food

Things you didn’t know about sugar

food, things you didn’t know about sugar

Found literally everywhere, sugar has been an important crop and commodity since ancient times. Used in many types of foods and drinks around the world, it’s hard to find someone who isn’t a fan of a little sweetness. And while a lot of us are trying to cut back on our sugar intake, it’s still a huge part of modern life. This sweetener has become a preferred ingredient in almost every food product, and it’s hard to escape it.

So whether you’ve got a big sweet tooth or not, you need to check out these interesting facts about sugar. Click on!

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food, things you didn’t know about sugar

Origin of the word

The word “sugar” originates from the Sanskrit word sharkara, which means “material in a granule form.” From Sanskrit, the word passed to Persian, becoming šakar. It was then borrowed by the Arabic language, becoming as-sukkar.

food, things you didn’t know about sugar

Breaking down sugars

Sugars are molecules of carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen. The simplest include glucose, fructose, and galactose. The sugar we mostly consume, table sugar, is crystallized sucrose, a mix of one fructose and one glucose molecule.

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food, things you didn’t know about sugar

There are many types of sugars

The three main categories of sugar are monosaccharides, disaccharides, and polyols. Monosaccharides are single molecule sugars, while disaccharides are made up of two linked monosaccharides. Both are found in products like fruits, table sugar, and milk. Meanwhile, polyols aren’t true sugars. They’re found in many sugar-free sweeteners.

food, things you didn’t know about sugar

Sugarcane was first domesticated in New Guinea

One of the world’s oldest ingredients, sugarcane was first domesticated in New Guinea around 8000 BCE. It was later taken to the Philippines and India.

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food, things you didn’t know about sugar

India was the first to crystallize cane sugar

People in India have been crystallizing cane sugar for at least 2,000 years. When Alexander the Great’s companions arrived there, they were amazed by the sweet product.

food, things you didn’t know about sugar

It was used as a medicine for centuries

Dating back to 9th-century Iraq, sugar was used to make medicinal syrups with fruits and spices. Centuries later, British doctors prescribed sugar to cure a range of diseases, such as blowing sugar powder into the eyes to cure eye ailments and irritations.

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food, things you didn’t know about sugar

Sugar during the slave trade

The Portuguese brought sugarcane to Brazil, where a slave-based plantation economy was established. It was soon introduced in the Caribbean, which led to the growth of the industry that came to feed sugar-crazed Europe.

food, things you didn’t know about sugar

It was once considered a spice

When sugar was first introduced to 12th-century England, it was grouped with other tropical spices like ginger, cinnamon, and saffron. The wealthy in society used it to season savory dishes.

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food, things you didn’t know about sugar

It started as a luxury in Europe

Initially, sugar was so rare and expensive that only royalty could afford it. And even so, they ordered sugar in very small quantities.

food, things you didn’t know about sugar

European royalty would eventually make giant sugar sculptures

Called subtleties, these sugar sculptures were made into different shapes and wheeled out at royal feasts starting in the 13th century. While being visually impressive, they weren’t very tasty. Sugar was mixed with nuts, pastes, and gums to give it a clay-like consistency.

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food, things you didn’t know about sugar

It later became a staple of the working-class diet

By 1850, the working class consumed more sugar than the wealthier classes. As the price of sugar dropped, people began using it in a range of goods, such as oatmeal and baked treats.

food, things you didn’t know about sugar

A sweet discovery

In 1747, German chemist Andreas Marggraf discovered that the sugar in a sugar beet is identical to that in sugarcane. This helped bring cheap sugar to colder climates.

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food, things you didn’t know about sugar

Cane sugar beats beet sugar

Sugarcane is used for approximately three quarters of all production. Sugarcane exceeds sugar beet in production volume, and most notably in climate and production costs. Thailand, China, Brazil, and India are major producers of sugarcane, while sugar beet is produced mainly in Europe and the US.

food, things you didn’t know about sugar

Sugar production

About 70% of all sugar produced is used in its country of origin. Around 124 countries produce sugar commercially. Brazil is the world’s largest producer of sugarcane.

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food, things you didn’t know about sugar

Sugar is addictive

According to brain scans, sugar is as addictive as cocaine. Quitting it abruptly can cause pain, nausea, and flu-like symptoms.

food, things you didn’t know about sugar

Sugar addiction may be genetic

Just like alcohol, studies show that those with genetic changes in a hormone called ghrelin consume more sugar than those who have no such gene variation.

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food, things you didn’t know about sugar

Sugarcane is grown in large plantations

Sugarcane is usually grown in large plantations or cane fields. It can yield up to 44 pounds (20 kg) of sugar for every 11 square feet (one square m) of land.

food, things you didn’t know about sugar

Eating sugar can give you wrinkles

Not only can overconsumption of sugar cause weight gain, but it can also affect the elasticity of your skin. Eating too much sugar causes glycation, a process in which excess blood sugar binds to collagen in the skin, resulting in wrinkles.

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food, things you didn’t know about sugar

Sugar in our diets

Centuries ago, humans depended on a diet containing very little sugar and virtually no refined carbohydrates. Sugar probably entered our diets by accident when someone chewed on sugarcane stalks.

food, things you didn’t know about sugar

Tons of sugar beets

More than half the 8.4 million metric tons of sugar produced annually in the US comes from beets. Beat sugar, anyone?

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food, things you didn’t know about sugar

It can be used as a food preservative

Sugar has been used as a preservative for hundreds of years. This is because high sugar concentrations cause bacteria to lose water through a process called osmosis. And without water, bacteria can’t grow or divide.

food, things you didn’t know about sugar

Overconsumption has been linked to lower cognitive abilities

Too much sugar can actually make you less intelligent. So far scientists have only studied the effect on rats, but they believe that the brain structure of rats is similar enough to our own. Therefore, the findings can be extended to humans!

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food, things you didn’t know about sugar

You might be drinking 16 sugar cubes at once

If you feel appalled by the thought of drinking 16 sugar cubes in one sitting, then we’re sorry to break it to you: you probably have. That is what’s contained in a 20-ounce (500 mL) bottle of cola.

food, things you didn’t know about sugar

Sugar is a top five soft commodity

The five most successful soft commodities (i.e. commodities that are grown, not mined) in terms of annual consumption are cocoa, coffee, wheat, cotton, and, of course, sugar.

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food, things you didn’t know about sugar

The sugar trade

The sugar trade is one of the most complex in the world. It involves price controls, quotas, subsidies, and preferential arrangements. It’s a sweet, but serious, business.

food, things you didn’t know about sugar

Lemon has more sugar than strawberries

You’d probably guess otherwise, but a lemon contains far more sugar than strawberry (70% vs. 40%). The acidity in lemons, which gives its tangy taste, masks the sweetness.

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food, things you didn’t know about sugar

Sugar can be used as fuel

Sugar is a main component in “rocket candy,” a popular form of model rocket fuel. Scientists are still working on making a practical sugar-based car fuel. The future might offer a sweet ride!

food, things you didn’t know about sugar

It can increase heart disease

Overconsumption of sugar can increase the overall risk for heart disease. Sugar even changes the muscle protein of the heart, as well as its pumping mechanics.

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food, things you didn’t know about sugar

Sugars and carbohydrates

Sugars are the building blocks of carbohydrates. It’s the most abundant type of organic molecules in living things.

Sources: (Mental Floss) (Discover Magazine) (The Conversation) (Medium)

See also: What was the average diet like in medieval Europe?

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