. Many of them died fighting the European settlers, who went on to establish farms, including sugar plantations. With the transatlantic slave trade, the demographics changed again. For example, 18,600 white settlers and 6,400 African slaves in 1643 to 18,300 white settlers and 55,206 African slaves by 1724. That’s an enormous jump.
The full number of indigenous slaves and slaves from Africa brought to the West Indies during the period, which is known as the “triangular trade,” is hard to determine but is believed to be in the excess of six million, which excludes the many more millions of Africans who were captured but died before reaching the Americas. This is alarming enough, but made even more so by the fact that by the time the British abolished slavery in the empire, which in then included many of the West Indian islands, in 1838 the numbers of slaves, for example in Jamaica, had declined likely due to the miserably hard and dangerous work.
Sugar became increasingly popular in Europe. Recipes did begin to appear in the 17th century. In England, Lady Ann Fanshawe, the wife of King Charles II’s ambassador to Portugal and Madrid, shared a recipe for “Icy Cream” in a cookbook that she compiled between 1651 and 1707.
“Take three pints of the best cream, boyle it with
a blade of Mace, or else perfume it with orang flower water
or Amber-Greece, sweeten the Cream, with sugar let it stand
till it is quite cold, then put it into Boxes, ether of Silver
or tinn then take, Ice chopped into small peeces and
putt it into a tub and set the Boxes in the Ice couering
them all over, and let them stand in the Ice two
hours, and the Cream Will come to be Ice in the Boxes,
then turne them out into a salvar with some of the same
Seasoned Cream, so sarue it up at the Table.”
Okay, if you try that recipe, please do let me know how it turned out.
By the mid, 18th century, sugar represented almost 20% of all commodities imported into Europe and about 80% of that quantity now came from the West Indies, most of whose territories were now under the control of the British and the French.
This huge increase in the production capacity of sugar cane coincided with the beginning of the period known as the “Industrial Revolution,” which lasted from 1760 to 1840. This period saw the movement of economies from primarily agrarian to ones based on industry and manufacturing. This too impacted upon the sugar industry, for that is what it had now become, as new methods of milling and refining sugar were developed. These included enclosed sugar boiling kettles developed in 1813 by an English chemist, Edward Charles Howard.
It also included the sugar evaporation system patented in 1846 by American engineer Norbert Rillieux – whose mother was described as quote, a “free woman of color,” end quote, and whose cousin once removed on his father side was the French impressionist painter, Edgar Degas. There you go. Interesting fact. Despite his success, due to the racism he faced in the United States, Rillieux moved to France and died in Paris in 1894, where he was buried at the famous Pere Lachaise cemetery – the final resting place of many notable persons in history, like Rillieux, such as: the composer Frederic Chopin, the writers Honore de Balzac, Oscar Wilde and Gertrude Stein, and the Doors singer Jim Morrison, among many.
But, as I was saying, another impact of the industrial revolution on the sugar industry, which is important for all lovers of rum, is the invention in 1852 by American David Weston that allowed for the mechanical separation of sugar from molasses. As well as all these new methods of production, there were also huge developments in the system of transportation, including railroad systems and steamboats, which meant that sugar could be moved from country to country or within countries far more easily.
The other major sugar discovery that happened around this period was the development of another raw source of sugar in the form of sugar beets. Sugar from beet juice now makes up almost 1/5th of the total sugar production of the world. However, their history is far more modern than that of sugar cane.
In 1747, a German scientist named Andreas Margraff discovered both the white and red beetroot contained sucrose and that it would be possible to extract sugar from them.
This was not possible during his lifetime, but one of his students, a Frenchman called Franz Carl Achard, continued his work and was able to extract sugar from beets successfully enough that King Frederic William III of Prussia bought farmland in Cunern Silesia, now Poland, to allow him to continue his experiments on a larger scale.
In the early 19th century, when the British Navy had blockaded the French ports during the Napoleonic Wars, the French were unable to get deliveries of sugar from their West Indian territories. Napoleon Bonaparte, seeing a solution in the potential of sugar beets, began to invest heavily in farming beets with 79,000 acres and 300 small sugar factories opening. With the decline of slavery in the West Indies, the sugar beet industry became well established.
Oh, and while we’re talking about inventions and discoveries, here’s one of those fun facts that we like to share with you on Eat My Globe. In the 1840s, the first sugar cube was invented in Moravia, which is modern day Czechia, when a woman named Juliana Rad cut her finger while chopping sugar from a sugar cone, the form in which it was usually purchased. Her husband, Jakub Krystof Rad, was the head of a sugar refinery and, after his wife’s accident, went on to create a machine to press the perfect single cube of sugar. He’s such a sweetheart, isn’t he? One lump or two, folks? So all thanks to Jakub Krystof Rad and his slightly clumsy wife. There you go.
