Sugar is the generic name for sucrose, a disaccharide composed of glucose and fructose. It is used in food and drinks around the world, serving as a sweetener, preservative, texture modifier, fermentation substrate, coloring agent, and bulking agent.
Everyone knows sugar tastes good, but there is a lot more to sugar than just a sweetener for your coffee. Sugar has a long history of benefiting people.
Sugar is found in all plants
Sugar is found in the fibers of all plants as a byproduct of photosynthesis. However, sugar is only found in high enough concentrations to make sugar crystals from two plants – sugarcane and sugar beet. More than 75% of sugar comes from sugarcane. There are 37 different species of sugarcane and they all crossbreed with one another.
Sugar has been around for 10,000 years
There are indications of sugar consumption in South-East Asia as far back as 8000 BCE. At that time, people appear to have consumed sugar by chewing on raw sugarcanes. The first records of sugar being crystallized for transportation date back to around 500 BC in India and China. Producers in Venice started their own plantations in the 15th century, producing sugar for Europe. Christopher Columbus introduced sugarcane seeds to North America on his second voyage. Sugarcane was one of the first cash crops of colonial America.
Sugar does not spoil
Sugar is toxic to most microbes. In its crystal form bone dry, sugar loves to bind with water. When present in sufficient concentrations, table sugar will consume all the water around it. It will draw water from a cell, causing the cell (bacteria or other) to shrivel and die. It can function as a preservative to protect certain foods from spoiling and inhibit microbial activity, effectively extending the expiration date of canned goods.
Sugar saves limbs – and lives
While your physician may discourage consuming too much sugar in your diet, sugar actually has medicinal value. When poured in a wound, sugar granules will soak up moisture that allows bacteria to thrive. Without the bacteria, the wound heals more quickly. In some parts of the world, this procedure could save the lives of people who cannot afford antibiotics. It can also be used on infected wounds containing bacteria resistant to antibiotics.
Sugar is a good source of energy
The most common ethanol production processes today use yeast to ferment the starch and sugars in corn, sugar cane, and sugar beets. Corn is the primary source in the US, but sugarcane and sugar beets are the most common feedstocks used to make fuel ethanol in other parts of the world. Because alcohol is made by fermenting sugar, sugar crops are the easiest ingredients to convert into alcohol.
The next time you are adding sugar to your coffee, oatmeal, or tea, take a moment to appreciate how versatile sugar is. It’s a source of energy, healing, and preservation and has been a tasty treat for 10,000 years.
Learn more about iRely’s sugar commodity management solutions.