II.F.2. - Sugar
is the worlds predominant sweetener. It satisfies the human
appetite for sweetness and contributes calories to our diet. Sugar
is used in cooking, in the preparation of commercially processed
foods, and as an additive to drinks; it is also a preservative
and fermenting agent. It sweetens without changing the flavor
of food and drink. It is cheap to transport, easy to store, and
relatively imperishable. These characteristics helped sugar to
displace such sweeteners as fruit syrups, honey, and the sap of
certain trees, the most famous of which is the North American
of data makes it difficult to establish when sugar became the
principal sweetener in any given part of the world, but in every
case this has occurred fairly recently. Illustrative are Europe
and North America where it was only after 1700 that sugar was
transformed from a luxury product into one of everyday use by
even the poor. This took place as Brazil and the new West Indies
colonies began producing sugar in such large quantities that price
was significantly reduced. Lower prices led to increased consumption,
which, in turn, fueled demand, with the result that the industry
continued to expand in the Americas and later elsewhere in the
the eighteenth century, the rise in the per capita consumption
of sugar has been closely associated with industrialization, increased
personal income, the use of processed foods, and the consumption
of beverages to which people add sugar, such as tea, coffee, and
cocoa. In addition, the relatively recent popularity of soft drinks
has also expanded the use of sugar. Annual per capita sugar consumption
is now highest in its places of production, such as Brazil, Fiji,
and Australia, where it exceeds 50 kilograms (kg). Consumption
in Cuba has been exceptionally high, exceeding 80 kg per capita
around the beginning of the 1990s. Subsequently, consumption has
fallen to a still very high 60 kg per person.
an annual per capita consumption of between 30 and 40 kg, the
countries that were first industrialized in western Europe and
North America constitute a second tier of sugar consumers. The
poorer countries of the world make up a third group where consumption
is low. The figure for China is 6.5 kg, and it is even lower for
many countries in tropical Africa. Such a pattern reflects both
differences in wealth and the ready availability of sugar to those
in the countries of the first group. In the Western industrialized
world, concerns about the effects of sugar on health, as well
as the use of alternatives to sugar such as high-fructose
corn syrup and high-intensity, low-calorie sweeteners have
stabilized and, in some countries, lowered the use of sugar. Thus,
it would seem that further expansion of the industry depends primarily
on the poorer countries following the precedent of the richer
ones by increasing consumption as standards of living improve.
Secondarily, it depends on the ability of the sugar industry to
meet competition from alternative sweeteners.
is the chemical sucrose that occurs naturally in plants. It is
most richly concentrated in sugarcane and sugar beet, which are
the sources of commercial sugar. Fully refined sugar, whether
made from cane or beet, is pure sucrose, and the consumer cannot
tell from which of the two plants it derives. But despite the
identical end product, the sugarcane and the sugar beet industries
differ greatly in methods of production and organization, and
each has its own distinctive history and geography.
is a perennial grass of the humid tropics. It requires at least
1,000 millimeters of rain annually, which should fall year-round,
although with irrigation the plant can also be grown in dry climates.
Temperatures must be above 21° Celsius (C) for satisfactory
growth, and the best results are obtained when the temperature
exceeds 27° C. Cold temperatures, therefore, impose northern
and southern limits on cultivation. Growth ceases when the temperature
falls below 1113° C; light frosts injure the plant,
and a prolonged freeze will do serious damage. Sugarcane is tolerant
of a wide range of soil conditions and grows well on both hillsides
and flat land. With the mechanization of harvesting, a recent
development that dates only from the 1950s, the industry has come
to prefer flat land where the machines can function most effectively.
principal parts of sugarcane are the roots and the stem that supports
the leaves and the inflorescence. The stem in a mature plant can
grow as high as 5 meters (m) and can be thick or thin, depending
on the variety. Some stems have soft rinds and are easy to chew
on; others have tough rinds, which makes for difficult milling.
The color of the stems can range from green through shades of
purple, and some varieties are leafy, whereas others are not.
Despite these differences, the identification of varieties in
the field is usually a matter for experts.
sugarcane is reproduced vegetatively. Until the late nineteenth
century, the commercial varieties were thought to be infertile.
Some are, although others set seed under certain climatic and
day-length conditions. This discovery has been of basic importance
for the breeding of new cane varieties, but commercial sugarcane
is still reproduced in the traditional vegetative way. The stems
have nodes spaced from 0.15 to 0.25 m apart, each of which contains
root primordia and buds. A length of stem with at least one node
is known variously as a sett, stem-cutting, or seed-piece. When
setts are planted, roots develop from the primordia and a stem
grows from the bud. Stems tiller at the root so that the bud in
each sett produces several stems.
first crop, known as plant cane, matures in 12 to 18 months, depending
on the climate and variety of cane. The roots, left in the ground
after the harvest, produce further crops known as ratoons. Some
varieties produce better ratoons than others. As a perennial plant
with a deep root system and with good ground coverage provided
by the dense mat of stems and leaves, sugarcane protects the soil
from erosion. Given adequate fertilizer and water, it can flourish
year after year, and there are parts of the world in which sugarcane
has been a cash crop for centuries.
wild and domesticated varieties of sugarcane belong to the genus
Saccharum, one of the many subdivisions of the large botanical
family of Gramineae. Because these varieties interbreed,
the genus has become a very complex one. Authorities recognize
species of Saccharum: S. robustum Brandes and Jeswiet ex.