In his major work, “Sweetness and Power: The Place of Sugar in Modern History,” Sidney W. Mintz argues that sugar had five modes of use during its history: as a medicine, as a spice, as a decoration in the period when it was a very rare commodity, as a sweetener, and as a preservative.
In Britain, for example, sugar consumption rose from an average of around 4 pounds per person in 1704 to 18 pounds a person by the 1800s. With the British development of a love of tea -- don’t forget to check out the episode on the history of tea in Season 1 of this very podcast if you haven’t done so -- sugar became the perfect sweetener for the bitter liquid.
Sugar also provided quick calories for the working man. The same was true in other parts of their diet and, due to convenience, the British developed a love of sugary food such as bread and jam. This is also the point when we begin to see the publishing of books either specifically about confectionary and sweet treats, or books in which confectionery is mentioned as its own category.
In 1799, Maria Wilson compiled the work of Hannah Glasse’s book, “The Complete Confectioner; or, Housekeeper’s Guide: to a Simple and Speedy Method of Understanding the Whole Art of Confectionary Made Plain and Easy,” which included recipes on how to make cakes, creams, compotes, syrups, jams, jellies, etcetera.
All of which shows that sugar was not only becoming available enough for recipe books to be written about it, but also affordable enough that it was available more readily throughout all the social strata.
So after the break, why don’t we move on to look at sugar in the United States.
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The introduction of slave labor began what Marc Aronson and Marina Budhos call in their book, “Sugar Changed The World,” the
“true Age of Sugar.”
Sugar, or “white gold,” as it was often referred to, drove the need to trade, and the British particularly used it to help fund their North American colonies.
The first sugar cane came to the American colony of Jamestown in 1619, but the colonists were unable to make it grow. August the 20th of 1619 is also one of the darkest days in American history, as it was when the first English colonists purchased quote, “20 and odd,” end quote, enslaved Angolans from a Portuguese ship to use as labor to help them with cultivating primarily things such as tobacco. These poor prisoners were the first slaves in the North American colonies and began the dark story of nearly two and a half centuries of slavery in the United States.
The British placed great importance on sugar and their territories. So much, that there are even suggestions that their dependence on the income from them played a role in their failure to win the War of Independence against the American colonies because the British military were protecting the sugar plantations and their owners in the West Indies – where the number of African slaves greatly outnumbered the white settlers – instead of showing in full force to quell the American revolution. Being British, I’m not making excuses – no, no – or being a sore loser for Britain losing its 13 American colonies – I promise you that historians – not me – have argued this.
The sugar territories were also so important to the British. In 1764, they passed a revenue act, known as the “Sugar Act.” In an effort to curb the smuggling of sugar and molasses and the colonies’ trade with other countries than Britain, the Act lowered the tax on sugar and molasses to make it cheaper to buy them legally than smuggle them in. The law also attempted not only to raise revenue for the British crown in the era after the costly French Indian War, which was a regional war in the U.S. that was a part of the larger Seven Years’ War between France and Britain, but also to pay for the protection of the colonies. For the colonists however, they considered the tax an unacceptable means to use trade regulation to raise revenue, which led to the mantra of “no taxation without representation.”
Soon after the United States declared its independence, the US increased its annual sugar consumption from 13 pounds per capita in 1831 to about 30 pounds per capita by the mid-1800s. One of the reasons for this increase occurred in 1803, when Napoleon Bonaparte agreed with Thomas Jefferson to sell the French territories in North America to the United States in a purchase known as the “Louisiana Purchase.” This $15 million purchase of about 828,000 square miles of territory not only doubled the size of the new republic, but also provided land that was already being used to produce sugar cane. In the pre-civil war period, nearly half of the sugar consumed in the United States came from sugar mills in Louisiana. Due to the US making its own sugar and not having to import it, and due to the US’ dependency on slave labour making it a cheaper commodity, American sugar consumption increased.
In the post-Civil War period, the impact of the sugar industry on Louisiana’s economy is considerable where the industry still contributes almost $3 billion and employs more than 16,000 people.
Now, there’s a lot of history to tell about sugar in the United States between the Louisiana Purchase and today, of course. And unfortunately, we don’t have a lot of time to delve into it. But, I do want to get on to some other sugar related topics before I leave you. So, do check out the links in the annotated transcripts if you get the chance as there’s a lot of great material there if you really want to go deeper into the subject of sugar.
