Monday, 16 March 2015

high-fructose or beet, beet, sugar beet

Just as I was under the mistaken impression that coffee cultivation and consumption for Europe was a New World discovery, I was sure that the same was true about sugar—thinking of the cane-breaks of Caribbean islands and sprawling plantations.

I knew that the process to extract sugar from the native sugar beet was a later, eighteenth century discovery, patronised by the same Prussian royal family that sponsored the search to make porcelain and silk without relying on China—and assumed it was a another case of corporate raiding to bypass England’s dominance of trans-Atlantic trade. Researchers in Germany discovered that the sucrose of the sugar beet, which did not need tropical conditions to grow but thrived in temperate Germany, was the same substance found in sugar cane and figured out how to isolate and harvest it, though beet sugar was never able to supplant cane for its surplus. Sugar cane originated on the Indian subcontinent and was first described by visiting Persians, and was first cultivated in the Middle East around a millennium after this first documentation. Western Europeans, despite their familiarity with honey as a sweetener, were immediately taken with sugar cane, grown at farmsteads at the port city of Acre (‘Akka), headquarters of the Order of Knights Hopitaller.
The confection’s introduction to Europe, like many other commodities, however, experienced centuries of delay, with not all Western palettes ready to taste this exotic import, along with the range of culinary spices that the Crusaders adopted when they went more or less native. Europeans were altogether repulsed by some of the indulgent habits that generational pilgrims had adopted—like regular bathing, and the public was not sold of sugar, as with coffee, tea, cotton, said-spices and tobacco—until colonialism necessitated markets and consumers needed to be conjured up. As somewhat of a coda to the spice wars of the Far East traders, France was willing to drop its claim to Canada in exchange for keeping its Caribbean cane-growing islands, and the Dutch relinquished their title to Old New York (then Nieue Amsterdam) once it was decided they could retain its plantations in South American Suriname.