Grassl., S. edule Hassk., S. officinarum L., S.
barberi Jeswiet, S. sinense Roxb. emend. Jeswiet, and
S. spontaneum. Speciation, however, of the genus is still
status of S. edule as a distinct species is problematic,
and an argument exists for conflating S. barberi and S.
sinense. There is also discussion as to the places of origin
of the species. S. barberi, S. sinense, and S. spontaneum
occur widely in southern Asia and may have originated there. New
Guinea is thought by many to have been the place of origin of
the other three species, although possibly S. officinarum
evolved close by in the Halmahera/Celebes region of present-day
Indonesia. Four of the species were cultivated for their sugar:
S. barberi and S. sinense, respectively, in India
and China; and S. edule and S. officinarum in New
Guinea. S. robustum is too low in sucrose to be a useful
source of sugar, but its tough fiber makes it valued in New Guinea
for fencing and roofing. S. officinarum may have been cultivated
as an important food for pigs in prehistoric New Guinea (Stevenson
1965: 312; Barnes 1974: 402; Blackburn 1984: 90102;
Daniels and Daniels 1993: 17).
officinarum is the species of basic importance to the history
of the sugarcane industry. In New Guinea its evolution into an
exceptionally sweet cane led to wide diffusion throughout the
Pacific islands and eastward through southern Asia to Mediterranean
Europe and America. Until the 1920s, nearly all the cane sugar
that entered international commerce came from one or another variety
of this species.1 The varieties of S. officinarum are known
collectively as noble canes, a name the Dutch gave them in the
nineteenth century in appreciation of their importance to the
sugar industry in Java.
brought the era of the noble canes to an end. In the midnineteenth
century, Bourbon cane, the standard commercially cultivated variety
in the Americas, had suffered occasional outbreaks of disease,
but in the West Indies in the 1880s, disease in Bourbon cane became
general and caused a serious reduction in yields. To use the jargon
of the sugar trade, this variety "failed."
the 1880s, disease also devastated the cane fields of Java. The
initial response of planters was to replace the diseased cane
with other "noble" varieties, but because these too
might "fail," this solution was seen at best to be a
temporary one. The long-term answer lay in breeding new varieties
that would be resistant to disease and rich in sucrose. Cane-breeding
research began simultaneously in the 1880s at the East Java Research
Station (Proefstation Oost Java) and at Dodds Botanical Station
in Barbados. Initially, researchers worked only with S. officinarum.
Success came slowly, but during the first years of the twentieth
century, newly bred varieties began to replace the naturally occurring
ones, and substitution was complete in most regions by the 1930s.
a second phase of research, which benefited from developments
in genetics, attractive features from other species of sugarcane
were combined with varieties of S. officinarum. This process,
known as "nobilization," resulted in even further improvements
in disease resistance and sucrose content. Nobilized varieties
entered cultivation during the 1920s and gradually replaced the
first generation of bred varieties (Galloway 1996).
sugarcane industry has now been dependent on cane breeding for
a century, and research remains necessary to the success of the
industry. Because varieties "fail," reserve varieties
must be on hand to replace them. Some of the aims of breeding
programs are long-standing: resistance to disease, insects, and
animal pests; suitability to different edaphic and climatic conditions;
better ratooning; and high sucrose content. In recent years, additional
considerations have come to the fore. Canes have to be able to
tolerate herbicides, and in some countries they have to meet the
needs of mechanical harvesters.
in cane breeding gave the sugarcane industry a much improved raw
material that enables it to meet more easily a basic requirement
of survival in a competitive world, which is the sustainable production
of cane rich in sucrose in different climatic and soil conditions.
Cane breeding has also added flexibility in dealing with the constant
of how best to manage the cane fields with a view to the needs
of the mill and factory. A long harvest season is preferable to
a short one because it permits the economic use of labor and machinery.
Fields of cane, therefore, must mature in succession over a period
of months. This can be achieved by staggering the planting of
the fields and by cultivating a combination of quick-maturing
and slow-maturing varieties. Cane ratoons complicate the operation
because they mature more quickly than the plant cane.
the years, however, ratoon crops gradually decline in sugar yield,
and eventually the roots have to be dug up and the field replanted.
Breeding can improve the ratooning qualities of cane. The number
of ratoon crops taken before replanting is a matter of judgment,
involving the costs of planting and the yield of the crops. Practice
over the centuries has ranged from none at all to 15 and even
more. Where numerous ratoon crops are the custom, the introduction
of new varieties is necessarily a slow process. Planting is still
largely done by hand, although planting by machine has increased.
harvesting of cane presents another set of problems. The cane
must be carefully cut close to the ground (the sucrose content
is usually highest at the base of the stems) but without damage
to the roots. The leaves and inflorescence should not go to the
mill where they will absorb sugar from the cane and so reduce
the yield. Manual workers can cut carefully and strip the stems,
but the work is arduous and expensive. The mechanization of harvesting
has been made easier by the breeding of varieties that achieve
uniform height and stand erect. The machines can cut and top (remove
the inflorescence) with little waste.
it is very important to send clean cane to the mill with a minimum
of trash, soil, or other debris, preharvest burning of the cane
has become a common practice. This removes the living leaves as
well as the dead, which lie on the ground and are known as "trash."
Burning prepares a field for harvesting and does not damage the
stems or reduce the yield of sugar, provided the stems reach the
mill within 24 hours. But this last requirement is not new: Breeding
has not been able to alter the fact that stems of cane are perishable
and, once cut, must be milled quickly to avoid loss of juice and,
hence, of sucrose and revenues. The perishable nature of the stems
and the expense of transporting them still demand that the mills
be located close to the fields where the cane is grown.
the owners of the mills also own the fields that supply the cane,
coordination of cultivation and harvesting is a relatively easy
matter, compared to a situation in which independent cane growers
do the supplying. There are mills that rely on hundreds of cane
growers, each cultivating a few hectares. In addition to logistical
issues, the price the growers are to receive for their cane is
a constant source of dispute (Blackburn 1984: 136288; Fauconnier
aim in the mill is to extract the maximum amount of sucrose from
the stems; the aim in the factory (usually attached to the mill)
is to make maximum use of the sucrose to produce sugar quickly
and efficiently. The opaque, dark-green juice that contains the
sucrose flows from the mill to the factory where it is first heated
and clarified, then condensed by boiling to a thick syrup in which
sugar crystals form. This mix, known as a "massecuite,"
is then separated into sugar crystals and molasses. Early in the
history of the industry, both milling and manufacture involved
rather simple processes that by modern standards not only were
slow and wasteful but also led to rather crude results. Now the
milling and manufacture of sugar involve a series of highly sophisticated
engineering and chemical operations and take place in what are,
in fact, large industrial complexes. The daily grinding capacity
of modern mills varies enormously, with the largest exceeding
20,000 metric tons (Chen 1985: 72).
