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Sugar Production in Modern Times

In the Sugar Spirit Project we've looked at the history of sugarcane and sugar production (project index here). In this post we'll look at sugar production today. Some of this information may be out of date due to the date of my reference books/websites, so please take it all with a grain of salt. Nowadays, sugar is not longer a major export in the Caribbean except for Guyana, the Dominican Republic, and Cuba. In India, the sugar industry is not large plantation-based but from small peasant holdings. The cane is processed by private companies or cooperatives. This is because citizens... Read more →

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Sugarcane and the Environment

For the most part rum is made from molasses, the byproduct of sugar production. So when we study the issue of the environmental impact of sugarcane production we need to keep in mind that molasses is the waste product of sugar production. Rum is recycling! That said, we're studying not just sugar but sugarcane production so let's look at its impact. Most of this information comes from Sugar: A Bittersweet History by Elizabeth Abbott (2008). See the references page for more information. In Cuba where they couldn’t purchase pesticides and fertilizers due to economic issues, they made their own version... Read more →

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The Sugar Spirit Project: Enter the Sugar Beet

In studying sugar and sugarcane (go here for the project index) we need to study the sugar beet; sugarcane's competitor. Here we'll look at the sugar beet's early history. Sugar beets were not economically important as a source of sucrose until the mid-1800s. In 1774 a German scientist discovered the sugar from beets was the same as from cane. Napoleon, due to the economic and real war with England, bet big on sugar beets. In 1811 he supported vast increase in sugar beet production. Within 2 years they built 334 factories and produced 35,000 tons of sugar. To process sugar... Read more →

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Sugar in Early American History

In studying sugarcane and sugar, we've looked at its biology, origins, spread to the West, association with forced labor, how it was processed in the olden days, and how the English developed a taste for it. (Go here for the project index.) Now we'll look at sugar in America. Again I have used these resources for my facts and understanding of history, as I'm certainly no expert and I welcome your comments. Jamestown, Virginia was founded in 1607. Sugarcane was brought there by 1619, but the colonists couldn't make it grow. As it was a new country, the United States... Read more →

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The English Sweet Tooth and Ties to Coffee, Chocolate, and Tea

In studying sugarcane and sugar, we've looked at its biology, origins, spread to the West, its previous association with forced labor, and how it was processed in the olden days. (Go here for the project index.) Now we'll look at how people in England developed a taste for sugar. Much of this information comes from the book Sweetness and Power (resources list here) by Sidney Mintz. Naturally the British taste for sugar not only drove the taste of the citizens of its colonies for sugar, but also determined how its sugar-growing colonies were used. In 1000 AD, few Europeans knew... Read more →

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Primitive Sugar Production

In studying sugarcane and sugar, we've looked at its biology, origins, spread to the West, and its previous nefarious association with forced labor. (Go here for the project index.) In today's post we'll look at how sugarcane was processed in the olden days to make cyrstallized sugar. Most of this information comes from the sources cited here. Sugarcane is first harvested. This was (and still is in many parts of the world) done by hand. First the cane fields are burned to remove excess vegetation and to kill off things like rodents and snakes, then it is cut. I believe... Read more →

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Sugarcane and Slavery

Boy is this ever a topic I'd rather avoid! However there is no denying the historic link between sugarcane production. We were tracing the spread of sugarcane and the sugar industry from the Old World to the new. But slave labor used to harvest and process sugarcane began long before sugarcane was brought to the Caribbean. Before sugarcane made its way to the Atlantic islands off the coast of Spain and Portugal, slave labor was used in Crete, Cyprus, and Morocco. Warfare and plague had diminished the local labor force so slaves were 'needed' to harvest it. Slavery and sugar... Read more →

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The Spread of Sugarcane in the New World

When we last left off looking at sugarcane's spread from India/Indonesia to the rest of the world, the sugar industry had shifted from the Mediterranean to the Atlantic islands of Spain and Portugal, including Madeira and the Canary islands. During this time, the powers in Europe were developing a taste for sugar. Sugar was only known in Europe after the 8th century. This is about the time that references to growing cane in the Mediterranean appear. Molasses reached England by late 1200s, coming from Sicily. King Henry III (in the 13th century) ordered three pounds of sugar “if so much... Read more →

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