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Before the birth of Jesus of Nazareth, sugarcane (from which sugar is made) was harvested on the shores of the Bay of Bengal; it spread to the surrounding territories of Malaysia, Indonesia, Indochina, and southern China. The Arabic people introduced "sugar" (at that point a sticky paste, semi-crystallized and believed to have medicinal value) to the Western world by bringing both the reed and knowledge for its cultivation to Sicily and then Spain in the eighth and ninth centuries. Later, Veniceimporting finished sugar from Alexandriasucceeded in establishing a monopoly over this new spice by the fifteenth century; at that point, it started buying raw sugar, and even sugarcane, and treating it in its own refineries. Venice's monopoly, however, was short-lived. In 1498, Portuguese navigator Vasco da Gama returned from India bringing the sweet flavoring to Portugal. Lisbon started to import and refine raw sugar, and, in the sixteenth century, it became the European sugar capital. It was not long before the sweetener was available in France, where its primary function continued to be medicinal, and during the reign of Louis XIV, sugar could be bought by the ounce at the apothecary. By the 1800s, sugar (though still expensive) was widely available to both upper and middle classes.

Raw Materials

Sugar is a broad term applied to a large number of carbohydrates present in many plants and characterized by a more or less sweet taste. The primary sugar, glucose, is a product of photosynthesis and occurs in all green plants. In most plants, the sugars occur as a mixture that cannot readily be separated into the components. In the sap of some plants, the sugar mixtures are condensed into syrup. Juices of sugarcane (Saccharum officinarum) and sugar beet (Beta vulgaris) are rich in pure sucrose, although beet sugar is generally much less sweet than cane sugar. These two sugar crops are the main sources of commercial sucrose.

The sugarcane is a thick, tall, perennial grass that flourishes in tropical or subtropical regions. Sugar synthesized in the leaves is used as a source of energy for growth or is sent to the stalks for storage. It is the sweet sap in the stalks that is the source of sugar as we know it. The reed accumulates sugar to about 15 percent of its weight. Sugarcane yields about 2,600,000 tons of sugar per year.

The sugar beet is a beetroot variety with the highest sugar content, for which it is specifically cultivated. While typically white both inside and out, some beet varieties have black or yellow skins. About 3,700,000 tons of sugar are manufactured from sugar beet.

Other sugar crops include sweet sorghum, sugar maple, honey, and corn sugar. The types of sugar used today are white sugar (fully refined sugar), composed of clear, colorless or crystal fragments; or brown sugar, which is less fully refined and contains a greater amount of treacle residue, from which it obtains its color.

The Manufacturing

Planting and harvesting

  • 1 Sugarcane requires an average temperature of 75 degrees Fahrenheit (23.9 degrees Celsius) and uniform rainfall of about 80 inches (203 centimeters) per year. Therefore, it is grown in tropical or subtropical areas.

    Sugarcane takes about seven months to mature in a tropical area and about 12-22 months in a subtropical area. At this time, fields of sugarcane are tested for sucrose, and the most mature fields are harvested first. In Florida, Hawaii, and Texas, standing cane is fired to burn off the dry leaves. In Louisiana, the six- to ten-feet (1.8- to 3-meter) tall cane stalks are cut down and laid on the ground before burning.

  • 2 In the United States, harvesting (of both cane and sugar beet) is done primarily by machine, although in some states it is also done by hand. The harvested cane stalks are loaded mechanically into trucks or railroad cars and taken to mills for processing into raw sugar.

Preparation and processing

  • 3 After the cane arrives at the mill yards, it is mechanically unloaded, and excessive soil and rocks are removed. The cane is cleaned by flooding the carrier with warm water (in the case of sparse rock and trash clutter) or by spreading the cane on agitating conveyors that pass through strong jets of water and combing drums (to remove larger amounts of rocks, trash, and leaves, etc.). At this point, the cane is clean and ready to be milled.

    When the beets are delivered at the refinery, they are first washed and then cut into strips. Next, they are put into diffusion cells with water at about 175 degrees Fahrenheit (79.4 degrees Celsius) and sprayed with hot water countercurrently to remove the sucrose.