in processing have never entirely replaced the old methods, and
in India, Brazil, and many other countries modern factories coexist
with traditional ones. The industry draws a distinction between
the products of the two, based on the method of separating the
crystals from the molasses. In traditional mills, the massecuite
is placed in upright conical pots, and over a period of days,
if not weeks, the molasses drains through a hole at the base of
the cone, leaving a sugar loaf. In a modern mill, separation is
accomplished rapidly in a centrifugal machine that was first employed
in sugar factories in the midnineteenth century. The terms
"centrifugal" and "noncentrifugal" are used
in the sugar trade as a shorthand, referring to the products of
very different processes of manufacture.
sugars are characteristically made for local markets by rural
entrepreneurs with simple equipment and little capital. They appear
for sale yellowed by molasses, and sometimes still moist, and
compete in price with centrifugal sugar. They appeal to people
who are especially fond of their taste. The noncentrifugal sugars
include the gur of India, the jaggery of Nigeria,
the rapadura of Brazil, and the panela of Colombia.
(Indian khandsari sugar, an interesting anomaly, is produced
by traditional methods, except that the crystals are separated
in hand-held centrifuges.) The often remote location and modest
scale of many noncentrifugal factories means that a proportion
of world cane sugar production goes unreported.
sugar, the product of the modern factories, by contrast, enters
world trade. The International Sugar Organization, as well as
governments and sugar traders, track production; thus, there are
detailed, country-by-country, annual statistics on production
and consumption (Figure II.F.2.1). Commercial sugars are classified
according to their purity, which is measured in degrees of polarization
(pol.) with a polarimeter; purity ranges from 0° pol., signifying
a total absence of sugar (as in distilled water, for example),
to 100° pol., indicating pure sucrose. The basic centrifugal
sugar of commerce is known as raw sugar, which, by international
agreement, must have a polarization of at least 96°. Raw
sugars are not quite pure sucrose and are intended for further
processing, meaning that they are to be refined.
is the final stage in the manufacture of sugar. The result is
pure sucrose, with a pol. of 100°. The process of refining
involves melting the raws, removal of the last impurities, and
recrystallization of the sucrose under very careful sanitary conditions.
The raws lose a very minor percentage of their weight in the transformation
to refined sugar, the amount depending on the pol. of the raws
and the technical ability of the refinery (Chen 1985: 6346).
This loss and the expense of refining are built into the selling
price of refined sugar.
are located close to the market where the sugar is to be consumed,
rather than the fields where the cane is grown. In the Western
world, this pattern was established several hundred years ago
(Figure II.F.2.2). Transport in leaky sailing ships meant that
sugar inevitably ran the risk of contamination from sea water,
and in the hot, humid conditions of a long voyage across tropical
seas, sugar crystals coalesced. Thus, there was no point in making
a finished product if it was only going to be damaged in transit
to the market. In addition, the lack of fuel in the cane-growing
regions meant that it was rarely possible to produce the finished
product there. The industry does make its own fuel, bagasse, which
is the residue of the stems after milling, but during the early
centuries of the industry, inefficient furnaces meant that it
had to be supplemented with another kind of fuel, usually scarce
short, the location of refineries in the importing countries reflected
the realities of the sugar trade of yesterday. Today, there are
clean, rapid, purpose-designed ships, so that long voyages pose
little risk of damage to the sugar. And fuel is no longer the
problem it once was. A long record of improvements in the design
of furnaces and machinery means that an efficiently operated factory
produces a surplus of bagasse. Nevertheless, factors continue
to favor the location of the refineries in the importing, temperate
most importantly, refineries are not limited by harvests but can
operate year-round by buying their supplies of raws from producers
throughout the world according to season and price. Since the
nineteenth century, refineries in some countries have also had
the option of adapting to domestic beet sugar. By contrast, a
refinery in a cane-growing region, dependent on the local production
of raws, can only operate seasonally, which is not cost-efficient
unless it is possible to stockpile or import raws to keep the
refinery constantly in operation.
of such developments, many sugar factories now skirt the issue
of refining by making direct-consumption sugars which, as their
name implies, require no further processing. Whites, also known
as plantation whites, are the most important of this class of
sugar, and have a pol. of up to 99.5°. Whites were intended
originally only for local consumption, but they have now entered
international commerce to compete with refined sugars (Blackburn
1984: 2903, 31314).
what might seem as the diminution of their locational advantages,
however, the importing refineries will not yield their role easily.
Vested interests continue to be involved, but additional refining
is the only value-added part in the sugarcane industry that can
be transferred from the producing to the importing countries in
order to create jobs. Such refineries also have a trump card
they are close to and know their markets and can create demand
as well as deliver what the market wants.
glance along grocery store shelves reveals the many products of
the refineries. There are the standard granular sugars, ranging
from coarse to fine, and powdered sugar for icing cakes. The familiar
sugar cubes for tea and coffee have been there since as long ago
as the mid-1870s (Chalmin 1983: 84). The brown and yellow sugars,
whether granular or in lumps, are still called Demerara
named after an administrative division of British Guiana, where,
in the midnineteenth century, partially modernized factories
deliberately produced sugar still colored and flavored by molasses.
