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For the love of Sugar, Legends and Legacies


So sugar is what exactly? Sugar is just a word to describe any soluble, sweet-tasting carbohydrate. Table sugar or regular sugar refers to sucrose. Sucrose is a disaccharide made up of glucose and fructose. Sugars are somewhat broken down into simple and complex. Simple sugars are those that include the monosaccharides like: fructose, glucose, and galactose. Complex sugars include the disaccharides like sucrose(fructose + glucose), lactose(glucose + galactose), and maltose(glucose +glucose).

Honey and fruits are the big sources of natural simple sugars. Sugarcane and Sugar Beets are where you get your sucrose. In 2016, a little over 2 billion tonnes of these two crops was harvested to put it in perspective.

Some other examples of sugar sources are:

Maltose comes from malting grains. Lactose comes from milk, including human breast milk. Another big one is corn syrup, which comes from processing corn starch into sugar molecules.

To talk about the history of sugar, we have to start with sugarcane.

The history of sugar can be broken down to these major time periods:

The extraction of sugar cane juice from the sugarcane plant, and the domestication of the plant in tropical Southeast Asia around 4,000 BC.

The process of getting cane sugar granules from sugarcane juice in India a little over two thousand years ago.

The spread cane sugar to the medieval Islamic world together with some improvements of production methods.

The spread cane sugar to the West Indies and tropical parts of the Americas beginning in the 16th century.

The development of beet sugar, high-fructose corn syrup and other sweeteners in the 19th and 20th centuries.

What is sugarcane?

-tall perennial grasses in the genus Saccharum

-two to six metres (six to twenty feet) tall with stout, jointed, fibrous stalks that are rich in sucrose

-originates from South East Asia where cultivation began around 6000 BCE

Where did sugarcane originally grow?

Saccharum Officinarum

-the originally cultivated variety was Saccharum Officinarum from modern day Papua/New Guinea that was selectively bred from Saccharum Robustum

-this variety spread to the pacific islands from the Soloman Islands to Vanuatu to Samoa to Tahiti to Hawaii and began being cultivated around 4000 BCE

Saccharum Sinense

-separate species within the genus that began being cultivated in Taiwan and Southern China around 3500 BCE and stayed in this region of the world

Saccharum Barberi

-separate species within the genus that began being cultivated in Eastern India and Bangladesh around 1000 BCE

-began its spread by branching off toward Persia (Modern Iran) and Madagascar. -continued from Persia through the ancient levant (Iraq, Syria) and Egypt.

-continued from egypt all through North Africa

So Sugar, why is it called Sugar?

-as ancient indians began cultivating sugar they figured out how to produce a crystalline form sometime around 1000 BCE, although the exact timeframe is unknown

-prior to this practice in india, most sugarcane was chewed raw for the sweetness

-the original sanskrit word was ‘śarkarā’ Originally this mean grit… or gravel. Later the meaning was redefined as ground or candied sugar.

-this continued to evolve into the Arabic ‘sukkar’, the latin ‘zuccharum’, and then middle english and french ‘sucre’

During Greek and Roman times around the 1st century AD, we know that sugar was considered a luxury or a medicine. The Greek physician Dioscorides wrote: "There is a kind of coalesced honey called sakcharon [i.e. sugar] found in reeds in India and Eudaimon Arabia [i.e. Yemen] similar in consistency to salt and brittle enough to be 56broken between the teeth like salt. It is good dissolved in water for the intestines and stomach, and [can be] taken as a drink to help [relieve] a painful bladder and kidneys." Pliny the Elder, a roman, also described sugar as medicinal: "Sugar is made in Arabia as well, but Indian sugar is better. It is a kind of honey found in cane, white as gum, and it crunches between the teeth. It comes in lumps the size of a hazelnut. Sugar is used only for medical purposes."

The first group to “industrialize” sugar production was the arab world by about the 6th century AD. They learned the cultivation practices of the Indians and expanded upon them with artificial irrigation to plantations that often had on-site mills or refineries. As the Arabs spread out along northern africa and the mediterranean, they brought with them sugar and the technologies necessary for it’s production.

From the Arab world, sugar was exported throughout Europe. Cane sugar remained an expensive import. Its price per pound in 14th and 15th century England was about equal to imported spices from tropical Asia such as mace (nutmeg), ginger, cloves, and pepper, which had to be transported across the Indian Ocean in that era.

Europeans started planting and cultivating sugarcane in several mediterranean states as well as islands such as The Canaries, Madeira, and the Cape Verde Islands. The only problem, was that it is hard work to cultivate sugarcane. For this reason, Europeans started bringing African Slaves to their plantations to do the work.

Then, everything changes for the Sugar game in 1492 once Columbus sails the Ocean blue.

Since it’s Columbus Day….. or Indigenous Peoples Day. Let’s talk a little about Christopher Columbus.

-Cristoffa Corombo in his native Ligurian language or Cristoforo Colombo in Italian was born between August 25 and December 31, 1451 in The Republic of Genoa(like the salami and in modern Italy). The exact date is unknown.

-Columbus grew up working at his family’s cheese stand. His father was also a wool weaver.

-By 1473, he began an apprenticeship as a business agent for three wealthy families in Genoa, The Centurione, Di Negro, and the Spinola.

-He eventually worked on trading ships that traveled to northern Europe, particularly Bristol, England and Galway, Ireland. He may have also traveled to Iceland in 1477, but that’s disputed.

