Sugar was first produced from sugarcane plants in northern India sometime after the first century. The word sugar is thought to be from Sanskrit, and Sanskrit literature from India, written between 1500 to 500 B.C., provides the first documentation of the cultivation of sugar cane and the manufacture of sugar in the Bengal region of India. The invention and manufacture of sugar granules from sugarcane juice occurred in India over 2,000 years ago. It became known worldwide by the end of the medieval period, when it was very expensive and considered a “fine spice.” From about the year 1500, manufacturing improvements and New World sources turned sugar into a much cheaper commodity. Today, sugarcane is the world’s third most valuable crop.
Sugar is made by first extracting sugar juice from sugar beet or sugar cane plants. After extraction, many types of sugar can be produced through slight adjustments to the manufacturing process. Sugars of various crystal sizes and colors provide unique functional characteristics that make them suitable for different foods and beverages. White sugars include regular sugar, powdered or confectioners’ sugar, fruit sugar and bakers’ special sugar; brown sugars include light and dark brown sugar, Demerara sugar, Turbinado sugar and Muscovado Sugar; and there is liquid sugar and Invert sugar. The color of sugar is primarily determined by the amount of molasses remaining or added to the crystals.
The ancient Greeks and Romans imported sugar as a medicine, when it was found to be good for the intestines and stomach and was taken as a drink to help relieve painful bladders and the kidneys.