It became a recognized trade name that could only be applied to
this type of sugar produced in Demerara until 1913, when a court
of law in London accepted the argument that the term had become
common usage for any brown sugar, whether or not it had been made
in Demerara (Barnes 1974: 11). Today, Demeraras are, in general,
refined sugars that have been colored and flavored.
is the most important product of the sugarcane industry. But there
are also others, one being fuel. Because sucrose can be fermented,
as well as crystallized, it is turned into an alcohol that substitutes
for gasoline in cars. A substantial portion of Brazils annual
sugarcane crop is used for this purpose. Another use is the creation
of fancy molasses (made from clarified, concentrated, very sweet
syrup-like juice from which no sucrose has been drawn). This is
what is used in cooking, spread on bread and scones, and employed
as a topping for pancakes. Fancy molasses was a specialty of Barbados,
with North America once the major market, where it sold for less
than maple syrup. Barbados still exports fancy molasses, and a
similar product is made in several other countries.
addition, there are by-products of the manufacture of sugar. The
most important are molasses, alcoholic beverages, bagasse, and
filter mud, each of which has several uses. The molasses that
spins from the massecuite in the centrifuges of modern factories
is known as final or blackstrap molasses. It contains unextractable
sucrose, as well as glucose, fructose, water, and minerals, the
composition varying according to the climate and soil in which
the cane was grown. Relatively little of this type of molasses
enters international trade. One local use is for animal feed (either
fed directly to the animals or mixed with other foods). Other
derivatives of molasses include industrial alcohol, citric acid,
and yeast. But perhaps its best-known use is in the manufacture
of alcoholic beverages.
is the sugar industrys best-known drink, flavored and colored
with burnt sugar. But there are numerous other cane liquors, such
as the cachaça of Brazil. Moreover, in cane-growing
countries, alcohol is now mixed with imported concentrates to
make gin and even whisky. "Choice" molasses, the by-product
of noncentrifugal sugar, is also distilled for alcoholic beverages.
the dried cane pulp remaining after the juice is extracted
is a fortuitous by-product of sugar manufacturing that
finds important uses. In some countries it is a fuel that generates
electricity for the national grid. Ongoing research has also pointed
the way to other applications, and it is now employed in the production
of compressed fiberboard, various types of paper, and plastics.
of the filter mud, the result of clarification of the cane juice,
is returned to the cane fields as a fertilizer. But it is also
possible to extract a crude wax from it that can be used in the
manufacture of polishes. All of these by-products are major contributors
to the profitability of the sugarcane industry (Barnes 1974: 44669;
Blackburn 1984: 314, 32747).
manufacture of crystal sugar from sugarcane is one of the worlds
oldest industries. Its history is markedly episodic, with periods
of technological innovation and geographical expansion separating
periods of comparatively little change. Sugar became closely linked
to major forces in European history when the Portuguese, who,
in the fifteenth century, were venturing along the west African
coast, discovered that the production and sale of sugar grown
on nearby islands, especially Madeira, could be a means of financing
the enterprise of reaching the East Indies. In subsequent centuries,
sugar became intimately associated with the European colonization
of the tropical portions of the New World (Figure II.F.2.3). The
demand for labor that it created led to the transatlantic slave
trade that carried millions of Africans to the Americas. These
were followed by East Indians and other Asians in still more international
sugar was hardly confined to the Americas, and neither were the
historical forces that have shaped the industry from the rise
of capitalism through the industrial revolution to twentieth-century
advances in science and technology. The first use of sugarcane
by humans was doubtless to chew it to obtain the sweet juice,
a practice that continues, especially among children. Later, in
southern Asia at some unrecorded time, efforts were begun to extract
the juice with a simple mill or press and to concentrate it by
boiling into a sweet, viscous mass. The first evidence of crystal
sugar production appears at about 500 B.C. in Sanskrit texts that
indicate it took place in northern India. They describe in rather
vague terms the making of several types of sugar for which the
principal use seems to have been medicinal. Knowledge of this
technique spread from northern India eastward to China and (along
with the cultivation of sugarcane) westward into Persia, eventually
reaching the east coast of the Mediterranean about A.D. 600.
making in India and China, however, remained a technologically
conservative, small-scale, largely peasant activity until the
twentieth century. In China, for reasons that are not entirely
clear, sugar joined, rather than displaced, its competitors, becoming
one more option in a cuisine that continued to value honey, manna,
maltose, and sagwire palm sugar. Clearly, the history of sugar
in the East stands in marked contrast to that which unfolded in
sugar industry entered the Mediterranean basin as part of an agricultural
revolution carried out by the Arabs. In the years following the
founding of Islam (Watson 1983), its adherents presided over the
introduction of tropical and subtropical crops from Asia to the
countries of the Mediterranean, as well as the techniques of irrigation
that permitted cultivation throughout hot, dry summers.
mill sugarcane, the burgeoning industry borrowed existing Mediterranean
technology for extracting oil from olives and nuts and, in a second
operation, used screw presses to obtain more juice from the bagasse.
The juice was then clarified, reduced to the point of crystallization
in open pans over furnaces, and the resulting syrup was placed
in conical pots from which the molasses drained, leaving a loaf
of sugar in each pot. The mills relied on water, animals, and
men for power.
risk of frost in the Mediterranean, together with the need for
irrigation water, confined the cultivation of sugarcane to a few
favored locations in the Levant, North Africa, Cyprus, Crete,
Sicily, and Andalusia. Sugar production on the Atlantic islands
of Portuguese Madeira and the Spanish Canaries was also Mediterranean
in character. In its Mediterranean phase, however, the industry
was labor-intensive, small-scale, and unable to produce large
quantities of sugar, which therefore remained a luxury product.
In short, there was little change in the technology of the Old
World sugar industry between its introduction to the Mediterranean
and its decline in the face of competition from the New World
nearly 1,000 years later.
Mediterranean phase did, nevertheless, foreshadow what was to
come in the New World: Atlantic sugar was produced by slave labor
brought from Africa to plantations in a system like that which
would arise in the Americas. Moreover, the manner in which the
Venetians and Genoese organized the supply of sugar to continental
Europe during the Mediterranean phase also served as something
of a blueprint for things to come. The capital of these Italian
city-states established a colonial relationship with the producing
regions. They built the first refineries in Bologna and Venice
and also drew on slave labor from the coasts of the Black Sea.
