The history of white addiction. The sugar


One of the most consumed staple foods in the world is sugar. In fact, some authors suggest that it is perhaps the most widely consumed legal addictive substance in the world, directly responsible for different health problems. As always, there are arguments for and against this vision, but there is no doubt that sugar, as a crop and food, has a great story behind it that is worth telling.

From delicacy for the rich to a universal product

Really, something as natural as table sugar is a very recent addition to our eating habits. Sugar, both refined white and brown, was almost unknown just two centuries ago. They say that one of the first indications of its consumption in Europe was by Queen Elizabeth I of England. He liked sugar so much that his teeth even turned black, and that even this created a real fashion in the court, to the point that courtesans dyed their teeth the same color. Just thinking about the scene gives me chills. Imagine the queen's whitish complexion and her black teeth ...

The fact is that, apart from the cut, sugar was a real luxury product. At least, until the English took over the small island of Barbados. There they discovered that sugar cane grew very well and little by little the extraction and refining processes were improved, to the point that the entire island was transformed into a sugar cane monoculture. This also caused, unfortunately, millions of people were brought as slaves from Africa to work as cheap labor on the plantations. In a short time, this generated higher production and lower costs that made sugar a product of mass consumption. As a curious note about Barbados, to say that currently more than 90% of the population is black and the standard of living on the island is very good.

The Napoleonic Wars and the Fuel of the Industrial Revolution

Soon the sugar trade spread throughout Europe and almost all countries made use of it. In Switzerland, milk and sugar chocolate was invented, and in France pastry reached sublime heights. But England had a monopoly on trade. When Napoleon came to power and went to war with England, there was a sugar embargo, and he himself ordered to investigate alternative sources of sugar. This is how the refining process from sugar beet was discovered. Since this plant is better adapted to cultivation in our latitudes, prices and the traditional cane industry soon collapsed, but everyone benefited in the long run.

Perhaps where the impact of sugar was most felt was during the industrial revolution. On the one hand, coffee with sugar replaced beer or alcohol in many taverns and pubs, and this allowed for somewhat more interesting or at least "intelligible" business conversations. On the other hand, sugar became a staple food that provided cheap calories for all the labor force that worked in the new factories. Obviously, the quality of the diet was terrible, since the sugar that was used, and that is still consumed in the majority, is white, with all the calories but very few nutrients. Breakfast with coffee and sugar, and bread with carrot jam became common. It provided enough calories at a very low price.

Current situation of sugar

Nobody today doubts that sugar carries serious associated problems. From the mildest such as cavities, to the most problematic such as type II diabetes or obesity. The general recommendation is to consume it in moderation, but in practice it is very complicated for several reasons. We go crazy about sugar because we are evolutionarily designed to be nuts and that is hard to control. On the other hand, the food industry knows about this addiction, and as Howard Moskowitz already discovered, it is enough to find the right proportion so that it sells more product. In addition, sugar is in almost all sugary drinks, many sauces, sausages, and not a few foods as a flavor enhancer. That without counting pastries and others. Claiming that you can consume sugar in moderation is like saying that you can travel in time, theoretically possible, practically unfeasible (sorry to the physicists in advance).

Myself as an example. I can take, on average, two coffees a day with a tablespoon of brown sugar (about 2gr). This makes, a year, a total of 1.5 kg of sugar only in coffees. If we start adding some cakes, sauces, etc ... we could be talking about 4-5 kg ​​a year, about 13g a day. And I "forced" myself to control myself and but when I was younger I consumed a lot more sugar. In fact, sugar consumption in Spain went from 1980 from about 2.7 kg per person per year to about 36 kg. Or put another way, almost 100 grams of sugar every day. Translated to calories, almost 400 Calories. The alternative may be in sweeteners such as aspartame or the like, or even stevia, and to the extent that they help reduce this consumption, they may come in handy.

Regarding world sugar production, it is curious to observe how in tropical latitudes the original sugar cane is cultivated, and how beet is better adapted in Europe or North America. Spain in particular is not self-sufficient and imports roughly 2/3 of all the sugar it consumes. The world's largest producer is Brazil and the world's largest consumer is ... I leave it for the readers.

Images | By raichovak En Directo al Paladar | Discover the hidden sugar in some foods Direct to the Palate | Types of sugar

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