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This article deals with sugar as food; the word also has other uses

A sugar is a form of carbohydrate; the most commonly used sugar is a white crystalline solid, sucrose; used to alter the flavor of beverages and food. The "simple" sugars, such as glucose (which can be produced from sucrose by enzymes), store potential energy which is used by biological cellss.

Crystals of refined sugar, magnified

In culinary terms, sugar is a type of food associated with one of the primary taste sensations, that of sweetness.

In the Southern United States, sugar is sometimes used to mean diabetes mellitus.

Table of contents
1 Production
2 Chemistry
3 History
4 Health concerns
5 Fair trade
6 External links
7 Other uses


Sugar sucrose is extracted from sugar cane, sugar beets, or sugar palm by a refining process. In the financial year 2001/2002, 134.1 million tonnes of sugar were produced worldwide.

The major cane sugar producing countries are countries with warm climates, such as Australia, Brazil, and Thailand. In 2001/2002 there was over twice as much sugar produced in developing countries as in developed countries. The greatest quantity of sugar is produced in Latin America and the Caribbean nations, and in the Far East.

Surprisingly, the world's second largest sugar exporter is the EU. Although beet sugar costs four times as much to produce as cane sugar, huge subsidies and a high import tariff make it difficult for other countries to export to the EU, or compete with it on world markets. The U.S. sets high sugar prices to support its producers with the effect that many sugar consumers have switched to corn syrup (beverage manufacturers) or moved out of the country (candy makers).

The raw vegetable material is crushed, and the juice is collected and filtered. The liquid is then treated (often with lime) to remove impurities, this is then neutralised with sulfur dioxide. The juice is then boiled, sediment settles to the bottom and can be dredged out, scum rises to the surface and this is skimmed off. The heat is removed and the liquid crystallises, usually while being stirred, to produce sugar which can be poured into moulds. A centrifuge can also be used during crystallisation.

There is little difference between sugar made from beet and that made from cane, but sophisticated tests can distinguish the two, and have been developed to reduce fraudulent abuse of EU subsidies.

Types of culinary sugar

Culinary sugar is available in many forms, from "brown" or "raw" which is not truly raw, but refined from sugarcane) to highly refined "white" sugar. Turbinado sugar is raw sugar that has been steam-cleaned. Muscovado sugar (UK) is dark brown with about 13% molasses content, or light brown with about 6% molasses. Demarara sugar has about 2% molasses.

Sugar comes in lumps, grains ('granulated sugar') and powder. Caster sugar (British name) or superfine sugar (USA) is finely granulated white sugar for use in a sprinkler or 'caster', and is used for making meringues and for sweetening drinks. Icing sugar (British name) or confectioner's sugar (USA name) is finer than caster sugar, and is used for baking and in sugar icing.

Sugar cubes, made of compacted sugar granules, are used to sweeten drinks.

Palm sugar, or jaggery, is obtained from the sap of the palm tree and is used in southeast Asia.


In biochemistry, a sugar is the simplest molecule that can be identified as a carbohydrate. These are monosaccharides and disaccharides. Sugars contain either aldehyde groups (-CHO) or ketone groups (C=O), where there are carbon-oxygen double bonds, making the sugars reactive. Most sugars conform to (CH2O)n where n is between 3 and 7. A notable exception is deoxyribose, which as the name suggests is "missing" an oxygen. As well as being clasified by their reactive group, sugars are also classified by the number of carbons they contain. Derivatives of trioses (C3H6O3) are intermediates in glycolysis. Pentoses include ribose and deoxyribose, which are present in nucleic acids. Ribose is also a component of several chemicals that are important to the metabolic process, including NADH and ATP. Hexoses include glucose which is a universal substrate for the production of energy in the form of ATP. During photosynthesis plants produce glucose which is then stored as starch.

Many pentoses and hexoses are capable of forming ring structures. In these closed-chain forms the aldehyde or ketone group is not free, so many of the reactions typical of these groups cannot occur. Glucose in solution exists mostly as a ring at equilibrium, with less than 0.1% of the molecules in the open-chain form.

Monosaccharides in a closed-chain form can form glycosidic bonds with other monosaccharides, creating disaccharides, such as sucrose, and polysaccharides such as starch. Glycosidic bonds must be hydrolised or otherwise broken by enzymes before such compounds can be used in metabolism.

