Reasons Affecting the Development of World Cuisine-II-The Journey of Sugar

what is sugar

When we remember the reasons affecting the development of world cuisine (see. Reasons Affecting the Development of World Cuisine):

1) Storing food

2) Mechanization

3) Retail (and wholesale)

4) There was transportation.

In addition to salt, one of the methods used to preserve food is sugar.

What Is Sugar? How did it enter our lives?

How has the sugar industry developed, how has the sugar been marketed? What is the indispensable place in the lives of all of us, from big to small?

Sugar, or sucrose, is an organic chemical from the carbohydrate family. It can be obtained commercially from a variety of plant sources and is found in all green plants. Sucrose is a phytonutrient produced by photosynthesis from carbon dioxide and water; For this reason, it is a basic feature of the chemical structure of living things. The two most important sources of processed sucrose, the purified carbohydrate product we consume as sugar, are sugar cane and sugar beet. Sugar beet was not of economic importance as a source of sucrose until the mid-19th century, but sugar cane has been the leading source of sucrose for millennia. Sugarcane was first domesticated in New Guinea (Mintz, 1997:57).

Arrival of Sucrose (Sugar) in Europe

Sucrose was hardly known in Northern Europe before 1000 AD, it was recognized within 1-2 centuries. The westward expansion of the Arabs marked a turning point in Europe's sugar experience. With the establishment of the caliphate by the Arabs in Baghdad, the conquest of North Africa and the occupation of important places in Europe, sugar making spread to the Mediterranean basin. Arabs brought sugar cane, sugar cane agriculture, sugar making craft to Sicily, Cyprus, Malta, Rhodes, most of the Maghreb and Spain. Before that, many forms of sugar were already reaching Europe from the Middle East. It is likely that Persia and India were the places where the basic processes of sugar making were invented. The sugar produced in the Mediterranean basin was sent to North Africa, the Middle East and Europe for centuries, and the production in these places ended only after the second half of the 16th century, when the production in the new world colonies became dominant.

By the 1700s, sugar developed at a rapid pace for both the French and the British. Sugar was used in the first decades of the 17th century, when the British, Dutch, and French planted plantations in the Caribbean, and until the mid-19th century, when Cuba and Brazil were centers of production in the New World.
new cases have emerged. In this long period, sugar production has increased steadily and more and more sugar has been consumed in Europe (Mintz, 1997:63).

Undoubtedly, more British colonies were established in the New World than Dutch and French colonies. Sugar is produced from sugar cane. Sugarcane has generally been a labor-intensive crop until well into the 20th century – it required proper planting and care, timely cutting and grinding, and skillful processing techniques if it was to be used for sugar making rather than for the extraction of its juice. Sugar production has been a difficult task not only in terms of technical and political aspects, but also in terms of providing and using labor (Mintz, 1997: 66).

According to Deerr's discourse, there is a big difference between the sugar industry established by the Arabs and the sugar industry developed by the Christian Europeans. Despite the recognition of slavery in Islamic countries, an organized organization that stained sugar production in the New World for 400 years.
slavery, bloody and cruel practices did not apply to the sugar industry in the Mediterranean.

However, this claim is not valid according to Mintz. Mintz believes that there were also slave uprisings in the Tigris-Euphrates delta in which East African agricultural laborers participated. (Mintz, 1997:67)

As a result, the production of sugar in the world was combined with the slave trade. It is another irony that sugar, which sweetens our lives so much, is globally based on so much physical pain…

How and on what did the European development of sugar as an industrial product depend?

It has been seen that the sugar made by the Arabs in sugar production is not single and homogeneous. Although it is known that the Arabs learned various types or categories of sugar from the Iranians and Indians, the methods they applied for grinding are not known. The more effective the process used to extract the juice from sugarcane in sugar production, the higher the resulting yield (Mintz, 1997). The Portuguese and Spanish establishment of sugar industries on the Atlantic islands meant a blow to producers in Malta, Rhodes, Sicily and elsewhere in the Mediterranean basin.

The Atlantic islands have been the stepping stone of the sugar industry's transition from the Old World to the New World. Although sugar was an ordinary commodity in these periods, it is still in the luxury consumption group. The roles played by sugar in national politics surprisingly hinted at the political future from those times.