The Genoese came to concentrate their investments increasingly
in the western Mediterranean and were later instrumental in helping
to finance the transfer of the industry to the Americas.
years between 1450 and 1680 mark that transfer, as well as the
decline of the Mediterranean industry in the face of American
competition. It was a phase not only of technological innovation
but also of geographical expansion, with the sugar-producing islands
of Madeira, the Canaries, and São Tomé serving as
stepping stones across the Atlantic. The Spanish first cultivated
sugarcane on Hispaniola in the early 1500s, but the Portuguese,
beginning in Brazil during the 1520s, were initially far more
successful. The English turned Barbados into a sugar colony during
the 1640s, and the sugar industry gradually spread across the
Caribbean and to other regions of the New World.
tropical America, not only did the climatic conditions favor sugarcane
cultivation but so did the abundance of land to grow it on and
the forests needed to provide fuel for the factories. With these
advantages, the American sugar industry assumed an altogether
new scale in terms of number of mills, size of land holdings,
and quantity of exports. Such an increased scope of activity created
a large demand for labor, which the Portuguese, at first, tried
to satisfy by employing the indigenous population. But as that
population declined in the face of Old World diseases, they turned
increasingly to Africa, and the entire American industry soon
depended on slave labor from that continent, resulting in the
importation of more than 10 million people (Curtin 1969).
another development was a technological revolution in the seventeenth
century that saw the replacement of the inefficient Mediterranean-style
mills used initially in the New World (Galloway 1993: 21122).
Perhaps the most important innovation was a mill which, in its
basic design, consisted of three vertically mounted rollers that
could be turned by animal, water, or wind power. Such a mill did
not require the stems to be chopped into pieces before milling,
and the efficiency of its operation made the use of presses redundant.
It is interesting to note the strong evidence of the contribution
of Chinese technology to this design (Daniels and Daniels 1988).
More efficient milling demanded, in turn, more efficient manufacture
of sugar, and notable improvements in the design of furnaces allowed
a production-line organization for transforming cane juice into
colonies with slave-run plantations characterized American industry
in the eighteenth century, a period once again of relatively little
change in technology, although planters did gradually introduce
conservationist measures to preserve the fertility of the soil
and supplies of fuel. The sugar colonies exported sugar and rum
to Europe and North America and imported slaves and food. Such
an economy supported the densest concentrations of population
in colonial America.
the nineteenth century, however, there began another era of innovation
in methods of production and of geographical expansion. The successful
slave revolt in the French colony of St. Domingue (now Haiti)
during the 1790s heralded the beginning of the end of the old
regime. Nonetheless, the process of abolition was only completed
a century later when the slaves of Cuba and Brazil finally gained
their freedom. Many of the former slaves continued to work on
sugar plantations, but planters also sought other sources of labor.
Between 1838 and 1917, the British recruited workers from their
Indian empire and, in so doing, profoundly changed the ethnic
composition of many of their colonies. Laborers also came from
Madeira, China, Japan, and the Pacific islands to work in the
nineteenth-century technical innovations included steam power
and the replacement of the three-roller mills by horizontally
laid iron rollers mounted in sets of three that could be linked
with other sets to form a train of six, nine, and even more rollers.
With some improvements, this basic design of the mill has continued
to the present. Cane-sugar technology also borrowed from the beet
industry, especially the use of vacuum pans, in which juice could
be boiled at lower temperatures under reduced pressure to save
fuel. The centrifuges for separating the crystals from the molasses
were also borrowed, and large central factories, which could accommodate
the new machinery, gradually replaced traditional mills.
another major development was the breeding of new sugarcane varieties.
The new technology, coupled with improved varieties of the raw
material, helped keep the sugarcane industry competitive with
the sugar-beet industry. By the end of the nineteenth century,
the manufacture of cane sugar was becoming a capital-intensive
agribusiness that relied on continued improvements in technology
and methods of cultivation to keep a competitive edge.
the nineteenth century, the link between the sugar industry and
European expansion continued. A rising prosperity among the growing
populations of western Europe led to increased demand at a time
when European territorial empires extended into Africa, southern
Asia, and the Pacific. One result was that sugarcane industries
were established in such places as South Africa, Java, Queensland,
Fiji, Hawaii, and Taiwan. In southern Asia, the Western, industrial
style of sugar production either replaced or operated alongside
traditional noncentrifugal producers. By 1900, the sugarcane industry
had become one of the major economic activities of the entire
beet is a root crop of temperate lands in Eurasia and America
that in recent years has also become an important winter crop
in North Africa and the Middle East. Obviously, it has adapted
to a wide range of climatic and soil conditions, even growing
well in the short summers of Finland, the dampness of Ireland,
the high altitudes of Iran and Sichua, and the hot, dry Imperial
Valley of California. It benefits from irrigation and from long
hours of daylight. Differences in temperature, day length, and
rainfall do, of course, influence the sugar content of the roots.
It is a biennial, storing food in its swollen roots to carry the
plants through the first winter and the process of setting seed
in the second year. Farmers harvest the roots that contain the
sugar at the end of the first years growing season, thus
interrupting the plants natural cycle. Toward the polar
limits of the sugar beets range, low summer temperatures
and extended length of the day encourage some plants to set seed
prematurely during the first year, resulting in poor development
of the roots. Plants that do this are known as "bolters,"
which if present in significant numbers, lower the yield of sugar
from a field.
and wild beets belong to the genus Beta, of the family
Chenopodiaceae. The species Beta vulgaris L. includes the
common beet, the mangel-wurzel, and the sugar beet. All three
have descended from wild sea-beet, Beta maritima, by human
selection. The Romans used beets, probably Beta maritima,
as food for both humans and animals and thereby selected for its
value as a vegetable. Cultivators in medieval and early modern
Europe developed the roots for animal feed, and since the eighteenth
century, the capacity of Beta vulgaris to store sucrose
in its roots has been the focus of breeding. Selection in Germany
increased the sugar content of the roots from 7 percent in the
eighteenth century to between 11 and 12 percent by the 1850s.
