|MadSci Network: Science History|
Sugar refers to any short chain of saccharide units. In food, this usually refers to mono- and disaccharides that react with receptors in the tongue imparting the sensation of sweet. The common monosaccharides, glucose (or dextrose), fructose, and galactose, are paired to form the common disaccharides, lactose (milk sugar), maltose (malt sugar), and sucrose (refined sugar). Sucrose is the compound used as a sweetener throughout the world; it is commercially extracted from the stalks of the sugarcane plant.
Sugarcane was first domesticated in New Guinea around 8,000 B.C. Around 6,000 B.C. it was carried to the Philippines and India. The first written evidence of sugar making is in a Hindu religious document dated 500 A.D. Meanwhile, in the Middle East, Egyptian hieroglyphics dating back to at least 1,000 B.C. indicate that the art of sugar confectionery was already established, however these early confectioners, not having sugar, used honey as a sweetener and mixed it with various fruits, nuts, herbs, and spices.
This became the standard throughout the Helenistic and later Roman Empires, and spread throughout Europe until the Middle Ages, when the Ottoman expansion pushed Arabs westward into Spain introduced Indian sugar cane technology to Europe. Sugar was introduced to the New World by Christopher Columbus in 1493. It was brought from the (Moorish) Canary Islands and grown where he first hit ground in what is now the Dominican Republic (Espaņola). Sugar plantations, worked by enslaved Africans, began to develop in the early 1500's. By 1526, Brazil was shipping sugar to Lisbon in commercial quantities, and by the sixteenth century Brazil--and the Portuguese--dominated the world sugar production.
In Europe in 1747, a German chemist named Andreas S. Marggraf discovered a process for extracting sucrose from Sugar Beets. This new technology led to the development of sugar industry in Europe. As a result, beet-sugar extraction began to make a serious dent in the world market, forcing major technological improvements in the cane industry in grinding capacity, cane varieties, pest control and revolutionary changes in transportation to increased efficiency and compete in the World market.
In 1862, Alvaro Reynoso published Essay on the Growing of Sugar Cane. The book revolutionized the sugar industry by introducing scientific yield-management methods, which greatly increased sucrose yield per acre. The book immortalized the native-born Reynoso, and today Cuba still celebrates "Sugar Cane Day" on Reynosa's birthday. By the late-1800's, Cuba had surpassed Brazil to become the largest sugar producing country in the world.
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