Portugal and Spain have witnessed the increasing demand for sugar in Europe and therefore accelerated their search for new areas for sugar production. For example; This was evident even from the kitchen accounts of the Catholic Isabella, who was Queen of Castile between 1474-1507 (Mintz, 1997:73). The distinguishing feature of the Spanish and Portuguese sugar industries was slave labor, where slavery was widely used, as were the sugar plantations established by the Arabs and Crusaders in the Mediterranean. The only difference is that both free and enslaved labor are used together. Slaves are very important, but there are also free wage workers who receive partial compensation for their labor.

It is known that after the second voyage of Columbus in 1493, he brought sugar cane to the New World. The first place he came to in the New World was Santo Domingo. With the discovery of the Americas, the British established more colonies than the Dutch and French colonies. They brought the most slaves and played an important role in the establishment and advancement of plantation systems. The most important product of the established system was sugar. In 1625, Portugal met almost all of Europe's needs with Brazilian sugar. However, England first in Barbados and then in Jamaica
It made a great attack by developing its resources and plantations, and maintained its sugar power in European markets until 1740 due to the limited policies implemented in France.

While expanding outward in England, sugar consumption has been internalized as a national habit, and sugar, like tea, has now become the descriptor of the English character (Mintz, 1997).

It is known that sugar satisfies a certain desire, while at the same time activating that desire again and again. Nevertheless, it is necessary to look at what exactly puts this demand mechanism into operation, namely, under what conditions and why the demand increased.

The changes in consumption are many and varied. In terms of sugar motives medicine, spice seasoning, ornamental material, flavoring and preservative It can be defined according to five usage areas or functions. For example, sugar used as a spice or condiment differs from sugar used as a sweetener primarily in terms of the amount used compared to other ingredients. The different uses of sugar have evolved not in a racy sequence, but by overlapping and intersecting one another.

Is sugar a food?

After the various uses of sugar have proliferated, differentiated and taken root in modern life, it is appropriate to add the use of sugar as a food to these. By the end of the 18th century, sugar had exceeded its traditional usage limits; it has overturned the staple food-by-nutrient, complex carbohydrate-flavoring molds adopted by the majority, at least in Britain. Many of the uses of sugar have been associated with certain types of sugar, and this unusual rarity has long arrived in England from known regions. Here, in the hands of new users, the usage areas and meanings of sugar have changed and it has acquired qualities that it did not have before (Mintz, 1997).

What happened to sugar?

The use of sugar as a sweetener is most common. The shift from spice to sweetener has historical significance. After the use of sugar became economically feasible in England, there was a change in quality. When sugar is used as a spice or seasoning agent, another spice; For example, saffron would alter the taste of a dish made with sage or nutmeg, but would not impart any significant sweetness. Today, so much sucrose is used in modern world cuisine that such a limited use may seem unlikely to us, but it is an old practice known to all experienced cooks.

It was seen that sugar was first seen as a spice and medicine in England and its use in medicine continued for centuries. One of the old uses of sugar was to be used as a preservative, that is, to store foods. If we look at how the use of sugar overlaps, first of all, trinkets made of sugar used for decoration are seen in the form of animals, objects, buildings, etc., after being exhibited, they are mostly consumed by eating. The sugar used to cover medicines has both protective and medicinal properties. Fruit preserved in syrup or semicrystalline sugar, with coating
eaten together. As a result, while the amount of sugar consumed increased, it was observed that some uses were abandoned, in which new uses were added. In this way, differences in the amount and form of consumption also reflected social and economic differences within the national population.

What is Symbolic Sugar?

Figurines made of sugar turn into symbols that basically serve political purposes over time, and the importance of trinkets has increased; Not only compliments but also satires against politicians and dissidents have been conveyed with these sugary emblems. In England, fruit candies and pastes, which were made in various forms for royalty such as castles, towers, horses and monkeys, turned into message-bearing objects used to mark a special point. Connections have been formed between these delicately beautiful products of sweet foods and social life. With modern life, the symbolic importance of sugar has decreased; very few allegories are created on tables. Candy lettering is largely Valentine's Day,
It has become limited to events such as the new year, birthdays and weddings. The infiltration of sugar in daily life in a different way accompanied its limitation to narrower symbolic areas; This has witnessed that the importance of sugar does not decrease but increases.