The sugar content is now up to 20 percent. In addition to this
success, researchers also breed sugar beets to discourage "bolting,"
to resist disease, and for shape and fibrosity to help in harvesting
and milling. Sugar beets provide an example of a rapidly domesticated
plant that is still being modified and improved to suit a particular
purpose (Bailey 1949: 353; Campbell 1976; Bosemark 1993; Evans
1993: 1013, 107, 109).
main stages in the extraction of sucrose from beet have remained
basically the same over the last century or so, but there have
been improvements in the efficiency of each stage. On arrival
at the factory, the beets are washed to remove soil and stones
and then sliced into thin, smooth pieces known as "cossettes."
The aim is to maximize the surface area of the beet so as to facilitate
the diffusion of the sucrose. The cossettes then enter a countercurrent
diffuser through which they move against the flow of a hot water
extractant. This operation transforms about 98 percent of the
sugar from the beet into a raw juice. The juice, in turn, is purified,
reduced by evaporation, and crystallized, and the crystals are
separated in centrifuges from the mother liquor. Formerly, beet
sugar factories produced a raw sugar that was further treated
in a refinery; now many factories produce a white sugar that is
99.9 percent pure (Vukov 1977: 13, 421, 4267; Reinefeld
1979: 13149; Bichsel 1988).
than 90 percent of the revenue of the sugar-beet industry comes
from sugar. Alcohol production is the best financial alternative
to making sugar, but researchers have been unable to generate
other by-products that are very lucrative. The lime sludge from
the purification process is sold for fertilizer. Citric acid and
bakers yeast are produced by fermenting the molasses, and
the exhausted cossettes can be used for animal feed (Blackburn
1984: 3389; Tjebbes 1988: 13945).
sugar-beet industry is only two centuries old. In 1747, a Berlin
professor of chemistry, Andreas Marggraf (170982), succeeded
in extracting a modest quantity of sugar from beet. Although he
published the results of his research in French and German, he
did not put them to commercial use (Baxa and Bruhns 1967: 959).
However, his student Franz Carl Achard (17531821) was more
practical. He improved the raw material by breeding the cultivated
fodder beets for sugar content, and he evolved the white Silesian
beet, which is the ancestor of all subsequent sugar-beet varieties
(Oltmann 1989: 90, 107).
the years around 1800, Achard was active in promoting the beet
industry, and in 1801, with the financial assistance of the King
of Prussia, he began to build what may have been the worlds
first sugar-beet factory (Baxa and Bruhns 1967: 113). Although
it was not a financial success, other Prussians followed his initiative,
building several small factories in Silesia and around Magdeburg.
Russia was the second country to enter the industry: Its first
sugar-beet factory opened in either 1801 or 1802 (Baxa and Bruhns
1967: 118; Munting 1984: 22), and the first factory in Austria
opened in 1803. In the beginning, the French limited themselves
to experiments, as did the Dutch, whose Society for the Encouragement
of Agriculture offered a prize for extracting sugar from native
plants (Slicher van Bath 1963: 2767; Baxa and Bruhns 1967:
experimental and very small scale beginnings of the sugar-beet
industry were given a considerable boost during the Napoleonic
wars. In 1806, Napoleons ban on the import of British goods
and Britains retaliatory blockade of his empire greatly
reduced the supplies of cane sugar that reached continental Europe.
Napoleon encouraged the production of beet sugar as a substitute,
and landowners in France and the countries north of the Alps tried
paucity of seed and unfamiliarity with the requirements of the
crop led, however, to a disappointing supply of beet, part of
which rotted on the way to the factory because of poor transportation.
The number of factories illustrates the extent to which policy
overreached reality: In France, in the season that spanned 1812
and 1813, only 158 factories of the 334 for which licenses had
been given were actually in working order (Baxa and Bruhns 1967:
139). With the low yields of beet per hectare, low sucrose content,
and a disappointing rate of recovery of the sucrose in the factories,
beet sugar could not compete with cane once imports from the West
Indies resumed after 1815. The beet industry disappeared from
Europe except in France where it hung on until better times (Slicher
van Bath 1963: 277; Baxa and Bruhns 1967: 13445).
times began in the late 1830s and gathered force throughout the
middle of the century, benefiting from improvements in both field
and factory. In France, P. L. F. Levèque de Vilmorin (181660)
was particularly successful in breeding varieties of beet for
greater sugar content, with improvements continuing after his
death (Baxa and Bruhns 1967: 1901). In the first generation
of sugar-beet factories, the juice was extracted by grinding the
beet in animal-powered mills and then placing the pulp in presses
(Baxa and Bruhns 1967: 148). In 1821, however, another Frenchman,
Mathieu de Dombasle (17771843), proposed the procedure of
slicing the beets and extracting the sucrose in a bath of water.
He called the method maceration, but it is now known as the diffusion
process. In 1860, Julius Robert (182688) became the first
to employ it (Baxa and Bruhns 1967: 150, 176).
replaced the mills and presses and remains to this day a standard
part of the processing of sugar beet. Vacuum pans were first used
in 1835 in a beet factory in Magdeburg, and centrifuges became
part of factory equipment during the 1840s (Baxa and Bruhns 1967:
152, 172). An additional development encouraged the revival of
the beet industry the arrival of cheap Russian grain in
western Europe where, from the 1820s onward, it caused a fall
in grain prices. Western European farmers who had been growing
grain now required a substitute crop, and beet was a good candidate.
