Sugar came to Europe during the Crusades. The Arabs had learned of cane sugar from their invasion of Persia where Darius had centuries before discovered "honey without bees" from his invasion of India.
Sugar cane appears to have been enjoyed by humans in Indonesia 10,000 years ago but was first exploited as an industrial product in India. Because cane grows only in the tropics it was long very expensive in Europe due to trade monopolies and luxury taxes - in fact it was so expensive it was presumed to be a powerful medicine. Some things just never change.
Since sugar was an item of prestige, the stage was set for a sugar binge when it became inexpensive, just as white rice did in Southeast Asia. Just as with white rice health problems followed (ask George Washington about his teeth).
The Spanish brought sugar cane to the New World where it grew exceedingly well. Molasses, a byproduct of sugar refining, became a key in the "Triangle Trade". The English bought slaves in Africa and sold them to sugar plantations in the West Indies. Molasses was shipped from the West Indies to New England for conversion to rum. The English traded manufactured goods to New England for rum and raw materials, then sold manufactured goods and New England rum in Africa to buy slaves to sell in the West Indies.
While it had been known for over 150 years that sugar could also be made from beets, production of beet sugar didn't began until the Napoleonic wars when England cut off the cane sugar supply to continental Europe. It is now grown and refined widely in North America and Europe.
The safety of artificial sweeteners has been hotly debated, particularly
as regards cancer, and will continue to be hotly debated for the foreseeable
future. All sides accuse the others of "bad science", and all parties are
likely correct on at least that one point. Research Continues, but it is
probable that if you did drink 800 cans of diet soft drinks a day you
probably would not die of cancer.
Agave Nectar -
This is another skillfully promoted food industry deception. The Agave Nectar of commerce is made not from agave sap but from agave starch. The conversion process is pretty much the same as for manufacturing High Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS), but the fructose content is much higher than with HFCS. This stuff is being promoted as "natural", as a "Health Food" and a healthy alternative to HFCS. It is now widely sold in markets catering to the yuppie class and is spreading to mainstream markets.
Agave nectar is being advertised as having a "low glycemic index", but some researchers suspect that depending on low glycemic sweeteners actually increases insulin resistance, so what is sold as good for diabetics may actually make the problem worse in the long run.
Agave starch consists mainly of inulin (fructosan), a complex form of fructose which ends up as 58% to 92% fructose in the final product, with most of the rest being glucose. Having up to nearly twice the fructose of High Fructose Corn Syrup, it can cause severe health problems if used heavily.
Vegans often use Agave Nectar in place of honey, because honey exploits
animals (bees). Apparently the poor agave worms crushed to death in the
process of making agave syrup are not being "exploited". Vitamin B12
content will depend on the number and quality of the worms crushed.
My personal opinion is that agave nectar should be used only in moderation, preferably after it has been properly fermented, distilled, aged and bottled as Tequila.
Beet Sugar [Sucrose]
Beet and cane sugar are both 99.95% sucrose, chemically identical and
interchangeable for many applications, but not for all. In making confections,
crème brûlée, butter cream, cookies and cakes they
behave differently (S9) with cane sugar definitely superior.
Photo by U.S. Agricultrual Research Service = public domain.
Birch Syrup - [varies but
roughly Fructose 50%, Glucose 45%, other sugars 5%]
Originally there was only one grade, dark - too dark and too strong to pour on pancakes but only used as a flavoring ingredient. Modern methods of lower temperature processing have made possible lighter grades similar to the grades of maple syrup. Birch syrup is made in quantities so small the USDA has been uninterested in regulating so grade names are arbitrary and simply made up by individual producers.
Birch syrup is much more difficult to make than maple syrup so costs about five times as much. Alaska is considered a large producer but total output there is probably under 2000 gallons U.S. per year. In Siberia and Finland birch sap is also made into soft drinks, beer and vinegar.
Cane Sugar - [Sucrose]
Sugar can be dried and packaged before all the color and "impurities" are removed. This may be done for flavor, for a "natural" color, or to satisfy "health enthusiasts" who think they're getting a more nutritious product. Well, they are, but nutrition in such minute amount as to not matter one iota - it's sugar and just as bad for you as any other sugar. Molasses is a byproduct of this process.
Cane and Beet sugar are 99.95% chemically identical, but not always
interchangeable. See Beet Sugar.
Cane sugar is sold commercially in several forms:
High Fructose Corn Syrup [HFCS]
The food processing industry is always anxious to reduce costs for maximum profit. Corn syrup is very cheap due to government subsidy of corn farming. High Fructose Corn Syrup is sweeter than regular corn syrup so less needs to be used.
Soft drink manufacturers now use HFCS in beverages that were once sweetened with cane sugar. Many consumers prefer cane sugar and pay higher prices for the same beverage smuggled in from Mexico where cane sugar is still used. The beverage industry has responded not by selling consumers what they want but by attempting to stop importation by any means, legal or questionably legal.
Health aspects of HFCS have been controversial. Some have claimed it increases obesity and diabetes.. The industry, and dietitians under its influence, have claimed it's no worse than any other sugar in that respect and overall sugar consumption should be blamed. New studies by the University of California and Princeton University both point to HFCS being more dangerous than other sugars. See the Health and Nutrition section for details.
Golden Syrup - [Refiners syrup]
When they return to their hive they barf it up into wax cells where it is mixed with antiseptic substances secreted by the insects, properly dehydrated and then capped. Bees are very industrious and manufacture a lot more honey than they actually need.
Beekeepers break into the beehives and remove most of the wax "honeycombs" as rent for living in a beehive provided by the beekeeper and conveniently prefitted with wax honeycomb bases ready to start filling. It's not all that hard on the bees, they really don't have much else to do anyway.
