Sugar is one of the worlds oldest documented commodities. Indigenous people of New Guinea chewed it raw in 8000 BC. Now common place in our pantries, it was once considered so valuable it was locked away in wooden cabinets called sugar safes. In 1319 AD sugar was sold in London at two shillings a pound, approximately £72 a kilogram in todays money.
Interesting Fact Demerara sugar is named after the colony of Demerara in Guyana and the surrounding sugar cane fields.
So What is Sugar?
Sugar is a carbohydrate called sucrose. It is produced naturally in all plants through photosynthesis. The image below shows how water and minerals are drawn from the soil by the plant roots. The leaves take carbon dioxide from the air. Chlorophyll found in the cells of leaves absorb sunlight. The energy from the sunlight turns carbon dioxide and water into sucrose.
Glucose (dextrose), fructose (laevulose), and galactose are the building blocks of all carbohydrates. These three simple sugars are called monosaccharides, which bond with themselves and each other to produce more complex carbohydrates. Two monosaccharides joined together are called disaccharides. Common table sugar or sucrose is glucose bonded with fructose. Lactose found in milk is glucose bonded with galactose. Maltose is glucose boded with glucose. When more than ten monosaccharides are joined together, they are called polysaccharides. Starch is a glucose polymer.
Carbohydrates are an essential source of energy for the body, providing fuel for the brain, organs and muscles, enabling them to function and engage in everyday activities.
Sugar Cane and Sugar Beet
Sugar cane and sugar beets contain the greatest amount of sucrose, around 14-16%. This makes them the most efficient plants to extract sugar.
Sugar cane is a perennial grass, grown in tropical climate. They grow between 10-20 foot high. They are ready to harvest in 10-12 months, and are cut just above the root so new sprouts will grow.
Sugar beet was first identified as a source of sugar in 1747. The vested interests in the sugar cane plantations prevented sugar beet being explored further until the beginning of the 19th century. They are a root, ready to harvest in about 5 months, weighing a substantial 3-5lbs.