It could fit into the agricultural rotation, growing on land that
would previously have been left fallow, and its leaves and roots
provided feed for animals. This, in turn, made possible an increase
in livestock numbers, which meant more manure. If the roots were
sold to a factory, they earned the farmer cash, and the pulp could
also be used for feed (Galloway 1989: 131).
the advantages of sugar beet to the agricultural economy and improvements
in its raw material as well as factory technology, the beet industry
nevertheless was still not competitive with cane. Rather, its
revival in the 1830s, and its continued growth, depended on government
protection through tariffs on imported cane sugar and incentives
of one sort or another, such as subsidized exports. The 1902 Brussels
Convention attempted to bring some order to a scene characterized
by a protected beet industry and a complaining sugarcane industry,
yet protection for beet sugar remains in place (Chalmin 1984:
919; Munting 1984: 218; Perkins, 1984: 3145).
revival of sugar-beet cultivation began in northern France, where
it had never entirely died out, and continued in Prussia and the
other German states during the 1830s, in Austria-Hungary in the
1840s, and in Russia in the 1850s. By the 1850s, Germany had become
the most important producer of beet sugar, responsible by the
end of the century for rather more than a third of the European
total. By this time, beet cultivation extended from southern Spain
in a curve arching north and east through France, the Low Countries,
Germany, and eastern Europe, and into the Balkans, Russia, and
the Ukraine. It also extended into Denmark and southern Sweden.
The industry was particularly important in northern France, in
the Low Countries, around Magdeburg in Germany, in Bohemia, and
around Kiev in the Ukraine. Great Britain was noticeably absent,
refusing to subsidize a beet industry of its own, but rather buying
sugar, whether cane or beet, wherever it was cheapest.
beet remained a predominantly European crop throughout the twentieth
century. In the years approaching 1990, Europe accounted for about
80 percent of the worlds production of beet sugar, with
40 percent of that production coming from the European Union.
Since 1991, production in the countries of the former Soviet Union
has lost ground, but this is probably a temporary situation. The
geography of the European beet-sugar industry has also remained
remarkably constant: Those regions that were important producers
at the beginning of the twentieth century remained so at its end.
There has been some modest expansion on the periphery into Ireland
and Finland, and since the 1920s, Great Britain has finally developed
a sugar-beet industry of its own. Two considerations led to the
change in Britains policy towards beet: World War I had
revealed the difficulties of relying heavily on continental European
producers of sugar and the awkwardness of such dependence. Moreover,
sugar beet had the potential of being a useful cash crop for farmers
in the agricultural depression that followed the war.
North American sugar-beet industry dates from the 1880s and has
increased steadily, producing nearly 4 million tonnes of sugar
a year. The industry is overwhelmingly located in the United States.
Beet is grown in the Midwest, but the bulk of the crop grows on
irrigated land in the West. In Asia the industry became significant
only in the 1920s and has seen rapid expansion since the 1960s
(Baxa and Bruhns 1967: 192201, 2212, 26294;
International Sugar Organization 1994: 27985).
the cane industry, the sugar-beet industry invests heavily in
research. The breeding of new varieties, the methods of harvesting
and planting, and improvements in factory technology are all important
foci of attention.
the beginning of the twentieth century, beet-sugar production
exceeded that of cane sugar, with the total combined production
of centrifugal sugar about 12 million metric tonnes raw value
(mtrv). However, today cane accounts for most of the sugar produced
(about two-thirds). Total combined production reached 100 million
mtrv in the mid1980s and rose to 120 million mtrv by the
mid1990s. This expansion has been fueled by increases in
consumption of about 2 percent a year, resulting from a growing
world population and improving standards of living in some of
the less-developed countries of the world. Noncentrifugal sugar
also continues to be an important sweetener: Statistics are almost
certainly incomplete but show production in excess of 15 millions
tonnes at present.
sugar industry in some countries is highly protected. The United
States, for example, maintains a domestic price for sugar well
above the world price and controls the amount of sugar imported.
The European Union protects its beet growers, and the industry
in India is carefully regulated to control production and domestic
prices. Clearly, the interventionist traditions in the industry
established long ago remain very much alive.
is the worlds major producer of cane sugar, and its sugar
industry continues to grow. Annual centrifugal production has
reached 16 million mtrv, which includes nearly l million tonnes
of khandsari sugar. India is also the worlds major producer
of noncentrifugal sugar, accounting for perhaps as much as two-thirds
of the total. Practically all of this sugar is consumed in India;
only rarely, after exceptionally good harvests, are small quantities
production has increased rapidly in recent years to reach 13 million
mtrv, plus some small-scale production of noncentrifugal sugar
known as rapadura. The country has the advantages of abundant
land and a good climate, and its production is divided between
the home sweetener market, fuel alcohol for automobiles, and exports.
Brazil has the ability to direct sugar to exports or to fuel alcohol,
depending on the world prices. Cuba and Thailand compete for the
third and fourth rankings among the worlds sugar producers.
Cubas annual production in the late 1980s was around 8 million
mtrv, but collapsed to half this amount when the fall of communism
in Eastern Europe brought about a loss of its major markets. The
Cuban industrys ability to recover remains a major question.
Thailand has only recently become an important sugar producer.
Its industry is expanding, and production is now in excess of
6 million mtrv, of which two-thirds is exported.
European Union is responsible for nearly half of the worlds
beet sugar, about 18 million mtrv annually. Germany and France
are the main producers, although Ukraine and Poland produce close
to 4 million and 2 million mtrv, respectively. By and large, the
beet industry in eastern Europe suffers from poor management and
a lack of investment in machinery, and because much land is still
publicly owned. The region has enormous potential, however; several
western European companies have taken advantage of privatization
schemes to buy factories and begin the work of modernization.
The United States, China, and Turkey are also major beet-sugar
producers. The United States and China are among the relatively
small number of countries which, because they extend across a
wide range of climatic zones, are able to grow both cane and beet.
trade in centrifugal sugar amounts to about 30 million mtrv, or
about one-quarter of the total world production, meaning that
most sugar is consumed in the country where it is produced. Much
of the trade takes place under special arrangements, and only
a small portion of the sugar traded internationally sells at the
European Union buys sugar at a preferential price from the former
colonies of its member states; the United States allocates import
quotas to a large number of countries. Cuba bartered sugar for
oil with the former Soviet Union, and now barters with Russia
on a more limited scale. These arrangements have had what might
seem curious consequences. The European Union is both a major
importer (1.8 million mtrv annually) of sugar from its former
colonies and a major exporter (five million mtrv annually) because
of its beet production. Some countries (Barbados, Jamaica, Guyana,
and the Dominican Republic) export all, or nearly all, of their
sugar at a premium price to meet contractual arrangements with
the United States and the European Union, and they import at world
market price for their own consumption. Refineries also import
raw sugar, only to export it again in a practice known to the
trade as tolling. This accounts for the presence of the United
States on the list of sugar exporters. Quotas limit its imports,
but tolling permits the use of otherwise surplus refining capacity
and provides employment.