Honey varies in flavor depending on the kind of flowers that predominate in the area, such as sage and orange blossom honey which can be sold at gourmet prices.
Purely natural honey is minimally processed, basically just drained off the wax (and sometimes not even that), Most commercial honey, however, has been filtered and pasteurized and some of its health benefits may have been destroyed. In either case, it's still about 80% sugar and 17% water. The main sugars are fructose (38%), glucose (31%), maltose (7%) and sucrose (1%), so its sugar profile is slightly better than High Fructose Corn Syrup. Whether natural fructose is metabolically different from artificial fructose is subject to debate. Honey contains a number of vitamins, minerals and proteins but in far too small a quantity to be nutritionally significant. It also contains acids, hydrogen peroxide and other anti-bacterial substances.
Caution: A large amount of honey sold in North America is from China, and very often it's origin has been concealed by "laundering". Chinese honey is noted for contamination with lead (apparently China's favorite mineral) and the antibiotic chloramphenicol, banned by the FDA, as well as other foreign substances. Much Chinese honey is cut with sugars and some is completely fake. If you buy processed foods touting "with natural honey" you are likely getting Chinese honey, because it costs the processors less. Importation of Asian honey is banned in Europe.
Invert Sugar -
[Trimoline, Golden Syrup]
Jaggery [jaggery, gur (India),
nam taan oi (Thai)]
Jaggery is commonly molded into blunt cones as in the photo, which may
be anywhere from a few ounces to 10 pounds. Other shapes are also sometimes
found. Subst: Mexican Piloncillo (closest) or dark
Maple Syrup - [Sucrose]
Maple Syrup grades are established by the USDA. Canada adheres to similar grading but uses different names. These are not quality grades. There are no cheap Chinese sugar maples so we presume all the trees are of the highest quality. These are usage grades, and the makers have little control as to what grades they'll get in any particular year, that's pretty much up to the trees.
Molasses - [Treacle (British)]
Cane sugar is refined in several boilings, each with its byproducts.
Monk Fruit -
[Luo han guo (China); La han qua (Viet); longevity fruit (not unique);
Fructus Momordicae (Pharm); Siraitia grosvenorii]
This is a very light and flavorful sugar with a lot more nutrients left in it than most sugars and is very important in the cuisine of Thailand. It is commonly available in the U.S. but if you don't have it substitute equal parts of light brown sugar and maple syrup.
Piloncillo (variously spelled)
Sorghum syrup has long been used in the American South for pouring
over pancakes, biscuits and corn bread and as a flavoring ingredient much as
maple syrup has been used up north. This usage has become much less common
now that artificial maple syrup and other sweeteners have become widely
[Sweetleaf, Sugarleaf; Stevia rebaudiana]
A Paraguayan herb the leaves of which are extremely sweet. An extract from the leaves is hundreds of times sweeter than table sugar, has almost no calories and is safe for diabetics. It has been widely used in Japan for 30 years to replace artificial chemical sweeteners.
Until 1998 it was not approved as a sweetener in the U.S., Canada, the European Union, Australia or New Zealand. Under FDA regulations it was legal to own and even sell stevia, but in doing so you had to call it a "dietary supplement" and not even mention that it was "sweet". This is still the case in Canada and Europe (except France), but it is now approved as a sweetener in the U.S., Australia and New Zealand.
This regulation was not be entirely due to pressure from the sugar and chemical industries. While it has proved safe in South America and Japan, the FDA pointed out it is used sparingly there and worried that obsessive American dieters would use it to excess, as they do with every other diet fad that comes along.
negative reproductive effects have been noted from feeding rats and hamsters
heavy doses, so they say more research is warranted. Of course the danger is
probably much less than for approved Artificial Sweeteners.
Photo by Ethyl Aardvark distributed under license
Attribution 3.0 Unported.
Starches and sugars are carbohydrates manufactured by plants as energy storage. They can be converted one to the other and in some cases are further converted into oils. In the case of fruits, that energy is stored for animals the plant depends on to distribute its seeds (most plants don't travel much). In the case of nuts, seeds and grains, the storage is for the use of the plant's own progeny.
Plants convert from one form to another for various reasons. Generally when its seeds are fully mature a fruit will "ripen", converting starches to sugars to attract seed distributing animals many of which are partial to sweet treats.
We inherited this taste for sweet things from our distant ancestors. The problem is, sugars were rare and hard to get for them. Today they are easily available and cheap, especially in refined form. We tend to eat far too much sugar and in refined forms that our ancestors did not consume. This over consumption is not good for our health.
The food industry is not particularly interested in our health but is very interested in our willingness to over-consume sweet things, because we pay them to obtain those things.High Fructose Corn Syrup - [HFCS (US); Isoglucose (UK), Glucose/fructose (Canada)]
High Fructose Corn Syrup is an industrial product produced by a complex process involving genetically modified enzymes, fungus, hydrochloric acid and caustic soda, and is made from (mostly) genetically modified corn.
A significant number of nutritionists consider HFCS more dangerous than other sugars and note an increase in childhood obesity and diabetes that parallels the increase in HFCS use in soft drinks, sweets and processed foods. The corn processing industry has denied any connection and blames high overall sugar consumption (which they promote).
A recent study completed in 2009 by the University of California, the first using human test subjects, has come down hard on the side of HFCS and fructose in general being seriously more dangerous (S5). The corn processing industry has denounced the study as nonsense (without presenting any evidence). The study was fairly small so larger studies are warranted.
An even newer study from Princeton University backs up the UC study's conclusions (S7), so it now appears fully warranted to avoid products containing HFCS as much as possible.
What is NOT controversial among health professionals is that Americans should greatly reduce the total amount of sugars they consume. The food industry, of course, gives lip service to this concept while vigorously promoting heavily sweetened products.Links
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