Sugar, as a preservative, has provided a relatively safe environment for the storage of solid foods, even meat, due to its ability to absorb moisture and deprive microorganisms of their growth medium. Just as it is used as a medium in which other substances are dipped in liquid sugar or syrups, crystal sugars are used to coat edibles or to cut off their contact with air. However, this type of use of sugar as a preservative has declined, and the British diet system has increased the large-scale consumption of canned fruit (Mintz, 1997).

In this case, sugar was transformed from a rare substance into an ordinary substance, opening the accessibility of large masses, and the transformation of an expensive taste into a cheap food made possible transformations dependent on it. How sugar is internalized by the masses, the behavior of the administrations on this issue
what happened?

What are the power of sugar and marketing strategies of consumption to the public?

In the 18th century, the production, transportation, refining and taxation of sugar became a proportional power source for the powerful; very large sums of money are involved. When sugar became edible by the poor, it lost many of its special meanings. Taking on another phenomenon, the supply of ever-increasing quantities of sugar to the poor has been portrayed as patriotic as well as lucrative. After the great victory of the free trade movement in the middle of the 19th century, when the sugar prices fell sharply, the consumption of jam started to take hold among the working people. At the same time, consumption of other forms of sugar has increased in parallel with the fall in sugar prices.

Easy to eat = high-calorie sugar

These changes in sucrose consumption are intertwined with other changes in eating habits and tastes. In the 19th century, the basic food of the population constituting the working class was bread. There is a population that is limited in consuming sugar with tea, but also on a carbohydrate diet. The foods that make up the food of the worker are in a mutual relationship with each other. The habit of eating bread is combined with jam. Employee
The unexpected use of sugar and sugar by-products by the class seems to have been caused by the factory system, which provides time-saving, low-paid jobs for women and children.

The decline in home-baking of bread represented the shift from the traditional baking system, which was costly in terms of fuel and time, towards a new phenomenon called easy cooking. Marmalades and jams made with sugar, which are inexpensive, loved by children, and taste better than expensive butter when eaten with store-bought bread, that can stay intact for a very long time without needing to be kept in the cold, have either overshadowed or obliterated some foods, just as tea excels over milk and beer. In practice, easy foods saved the wage-earning woman from one or two of the daily meal preparations, and at the same time provided plenty of calories to the whole family of the woman. These changes, which began in British society, left their mark on the modernization in the rest of the world; The history of sugar consumption in the UK has been replicated in many other countries, albeit with important differences. All over the world, sugar has helped to fill the calorie deficit of the working poor and has become one of the first foods for work breaks.

Moreover, there is evidence that the culturally traditional family pattern of consumption, that is, expensive protein foods, is largely consumed only by adult men, while sucrose is largely consumed only by their wives and children. Better nutrition for the white adult male has always been a priority and important. Of course, this official message is not transmitted in the marketing of sugar and derivative products.

Let's take a look at today's advertisements if you want. Have you noticed that sugar consumption is focused on women and children? Even today, in how many chocolate commercials we watch on TV we see white adult men, what I remember is young beautiful women swallowing and sighing eating chocolate, or children running and eating milk chocolate from the fridge. First, the picture of the cow is shown so that we can believe that it is healthy and will feed our child well.

In addition, poor sharing of food for poor families may also have provided a culturally justified form of population control, as this practice regularly deprived children of protein. Today, information is given about the use of sugar, especially for children.
It is tried to create the awareness that there should be parental control in the relationship with sugar.

In order to increase the health of our children, our own health and the health of the society, we should support a sugar-free life and pay attention to how and how sugar enters our lives as much as the water we drink. We cannot eat sugar-free, but we can be fed by noticing sugar.


Mintz, S., (1997). Sugar and Power. Istanbul: Kabalci Publishing House

About the Author

Didem Samurkas

I am a Computer Engineer, I am married, I first completed my master's degree in Sociology to find answers to my questions why we live social life like this, how our relations with each other are formed, and now I am continuing my Sociology doctoral program. I am doing my thesis on food and agriculture.

Visit on LinkedIn
Visit On Instagram
Visit on Facebook