75 countries export sugar and about 130 import it the numbers
fluctuate a little from year to year. Most trade in small amounts,
and many are minimal participants dealing in less than 10,000
tonnes a year. But the European Union, Ukraine, Cuba, Brazil,
Thailand, and Australia all export more than 1 million mtrv annually.
Together, these latter countries account for by far the greater
part of sugar exports. By way of contrast, the European Union,
Russia, Canada, the United States, Japan, and South Korea all
import more than 1 million mtrv a year apiece, with Malaysia and
Algeria not far behind. Such activities provide certainties, insofar
as there can be any, in the sugar trade. The major sources of
uncertainty are India and China. They may appear unexpectedly
on the market as either importers or exporters if their policies
change or if their policy makers misjudge the market situation.
Weather is also an uncertainty. Poor or excellent harvests in
a number of countries can cause shortages or create surpluses.
most countries there are stocks of sugar held against sudden shortages
and increases in price. The world stocks-to-use ratio in the mid1990s
was considered high, at about 19 percent (USDA 1996: 9). This
translates into low free market prices because there are reserves
to draw on in case of a sudden shortage. Sugar traders and some
governments carefully monitor production, import, export, and
consumption data in each country and calculate the buildup and/or
drawdown of stocks with a view to predicting demand and prices.
There is a very active trade in sugar futures.
several hundred years, sucrose in the Western world has been without
a serious competitor in the sweetener market, but recently this
has changed. The leading caloric competitor is high-fructose corn
syrup (HFCS). It is a liquid sweetener made from plants (especially
maize) that contain a sufficient amount of starch, although sweeteners
are also made from sweet potatoes and tapioca in Asia and from
wheat and potatoes in Europe. HFCS appeared in the 1970s, during
a period of high sugar prices, but continued in production after
sugar prices fell. Sugar usually has a price advantage over HFCS,
and HFCS is not always a good substitute for sugar. Bakers and
manufacturers of confectionery and cereals prefer sugar because
of its "bulking, texture and browning characteristics"
(USDA 1995: 18). HFCS is most competitive in the manufacture of
soft drinks. The United States is by far the largest producer
of HFCS, with the European Union, Canada, Korea, Argentina, and
Taiwan making very modest quantities. HFCS has captured rather
less than 10 percent of the sweetener market and, in the immediate
future, is not expected to expand beyond the liquid sweetener
market in a few countries (USDA 1995: 1520).
high-intensity sweeteners have gained in significance since the
1980s and claim a small percentage of the sweetener market. Saccharin
and aspartame are perhaps the best known. They are attractive
to consumers concerned with diet and can compete in price with
sugar. Both are used to sweeten coffee, tea, and other beverages
("table-top use"), but aspartame, benefiting from the
demand for diet soft drinks, has received approval for a wider
range of uses in the European Union, the United States, Canada,
and Japan. This branch of the sweetener market is still evolving.
Low-calorie sweeteners are used together in some applications,
but they also compete with one another and, of course, they compete
in the soft drink market with HFCS and sugar (Earley 1989; USDA
fact that the manufacture of sugar is one of the oldest industries
in the world gives the sugar industry a special place in the cultural
history of food, but other characteristics also give it a particular
interest. It is unique among agro-industries in that it has both
tropical and temperate sources of supply of its raw material.
It has been responsive throughout its history to developments
in science and technology and today continues to invest in research.
Government intervention is a long-standing tradition. The importance
of sugar to the finances of European imperialism was a great incentive
for the colonial powers to attempt to manage the international
trade in sugar for their own benefit. Governments continue to
intervene to this day with subsidies and protective tariffs to
defend vested interests.
sugarcane industry has had profound economic and social consequences
on those parts of the world in which it became a major crop. Indeed,
perhaps no other crop has had such a formative influence on societies.
The industry has divided societies, along class lines, between
the owners of the factories (either local elites or often
nowadays foreign companies) and the work force. Even where
the factories have been nationalized, or are owned by cooperatives,
disparities exist in income and prestige between managers and
laborers. Because of its great demand for labor satisfied
first by African slavery, then by indentured workers, and finally
by free laborers the industry also produced multiethnic
populations that frequently have complex internal politics. Another
legacy is economic dependency. Although the empires are gone,
many ex-colonies continue to grow sugar as a staple, relying on
special arrangements with their former rulers (now members of
the European Union), as well as with the United States, that enable
them to sell their sugar at a premium above the low price that
sugar generally commands on the open market.
dilemma of dependency has had no easy resolution. Sugarcane producers
have little bargaining power, given the oversupply of their product,
and alternatives to the cultivation of sugarcane that can provide
a better level of employment and income have been difficult to
find. Dependency is keenly felt by the populations of the cane-growing
countries, and where this sense of frustration is joined with
the memory of slavery, as in the Caribbean, sugarcane is a very
J. H. Galloway
statement requires one reservation. The medieval Mediterranean
sugar industry and the early American industry cultivated only
one variety of cane, known now in the literature as Creole cane.
Opinion differs on the correct botanical identification of this
cane. Most authorities accept that it was either a variety of
S. officinarum (Blackburn 1984: 2, 91) or a hybrid of S.
barberi and S. officinarum (Stevenson 1965: 41). However,
Fauconnier (1993: 1) considers it to have been a variety of S.
this section I draw heavily on Galloway 1989.
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