-That same year, he established a sort of “home base” in Lisbon, Portugal where he went on to marry Filipa Moniz Perestrelo from an affluent Portuguese family. They had one son, Diego, together.

-By about 1482, Columbus began trading down the coast of West Africa, working his way down to Elmina at the Guinea Coast(modern day Ghana).

-In 1484 he returned and discovered his wife’s passing. This led him to take his son and move to Castile in Spain. This is where he met his mistress Beatriz in 1487. She was an orphan and 20 at the time of their relationship starting, he was 35/36. Shortly after, the had an illegitimate son Fernando, but Columbus recognized him as his own.

-He was an ambitious individual who learned many languages and took an interest in Astronomy, Geography, and History… as well as a deep interest in the Bible and Biblical Prophecies.

It was during these times that Europeans were trying to find a new route to Asia. The fall of Constantinople to the Ottomans cut off the traditional trade routes through the Silk Road.

So, Columbus started his thoughts on crossing the Atlantic as an alternate access to Asia because he had received this map from an astronomer named Paolo dal Pozzo Toscanelli around 1474. Toscanelli had already tried to pitch the idea of crossing the Atlantic in order to get to Asia in front of King Alfonso V of Portugal and got rejected. Columbus and his brother started throwing out the idea of a voyage to the Indies during the 1480’s but weren’t getting any backing. Their idea got even less support after Bartolomeu Dias reached the Cape of Good Hope and discovered a southern route around Africa.

After several years of back and forth negotiations with the King and Queen of Castile(modern Spain), they finally agreed to sponsor a voyage in April 1492 with the “Capitulations of Santa Fe”. This was a sweet deal for Columbus.

-he became “Admiral of the Ocean Sea”

-he would be named Viceroy and Governor of any new lands he could claim for Spain.

-he gained the right to nominate three people, with the Monarch’s choosing one, to any post in the new lands.

-he would be entitled to 10% of the profits from any new lands in perpetuity.

-he would have the option of purchasing a 1/8th stake in any new business ventures and would therefore receive 1/8th of profits.

Sounds kind of like a complicated Mr. Wonderful deal in Shark Tank. Especially the “in perpetuity part.

Columbus ended up completing 4 round-trip voyages to the new lands for the crown, the first of which in 1492 was obviously the most famous.

First Voyage 1492-1493:

-On August 3, 1492 he departed with three ships, the lead ship being the Santa Maria. The others being the Nina and the Pinta.

-It was sometime between October 11th and 12th that the expedition first hit land.

-They landed in the modern day bahamas, and Columbus named the island they reached San Salvador(holy savior)

-They bounced around the Bahamas, moved on to Cuba exploring the northeastern coast, and then onto Hispaniola(modern Haiti/DR).

Second Voyage 1493-1496:

-This time he sailed with 17 ships and 1,200 men. They carried enough supplies to begin establishing permanent colonies. The personnel included priests, farmers, and Soldiers who would wind up becoming the settlers. The crews may have included free black Africans at this point, because the slave trade to the new world hadn’t yet been established.

-The expedition first landed farther south this time by modern day Dominica. They worked their way up through Guadalupe, Nevis, St. Croix, the Virgin Islands and onto Puerto Rico, Hispaniola, Jamaica, and Cuba.

-They got into some skirmishes in St. Croix, Puerto Rico, and Hispaniola.

-Columbus established a settlement in Hispaniola and reigned as leader. He started a gold mine and began implementing “encomienda”. Basically protection for forced labor. The settler’s began taking natives as slaves, even including children.

-In 1495, Columbus fell ill and while re was recuperating the settler’s starting going wild stealing, killing, raping, and torturing natives, trying to force them to divulge locations of gold. It’s estimated that some 50,000 perished during this time.

Third Voyage 1498-1500:

-Left with 6 ships. 3 Ships went straight to Hispaniola as a resupply. Columbus took 3 searching for an alleged continent that existed south of the Caribbean.

-The expedition first hit Trinidad and then onto Venezuela at the mouth of the Orinoco river. Columbus recognized that this must be the main continent, but thought he was somewhere in Asia.

-After exploring around the Venezuelan coast he moved onto Hispaniola and then returned.

Fourth Voyage 1502-1504:

-This time he began again the Caribbean islands working his way north from Martinique across the southern coasts of Puerto Rico, Hispaniola, and Cuba to Honduras. He spent a lot of time exploring the coasts of Honduras, Nicaragua, and Costa Rica all the way down to Panama. Here he learned of another straight through to another Ocean.

-Many storms and ship issues led them to leave the area heading back to Hispaniola. A strong storm stranded them on Jamaica. They were stranded there for about 1 year. A Spaniard along with some natives launched a Canoe expedition to Hispaniola to request help from the Governor there. He did not view Columbus in a good light and obstructed all rescue efforts as much as he could.

-Help did finally arrive and Columbus made his final return to Spain.

Later Years:

-Columbus wrote two books. Book of Privileges (1502) and Book of Prophecies (1505)

-He became more religious in his later years and often spoke about how many natives he was responsible for converting to Christianity.

-Late in life he demanded the 10% of profits that was promised. The Spanish Crown refuses for various reasons. His children tried to sue for years, also unsuccessfully.

-Died on May 20, 1506 in Valladolid, Spain.

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