The term "glyco-" indicates the presence of a sugar in an otherwise non-carbohydrate substance: for example, a glycoprotein is a protein to which one or more sugars are connected.

Simple sugars include sucrose, fructose, glucose, maltose and mannose.

Sucrose can be converted by hydrolysis into fructose and glucose, producing what is called inverted sugar. This resulting sugar is sweeter than the original sucrose, and is useful for making confections sweeter and softer in texture.


Sugar cane has long been known in tropical areas of the world, and was chewed raw to extract its sweetness. Later sugar refining was developed in the Middle East, India and China, where it became a staple of cooking and desserts. Later sugar spread to other areas of the world through trade. It arrived in Europe with the arrival of the Moors. Crusaders also brought sugar home with them after their campaigns in the Holy Land. While sugar cane could not be grown in northern Europe, sugar beets could and these began to be widely cultivated around 1801, after the Napoleonic wars disrupted trade between Europe and the Caribbean.

The History of Sugar in the West

In the 1390s, a better press, which doubled the juice obtained from the cane, was developed. This permitted economic expansion of sugar plantations to Andalusia and the Algarve. In the 1420s, sugar was carried to the Canary Islands and Madeira and Porto Santa Maria.

In 1493, Christopher Columbus stopped, intending four days, at Gomera in the Canary Islands, for wine and water. Columbus became romantically involved with the Governor of the Island, Beatrice. He stayed a month. When he finally sailed she gave him cuttings of sugarcane, the first to reach the New World.

The Portuguese took sugar to Brazil. Hans Staden, published in 1555, writes that by 1540 there were 800 sugar mills on Santa Catalina Island and another 2000 up the north coast of Brazil, Demarara and Surinam. Approximately 3000 small mills built before 1550 in the New World created an unprecedented demand for cast iron gears, levers, axes and other implements. Specialist in mold making and iron casting were inevitably created in Europe by the expansion of sugar. Sugar mill construction is the missing link of the technological skills needed for the industrial revolution that is recognized as beginning in the first part of the 1600s.

After 1625, the Dutch carried sugarcane from South America to the Caribbean islands from Barbados to the Virgin Islands. In the years 1625 to 1750, sugar was worth its weight in gold. Price declined slowly as production became multi-sourced, especially through British colonial policy. During the Napoleonic Wars, Napoleon, fearful of the loss of sugar for the masses because of the British blockade against France, encouraged successfully the breeding of high sugar content beets.

With the European colonization of the new world, the Caribbean became the world's largest source of sugar. Sugar cane could be grown on these islands using slave labour at vastly lower prices than sugar beets could be grown in Europe, or cane sugar imported from the East. Thus the economies of entire islands such as Guadaloupe and Barbados were based on sugar production. The largest sugar producer in the world, by 1750, was the French colony known as Saint-Domingue, which is today the independent country of Haiti. Jamaica was another major producer in the 1700s. As Europeans established sugar planations on these larger Caribbean islands, prices fell, especially in Britain. What had previously been a luxury good began, by the eighteenth century, to be commonly consumed by all levels of society. At first most sugar in Britain was used in tea, but later candies and chocolates became extremely popular. Sugar was commonly sold in solid cones and required a sugar nip, a plyers-like tool, to break off pieces.

Sugar cane quickly exhausts the soil and larger islands with fresher soil were pressed into production in the nineteenth century. After the world's only successful slave revolution established the independent nation of Haiti, sugar production in that country declined and Cuba replaced Saint-Domingue as the world's largest producer. Production spread to South America as well as to new European colonies in Africa and the Pacific.

While it is no longer grown by slaves, sugar growing continues to this day to be associated with workers earning minimal wages and living in extreme poverty. Cuba was a large producer of sugar in the 20th century until the collapse of the Soviet Union took away their export market and the industry collapsed.

Health concerns

In 2003, a report was commissioned by two U.N agencies, the World Health Organization and the Food and Agriculture Organization, compiled by a panel of 30 international experts. It stated that sugar should not account for more than 10% of a healthy diet. However, the Sugar Association insists that other evidence indicates that a quarter of our food and drink intake can safely consist of sugar.

Fair trade

Sugar is an enormously important commodity throughout the world. However, many sugar farmers receive a low price for their produce. This has led to sugar being available as a 'fair trade' item in some countries.

See also: sweetener, glycomics

External links

Other uses