Juice extraction pressing

  • 4 Two or three heavily grooved crusher rollers break the cane and extract a large part of the juice, or swing-hammer type shredders (1,200 RPM) shred the cane without extracting the juice. Revolving knives cutting the stalks into chips are supplementary to the crushers. (In most countries, the shredder precedes the crusher.) A combination of two, or even all three, methods may be used. The pressing process involves crushing the stalks between the heavy and grooved metal rollers to separate the fiber (bagasse) from the juice that contains the sugar.
  • 5 As the cane is crushed, hot water (or a combination of hot water and recovered impure juice) is sprayed onto the crushed cane countercurrently as it leaves each mill for diluting. The extracted juice, called vesou, contains 95 percent or more of the sucrose present. The mass is then diffused, a process that involves finely cutting or shredding the stalks. Next, the sugar is separated from the cut stalks by dissolving it in hot water or hot juice.

Purification of juiceclarification
and evaporation

  • 6 The juice from the mills, a dark green color, is acid and turbid. The clarification (or defecation) process is designed to remove both soluble and insoluble impurities (such as sand, soil, and ground rock) that have not been removed by preliminary screening. The process employs lime and heat as the clarifying agents. Milk of lime (about one pound per ton of cane) neutralizes the natural acidity of the juice, forming insoluble lime salts. Heating the lime juice to boiling coagulates the albumin and some of the fats, waxes, and gums, and the precipitate formed entraps suspended solids as well as the minute particles.

    The sugar beet solution, on the other hand, is purified by precipitating calcium carbonate, calcium sulfite, or both in it repeatedly. Impurities become entangled in the growing crystals of precipitate and are removed by continuous filtration.

  • 7 The muds separate from the clear juice through sedimentation. The non-sugar impurities are removed by continuous filtration. The final clarified juice contains about 85 percent water and has the same composition as the raw extracted juice except for the removed impurities.
  • 8 To concentrate this clarified juice, about two-thirds of the water is removed through vacuum evaporation. Generally, four vacuum-boiling cells or bodies are arranged in series so that each succeeding body has a higher vacuum (and therefore boils at a lower temperature). The vapors from one body can thus boil the juice in the next onethe steam introduced into the first cell does what is called multiple-effect evaporation. The vapor from the last cell goes to a condenser. The syrup leaves the last body continuously with about 65 percent solids and 35 percent water.

    The sugar beet sucrose solution, at this point, is also nearly colorless, and it likewise undergoes multiple-effect vacuum evaporation. The syrup is seeded, cooled, and put in a centrifuge machine. The finished beet crystals are washed with water and dried.


  • 9 Crystallization is the next step in the manufacture of sugar. Crystallization takes place in a single-stage vacuum pan. The syrup is evaporated until saturated with sugar. As soon as the saturation point has been exceeded, small grains of sugar are added to the pan, or "strike." These small grains, called seed, serve as nuclei for the formation of sugar crystals. (Seed grain is formed by adding 56 ounces [1,600 grams] of white sugar into the bowl of a slurry machine and mixing with 3.3 parts of a liquid mixture: 70 percent methylated spirit and 30 percent glycerine. The machine runs at 200 RPM for 15 hours.) Additional syrup is added to the strike and evaporated so that the original crystals that were formed are allowed to grow in size.

    The growth of the crystals continues until the pan is full. When sucrose concentration reaches the desired level, the dense mixture of syrup and sugar crystals, called massecuite, is discharged into large containers known as crystallizers. Crystallization continues in the crystallizers as the massecuite is slowly stirred and cooled.

  • 10 Massecuite from the mixers is allowed to flow into centrifugals, where the thick syrup, or molasses, is separated from the raw sugar by centrifugal force.


  • 11 The high-speed centrifugal action used to separate the massecuite into raw sugar crystals and molasses is done in revolving machines called centrifugals. A centrifugal machine has a cylindrical basket suspended on a spindle, with perforated sides lined with wire cloth, inside which are metal sheets containing 400 to 600 perforations per square inch. The basket revolves at speeds from 1,000 to 1,800 RPM. The raw sugar is retained in the centrifuge basket because the perforated lining retains the sugar crystals. The mother liquor, or molasses, passes through the lining (due to the centrifugal force exerted). The final molasses (blackstrap molasses) containing sucrose, reducing sugars, organic nonsugars, ash, and water, is sent to large storage tanks.

