Sugar: Sweet Yet a Mind Blowing Change

Sugar has a long history in the Great Britain. Starting with the sugar colonies to a home grown production, British sugar consumption saw a drastic increase as its use changed from a spice to a sweetener and from limited and privileged class to a broader consumer base. Farmers in Britain grew cane in Brazil, Cuba, Mexico, and the West Indies. At first, the local residents ran cane plantations, however, as the demand of sugar increased, slaves were brought from Africa to these plantations. The sugar plantations became so profitable that people referred to sugar as the “white gold”. Until 1750, sugar was the food for the elite class of the society and was consumed in a small quantity. However, by the end of 1780, every person learned about sugar: As Mintz states:

“The history of sucrose in the United Kingdom reveals two basic changes, the first marking the popularization of sweetened tea and treacle, from about 1750 onward; and the second, the opening up of mass consumption, from about 1800 onward. During the period 1750-1780 every English person, no matter how isolated or how poor, and without regard to age or sex, learned about sugar. Most learned to like it enough to want more than they could afford. After 1850, as the price of sugar dropped sharply, that preference became realized in its consumption. A rarity in 1650, a luxury in 1750, sugar had been transformed into a virtual necessity by 1850” (Mintz 147).

While researching the change in sugar consumption, I came across two interesting points regarding the impact of sugar consumption on chocolate. First, the increase in sugar consumption increased chocolate consumption, which in turn only increased sugar consumption. Wilhelm Ruprecht, in the Journal of Evolutionary Economics, mentions that “Adding sweetness made new ways of food preparation more acceptable for neophobic consumers. Moreover, basic food items such as cocoa and chocolate, tea, and coffee, being in an early stage of their diffusion were made more attractive by adding sugar (Ruprecht, published 2005, pg. 250). The second point I came across is that contrary to the popular belief that Spanish invented the idea of sweeting cacao, Mayans sweetened their beverages with honey. This suggests that sweetening cacao was not a new concept in Britain, it was well developed by the Mayans, however, its popularity increased in Britain.

Turning back to the change in sugar consumption in Britain, it is crucial to understand the change through numbers. As Mintz states, “In 1660, England consumed 1,000 hogsheads of sugar and exported 2,000. In 1700, she imported about 50,000 hogsheads and exported about 18,000. By 1730, 100,000 hogsheads were imported and 18,000 exported, and by 1753, when England imported 110,000 hogsheads, she re-exported only 6,000” (Mintz 1986: 39). Looking at the numbers, it is evident that Britain went under a huge change in sugar consumption as it was being used for four purposes: Medicine, as a spice, as decorative material, and lastly as a sweetener and preservative.

800px-Raw_sugar_closeup

The above picture of granulated sugar shows sugar as a sweetener. Granulated sugar made it easier for consumers to utilize it in different ways, especially dissolving sugar to make sweet drink.

 

014452-captive-south-pacific-islanders-sugarcane-canecutters.jpg

In the 17th and 18th centuries slaves were imported from Africa to the Caribbean to work on the sugar plantations. The slave trade made British ports very wealthy. As 1746 economist Malachi Postlethwaite states: “If we have no Negroes, we can have no sugar, tobacco, rum etc. Consequently the public revenue, arising from the importation of plantation produce, will be wiped out. And hundreds of thousands of Britons making goods for the triangular trade will lose their jobs and go a begging” (http://www.bbc.co.uk). 

 

Work Cited

Mintz, Sidney Wilfred. Sweetness and Power: The Place of Sugar in Modern History. New York, NY: Viking, 1985. Print.

Ruprecht, Wilhelm. “The Historical Development of the Consumption of Sweeteners – a Learning Approach.” Journal of Evolutionary Economics J Evol Econ 15.3 (2005): 247-72. Web.

MADIGAN, MICHAEL. “Slavery Link in Mass Grave Uncovered at Old Sugar Cane Plantation outside Bundaberg.” The Courier Mail. N.p., n.d. Web.
“National 5 History – Britain and the Caribbean.” BBC Bitesize. BBC, n.d. Web.
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