How Sugar came to be Medicine in England

Sugar in England originally was only for the richest in the country, name the nobility. However, over a period of centuries, sugar slowly increased in popularity, decreased in price, and became a necessity for everyone.

In today’s world, sugar is a part of everyday life in England. The rise of the prevalence of sugar has been occurring for over a thousand of years. However, in England, sugar was not primarily a sweetener for the majority of its time there. Instead, it played several key roles, one of which was as medicine. That being said, sugar would have failed to become popularized for its medicinal purposes during the history of England if not for its sweetness.

Coffee House
Shown above is an image of a beverage house where upper-middle class males would go to drink sweetened coffee, tea, and chocolate. These locations were known for being hotbeds of political and philosophical discussion.

To prove the sweetness necessity for sugar popularization, one must first have an understanding of the history of sugar in England. Sugar is first definitively acknowledged as entering the English culture in 1100 CE (Mintz 79). From then on, sugar became increasingly more integrated into English society. In 1400 CE, the nobility acquirered minor amounts of sugar that could be used as a spice; however, it was expensive and, as such, unavailable to the commons (Mintz 80-81). For the next couple centuries, sugar became increasingly in demand. By 1685, sugar was used in society to sweeten bitter drinks, namely, liquid chocolate, coffee, and tea. This was still restricted due to cultural norms and the cost of sugar from the common masses; however, it did expand sugar usages to the wealthy not only the nobles (Mintz 110). Following from this, sugar continued to increase in popularoity. In 1750, there was already 120 sugar refineries in Britain (sucrose). This trend continued and by roughly 1850, sugar was considered a necessity by the masses. Nowadays, sugar is consumed at over 120 million tons a year (sucrose). Accordingly, sugar over a course of roughly 800 years went from a rarity used by the nobility to a common need for the masses. Throughout this period, sugar was used as a medicine in Britain.

Paracelsus was known in this context for strongly advocating against the extreme common use of sugar as medicine.

The use of sugar in Britain has as rich of a history as the general use of sugar. The original theory of sugar for medicinal usage was incorporated from an eclectic set of Islam sources. Namely, 11th century accounts of sugar as medicine connected back to Islam usages. In the middle of the 12th century, Englanders were using sugar as a treatment for fever, cough, pectoral ailments, chapped lips, stomach diseases, and more (Mintz 96-99). This usage continued and grew until roughly the 15th century. At this point, sugar was a common medicine for a wide range of ailments (Mintz 101). However, with its widespread usage came much debate. There was strong and intense debate from the 16th century until the middle of the 19th century arguing against the common usage of sugar. This debate had many supporters against the use of sugar such as Paracelsus and Serveto. However, by the time these debates lessened, general medical practice still incorporated sugar (Mintz 102-105). That being said, modern medicine and science has revealed that, in general, sugar itself is not a major medicine for treating common diseases. This begs the question of why did sugar become such a common treatment if it had little effectiveness in actually curing ailments.

Sugar did not provide an effective treatment. However, the vast majority still incorporated as medical standard practice. Thus, it did not maintain its popularity in medicine due to data or evidence. Instead, there must exist indirect causation. The most logical way to explain this is that people felt better despite having no true treatment. Thus, it is more a problem of the mind than of the chemistry. People felt better from sugar because they inherently enjoyed its sweet taste. Therefore, they felt emotionally better. This leads to positive feelings and overall seeming healthier despite no inner lasting change to the ailment. It is from this that it becomes evident sugar was employed as a medicine for so long not due to its medicinal properties but rather from its taste, or in other words, its sweetness.

Sugar was recognized as a spice in England by the early 12th century. From there, it grew in a constant upward trend in popularity. While this popularity grew, it also became used medicinally. However, this medicinal usage was not due to inherent medicinal properties but rather an indirect property that made consumers feel better. From careful thinking, it becomes obvious that this is because people mentally enjoyed sugar and its taste. Thus, sugar only was able to become popular as a medicine due to its sweetness.

Works Cited:


“Dentistry in Renaissance Period.” Dentistry in Renaissance Period. N.p., n.d. Web. 12 Mar. 2015.
“How Sugar Is Made – the History.” SKIL. Sugar Knowledge International, n.d. Web. 11 Mar. 2015.
“The Lost World of the London Coffeehouse.” The Public Domain Review. N.p., n.d. Web. 12 Mar. 2015.
Text Resources:
Mintz, Sidney W. Sweetness and Power: The Place of Sugar in Modern History. New York: Penguin, 1985. Print.
“World Biography.” Philippus Aureolus Paracelsus Biography. N.p., n.d. Web. 12 Mar. 2015.

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