Sweet, soluble, crystalline carbohydrate found in the pith of sugar cane and in sugar beet. It is a disaccharide sugar, each of its molecules being made up of two simple-sugar (monosaccharide) units: glucose and fructose. Sugar is easily digested and forms a major source of energy in humans, being used in cooking and in the food industry as a sweetener and, in high concentrations, as a preservative. A high consumption is associated with obesity and tooth decay. In the UK, sucrose may not be used in baby foods.
The main sources of sucrose sugar are tropical sugar cane Saccharum officinarum, which accounts for two-thirds of production, and temperate sugar beet Beta vulgaris. Minor quantities are produced from the sap of maple trees, and from sorghum and date palms. Raw sugar crystals obtained by heating the juice of sugar canes are processed to form brown sugars, such as Muscovado and Demerara, or refined and sifted to produce white sugars, such as granulated, caster, and icing sugar. The syrup that is drained away from the raw sugar is molasses; it may be processed to form golden syrup or treacle, or fermented to form rum. Molasses obtained from sugar beet juice is too bitter for human consumption. The fibrous residue of sugar cane, called bagasse, is used in the manufacture of paper, cattle feed, and fuel; and new types of cane are being bred for low sugar and high fuel production.
Approximately 9 million hectares/22.25 million acres of beet, mostly in Europe, Russia, Ukraine, Georgia, Belarus, and Armenia, and 13 million hectares/32 million acres of cane, grown in tropical and subtropical countries, together produce 100 million tonnes of raw sugar each year. Cane usually yields over 20 tonnes of sugar per hectare/9 tons per acre per year; sugar beet rarely exceeds 7 tonnes per hectare/3 tons per acre per year.
Of the 100 sugar cane-producing countries, India and Brazil are the largest, with 3 million and 2.5 million hectares/7.5 million acres and 6 million acres respectively. In many smaller countries, such as Barbados and Mauritius, sugar production is a vital component of the national economy. However, subsidies given to European beet-sugar producers by the European Union have affected world markets and the export earnings of many sugar-producing countries in the developing world.
Sugar was introduced to Europe in the 8th century and became known in England around 1100 when the Crusaders brought some from the Middle East. It was first imported to England in 1319, but was taxed from 1685 to 1874, so its use did not become widespread until the 20th century. In 1800 the annual UK consumption was about 10 kg/22 lb per person; in 1985 the average Briton consumed 50 kg/110 lb of sugar.
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