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Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Sugar Is Sweet...

Contributed by Valerie Battle Kienzle

To say that someone has a "sweet tooth" isn't exactly correct. The tongue detects sweetness, not teeth. The human tongue has taste buds with taste receptors that respond to five taste sensations, one of which is sweetness.

The American Heart Association says Americans consume an average of 22 teaspoons of sugar EACH DAY. And it's not talking about naturally-occurring sugars such as those found in produce and dairy products. It's talking about added sugar.

That's a lot of sweetness! tecommended sugar consumption is six teaspoons per day for women and nine teaspoons for men. So how did America get to this state of sugar overconsumption? It didn't happen overnight.

Sugarcane, the plant from which sugar is derived, is said to have originated in Southern Asia. People chewed the raw plant for centuries before the process of crystallizing sugar was developed almost 2,000 years ago. Because sugar's sweetness is a pleasant sensation, people wanted more of it, and the demand for it increased. Sugar's popularity spread to the Middle East and China, then to Europe and the New World. Christopher Columbus is said to have belped spread sugarcane as he sailed to new lands.

The British, in particular, had an ever-increasing appetite for all things sweet, including sugar-sweetened beverages, candies, and condiments like jams and jellies. Sugar's popularity spread as the Americas were colonized.

Growing and processing sugarcane was labor-intensive, making sugar an expensive commodity. It was valued and traded like pearls and some exotic spices. The Caribbean islands became the hub of sugar production. About the 18th century, sugar was processed into a hard cone-like shape called sugarloaf. Consumers purchased sugarloaves and used small hammers or sugar axes to break off chunks of sugar. The chunks were then broken down into smaller pieces before being used in foods.

The high cost of sugar made many consumers, particularly in the southern United States, keep it locked up to provent theft. Often it was locked into a piece of wooden furniture called a sugar chest.

My mother owns a sugar chest that's been handed down through generations of her family. It dates back to the days when sugar was a precious commodity. The highly-polished chest stands about four feet tall, and with tongue-and-groove construction, is a fine piece of furniture. The top is hinged, which allowed my ancestors to place several sugarloaves inside the deep storage compartment. It also has a key lock. I'm told the chest's turned legs made it difficult for mice and insects to gain access to the sugarloaves.

Today, Mom's sugar chest is strictly decorative. It hasn't been used to store sugar for more than a century. But Mom and others of her generation who were children during World War II can remember a time when sugar was again a precious commodity.

During the war years, the United States implemented a rationing program that impacted all
citizens. Food (including sugar), gasoline, and some clothing materials were rationed in order to maintain supplies for U.S. troops fighting the war. Sugar-buying coupons and certificates were issued based on family sixe, and Americans were forced to reduce their sugar consumption. Posters reminded them to "do with less so they'll have enough." Once the rationing program ended in 1946, sugar consumption increased.

Today, sugar is easy to obtain. It's no longer rationed or kept locked up. Individual packets of sugar grace the tables of most restaurants and coffee shops. Grocery shelves feature bags and boxes of sugar for a few dollors. Sugar can be found in scores of prepared foods and is a main ingredients in many of the foods we prepare at home. The fact that it's easy to obtain and relatively inexpensive have contributed to today's reality -- many of us consume too much sugar. But oh, sugar-sweetened foods sure taste good!

Following is a recipe for a traditional Southern favorite -- chess pie. It's loaded with sugar and has little nutritional value, but it's delicious! Try it sometime when your taste buds crave a sweet treat.

Chess Pie
3 eggs

1 stick margarine, melted

1 tablespoon corn meal

1 tablespoon vinegar

1 1/3 cup sugar

1 tablespoon flour

1 tablespoon vanilla

Mix the above ingredients and pour into an unbaked pie shell. Bake for 35-40 minutes at 350 degrees. Enjoy!


  1. Valerie,

    Cool info! I think you could make the sugar chest the focus of a great article for kids if you were so inclined!

  2. Really interesting!. I never knew this.
    And I agree with Kris.