Okay. Let’s just say that from the 19th century to the present, Americans’ love of sugar proved to be almost insatiable, with consumption rising from – as I mentioned earlier – 13 pounds per capita in 1831 to 30 pounds per capita by the mid-1800s to around 102 pounds per person in 2019. And, with that came the inevitable health challenges to the American population.
Sugars may come in the form of an artificial sugar made from corn syrup, known as HFCS or “High Fructose Corn Syrup.” They appear not only in places where you might expect it -- such as sodas, which can contain up to 39 grams in each 12 ounce can, cookies and cakes -- but also in some foods where you might not expect such a high level of sugar content -- such as Ketchups, BBQ sauces, breakfast cereals and vitamin waters.
Overconsumption of sugar has been associated with a number of diseases since its very first use. Queen Elizabeth I of England was known to have teeth that were blackened with decay because of her love for sugar. And, other diseases such as diabetes, heart disease and gout have been shown to be related to an overconsumption of sugar.
In 1962, 46% of American adults were considered overweight or obese, which sounds like a lot. But by 2010, that had jumped to a truly alarming 75% of all adults. So basically, if you’ve got four friends, three of them are going to be obese. It’s a frightening thought. Wha. . . Mind you, if you’ve got a friend who’s really skinny, that means you’re the fat one.
Anyway. . . while. . .
While there are, of course, other factors that can contribute towards obesity, John Hopkins Cardiologist, Chiadi E. Ndumele M.D. M.H.S. says,
“There is enough evidence to say that elevated sugar consumption is an important contributor to weight gain.”
To attempt to combat these alarming figures, American and other governments have issued guidelines about the amount of sugar they recommend the average adult and child to consume. In the United States, the government issued the “Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2015-2020 Eighth Edition,” which recommends that people
“Consume less than ten percent of calories per day from added sugars.”
Added sugars being those that are added to food when they are processed and not part of the natural sugars of the food themselves. They can be labeled under many, many different names, which can make the reading of the ingredient list of the foods you want to check very difficult.
As well as guidelines for reducing sugars in your diet by abstinence, scientists have worked to find synthetic sweeteners that offer the pleasures of sugar with none of its downsides. The first of these, “Saccharin,” was discovered by accident in 1879 by two students from John Hopkins. It had 300 times the sweetness of sugar. By the early part of the twentieth century, it was being used in a number of canned food products.
The first diet soda, created by Hyman Kirsch, a Russian immigrant to New York, became available in 1952. As well as being a soft drinks manufacturer, he also ran a sanitarium and wanted to create a soft drink that was suitable for diabetic patients. He is credited with creating a sugar-free soda called, “No-Cal,” using a sweetener called Cyclamate Calcium. “No-Cal,” was a success.
Other companies followed suit. And, in 1982, perhaps the most widely consumed diet soda of all, Diet Coke, was launched using saccharin as a sweetener.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration banned Cyclamates in 1969. Saccharin also received scrutiny from the FDA in the 1970s but the American Medical Association found it a safe food additive in the mid-1980s. Newer sweeteners, such as aspartame and sucralose, have been developed in more recent years. In 2018, the global sugar substitute market was valued at $14.94 billion and expected to grow to $21.54 billion by 2026. Which goes to show you that even not-sugar can still be very sweet.
And with that rather sad joke, I think it is time to finish this episode, say goodbye and go and have a dish of ice cream, or maybe even “Icy Cream.” So see you next time on Eat My Globe, a podcast about things you didn’t know you didn’t know about food. Sweet dreams, everyone.
Do make sure to check out the website associated with this podcast at www dot Eat My Globe dot com where we will be posting the transcripts from each episode, along with all the references and resources we used putting the episodes together, in case you want to delve deeper into each subject. There’s also a contact button, so please do let us know if there are any subjects that you would like us to cover.
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Thank you and goodbye from me, Simon Majumdar, we’ll speak to you soon on the next episode of EAT MY GLOBE: Things You Didn’t Know You Didn’t Know About Food.
The EAT MY GLOBE Podcast is a production of “It’s Not Much But It’s Ours” and “Producer Girl Productions”
and is created with the kind co-operation of the UCLA Department of History. We would especially like to thank Professor Carla Pestana, the Department Chair of the Department of History and Nicole Gilhuis for their notes on this episode. Also, a huge thank you to Sybil Villanueva for her help with the research and the preparations of the transcripts for this episode, which can be found on the website.
Published Date: December 2, 2019
Last Updated: October 1, 2020
For the annotated transcript with references and resources, please click HERE.