----- A Message from American Sugar Alliance ----- U.S. sugar policy ensures homegrown supplies, instead of depending on unreliable imports, as we did in 1942 when sugar was rationed. Support food security. Support sugar policy.We primates do like our sweets. Sugar cane may first have been cultivated in New Guinea. At some point, people figured out how to crystallize dry sugar out of the cane juice, which produced a concentrated and easily transportable commodity. Sugar spread west to Persia, then exploded into Europe with the advance of Islam, and later with the return of Crusaders, who brought the curious "sweet salt" home with them.
As Europeans discovered how to grow and process this labor-intensive product in their hot-climate colonies, it spurred some of the earliest large-scale slave-labor economies. In 14th- and 15th-century Europe, crystallized sugar was priced similarly to nutmeg and cloves. By the 18th century, supplies increased and prices dropped enough to permit sugar consumption to soar. In the middle of that century, a German chemist discovered beet root as an alternative source, which grew in importance after Napoleon cut off sugar imports from England in 1813. Sugar production became increasingly mechanized and less dependent on large supplies of cheap labor.
Currently, the U.S. relies more heavily on high-fructose corn syrup for sweetening. Developed in 1957, HFCS began to swamp the market in the 1980s after import sugar tariffs, imposed in 1977, inspired food processors to seek a cheaper substitute. U.S. and Canadian sugar prices are at twice the global market level, while corn production is heavily subsidized.
Sidney Mintz wrote a book about the role of sugar in history that is said to rank with other recent epics about salt, potatoes, and corn. I haven't read Mintz's work, but the other three were great.