XII. THE STORY OF SUGAR

Chemically, sugar is a compound belonging to the group of carbohydrates, or organic compounds of carbon with oxygen and hydrogen. The group includes sugars, starches, gums, and celluloses. Sugar is a product of the vegetable kingdom, of plants, trees, root crops, etc. It is found in and is producible from many growths. As a laboratory process, it is obtainable from many sources, but, commercially, it is derived from only two, the sugar cane and the beet root. This statement, however, has a certain limitation in that it omits such products as maple sugar, malt sugar, milk sugar, and others having commercial or chemical uses on a limited scale. But it is only with the crystallized sucrose, the familiar sugar of the market and the household, that we are dealing here. The output of the other sugars is measurable in hundreds or even thousands of pounds, but the output of the sugar of commerce is measured in millions of tons. Long experience proves that the desired substance is most readily, most abundantly, and most cheaply, obtained from the juices of the plant commonly known as sugar cane, and from the vegetable known as the sugar beet.

The mechanical processes employed in producing sugar from cane and from beets, are practically the same. They are, broadly, the extraction or expression of the juices, their clarification and evaporation, and crystallization. These processes produce what is called "raw sugar," of varying percentages of sucrose content. Following them, there comes, for American uses, the process of refining, of removing the so-called impurities and foreign substances, and the final production of sugar in the shape of white crystals of different size, of sugar as powdered, cube, loaf, or other form. In the case of cane sugar, this is usually a secondary operation not conducted in the original mill. In the case of beet sugar, production is not infrequently a continuous operation in the same mill, from the beet root to the bagged or barrelled sugar ready for the market. The final product from both cane and beet is practically the same. Pure sugar is pure sugar, whatever its source. In the commercial production, on large scale, there remains a small fraction of molasses or other harmless substances, indistinguishable by sight, taste, or smell. With that fraction removed and an absolute 100 per cent. secured, there would be no way by which the particular origin could be determined. For all practical purposes, the sugar of commerce, whether from cane or beet, is pure sugar. It is doubtful if an adulterated sugar can be found in the United States, notwithstanding the tales of the grocer who "sands" his sugar, and of the producer who adds terra alba or some other adulterant. In some countries of Europe and elsewhere, there are sugars of inferior grades, of 85 or 90 or more degrees of sugar purity, but they are known as such and are sold at prices adjusted to their quality. Sugars of that class are obtainable in this country, but they are wanted almost exclusively for particular industrial purposes, for their glucose rather than their sucrose content. The American household, whether the home of the rich or of the poor, demands the well-known white sugar of established purity.

There is still obtainable, in this country, but in limited quantity, a sugar very pleasantly remembered by many who have reached or passed middle age. It was variously known as "Muscovado" sugar, or as "plantation sugar," sometimes as "coffee" or "coffee crushed." It was a sugar somewhat sweeter to the taste than the white sugar, by reason of the presence of a percentage of molasses. It was a superior sugar for certain kitchen products, for pies, certain kinds of cake, etc. It has many times been urged in Congress that the employment of what is known as the Dutch Standard, now abolished, excluded this sugar from our market. This is not at all the fact. The disappearance of the commodity is due solely to change in the mechanical methods of sugar production. It would be quite impossible to supply the world's sugar demand by the old "open kettle" process by which that sugar was made. The quality of sugar is easily tested by any one who has a spoonful of sugar and a glass of water. If the sugar dissolves entirely, and dissolves without discoloring the water, it may be accepted as a pure sugar.

In his book on The World's Cane Sugar Industry - Past and Present, Mr. H.C. Prinsen Geerligs, a recognized expert authority on the subject, gives an elaborate history of the origin and development of the industry. His chapters on those branches are much too long for inclusion in full, but the following extracts tell the story in general outline. He states that the probability that sugar cane originally came from India is very strong, "as only the ancient literature of that country mentions sugar cane, while we know for certain that it was conveyed (from there) to other countries by travellers and sailors." The plant appears in Hindu mythology. A certain prince expressed a desire to be translated to heaven during his lifetime, but Indra, the monarch of the celestial regions, refused to admit him. A famous Hindu hermit, Vishva Mitra, prepared a temporary paradise for the prince, and for his use created the sugar cane as a heavenly food during his occupation of the place. The abode was afterward demolished, but the delectable plant, and a few other luxuries, were "spread all over the land of mortals as a permanent memorial of Vishva Mitra's miraculous deeds." In the time of Alexander the Great (356-323 B.C.) there appear tales of "a reed growing in India which produced honey without the aid of bees."