Where does sugar come from? History of Sugar

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Sugar cane harvest in India

History of sugar: Sugar cane harvest in India

When did sugar cane evolve?

Sugar cane began to grow wild in India and south-east Asia about a hundred million years ago, when grasses evolved from earlier plants.

Grass and other angiosperms
The Cretaceous Period

When did people start to eat sugar?

When people first walked to India, about 60,000 years ago, they probably began to eat the sugar cane pretty much right away. For people who are using a lot of energy running and working hard, sugar provides a lot of carbohydrates – and it tastes good. Certainly by about 2500 BC, people in India were eating sugar cane.

What are carbohydrates?
Ancient Indian food
More Ancient India articles

For three thousand years after that, though, only people in India and Southeast Asia ate sugar cane. This was because you had to eat it fresh, before the juice dried up, and sugar cane wouldn’t grow further north. So the early history of sugar is really the history of sugar cane.

From sugar cane to lumps of sugar

The rise of the Silk Road and wealth Central Asian traders about 500 BC encouraged Indian traders to develop profitable trade goods. About 350 AD, under the Guptan Empire, Indian food scientists finally invented a way to make sugar cane juice into crystallized sugar (what you find in your sugar bowl). You did this by grinding or pounding the sugar cane to get out the juice. Then you dried the juice in the sun and you got lumps of sugar that would keep for a long time. Now Indian merchants could sell these lumps of sugar to Silk Road traders in Afghanistan and Kazakhstan.

What is the Silk Road?
More about the Guptan Empire
Science in Ancient India

When did sugar reach China?

Buddhist monks began to use the Silk Road to travel back and forth between India and China, they brought sugar to China with them.

Buddhism in China
The T’ang Dynasty
More Ancient China articles

Emperor Taizong of the T’ang Dynasty got interested in sugar, and he asked official Indian ambassadors to come to China to explain how to grow sugar cane and make sugar. The T’ang emperors sent at least two missions to India in the 600s AD to learn more about sugar technology.

Did you find out what you wanted to know about the history of sugar? Let us know in the comments!

Learn by doing: making sugar candy
Sugar comes to the West
What about the history of honey?

Bibliography and further reading about sugar:

Need another source? Check out this article about sugar

More about sugar
More about honey
Quatr.us home

By |2019-01-13T20:12:09+00:00June 23rd, 2017|Food, India|0 Comments
Cite this page: Carr, K.E. Where does sugar come from? History of Sugar. Quatr.us Study Guides, June 23, 2017. Web. January 23, 2019.

About the Author:

Dr. Karen Carr is Associate Professor Emerita, Department of History, Portland State University. She holds a doctorate in Classical Art and Archaeology from the University of Michigan. Follow her on Instagram, Pinterest, or Facebook, or buy her book, Vandals to Visigoths.

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