    Once the sugar is centrifuged, it is "cut down" and sent to a granulator for drying. In some countries, sugarcane is processed in small factories without the use of centrifuges, and a dark-brown product (noncentrifugal sugar) is produced. Centrifugal sugar is produced in more than 60 countries while noncentrifugal sugar in about twenty countries.

Drying and packaging

  • 12 Damp sugar crystals are dried by being tumbled through heated air in a granulator. The dry sugar crystals are then sorted by size through vibrating screens and placed into storage bins. Sugar is then sent to be packed in the familiar packaging we see in grocery stores, in bulk packaging, or in liquid form for industrial use.


The bagasse produced after extracting the juice from sugar cane is used as fuel to generate steam in factories. Increasingly large amounts of bagasse are being made into paper, insulating board, and hardboard, as well as furfural, a chemical intermediate for the synthesis of furan and tetrahydrofuran.

The beet tops and extracted slices as well the molasses are used as feed for cattle. It has been shown that more feed for cattle and other such animals can be produced per acre-year from beets than from any other crop widely grown in the United States. The beet strips are also treated chemically to facilitate the extraction of commercial pectin.

The end product derived from sugar refining is blackstrap molasses. It is used in cattle feed as well as in the production of industrial alcohol, yeast, organic chemicals, and rum.

Quality Control

Mill sanitation is an important factor in quality control measures. Bacteriologists have shown that a small amount of sour bagasse can infect the whole stream of warm juice flowing over it. Modern mills have self-cleaning troughs with a slope designed in such a way that bagasse does not hold up but flows out with the juice stream. Strict measures are taken for insect and pest controls.

Because cane spoils relatively quickly, great steps have been taken to automate the methods of transportation and get the cane to the mills as quickly as possible. Maintaining the high quality of the end-product means storing brown and yellow refined sugars (which contain two percent to five percent moisture) in a cool and relatively moist atmosphere, so that they continue to retain their moisture and do not become hard.

Most granulated sugars comply with standards established by the National Food Processors Association and the pharmaceutical industry (U.S. Pharmacopeia, National Formulary).

Where To Learn More


Clarke, M. A., ed. Chemistry & Processing of Sugarbeet & Sugarcane. Elsevier Science Publishing Co., Inc., 1988.

Hugot, E. Handbook of Cane Sugar Engineering. 3rd ed. Elsevier Science Publishing Co., Inc., 1986.

Lapedes, Daniel, ed. McGraw Hill Encyclopedia of Food, Agriculture and Nutrition. McGraw Hill, 1977.

McGee, Harold. On Food and Cooking: The Science and Lore of the Kitchen. Collier Books, 1984.

Meade, G. P. Cane Sugar Handbook: A Manual for Cane Sugar Manufacturers and Their Chemists. John Wiley and Sons, 1977.

Pennington, Neil L. and Charles Baker, eds. Sugar: A Users' Guide to Sucrose. Van Nostrand Reinhold, 1991.

Rost, Waverly. Food. Simon & Schuster, 1980.


"Sugar: Can We Make It On the Homestead?" Countryside & Small Stock Journal. May-June, 1987, p. 9.

Hayes, Joanne L. "Sugarloaf Lore," Country Living. March, 1989, p. 132.

"Squeezing All the Sweetness Out of Sugarcaneand More," Chemical & Engineering News. May 12, 1986, pp. 38-9.

Eva Sideman


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SUGAR. The expansion of European involvement in the sugar industry mirrored western Europe's expansion and domination of the Atlantic basin. Sugar, which had long been considered a luxury available only to the elites of medieval and renaissance Europe, was transformed into a household staple by the colonization of the New World. The combination of conquered tropical and subtropical lands, African slave labor, and capital advanced by northern European merchants transformed the European diet. Furthermore, sugar's importance to overseas trade is reflected in contemporary observations that proclaimed the sugar industry to be at the heart of national wealth; it was often noted that the plantation trade created enormous profits for sugar planters and merchants, employment for European laborers, and significant tax revenues for the mother countries. Although it is clear that sugar did indeed dominate colonial policy of the major powers in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, economic historians have recently questioned the extent to which sugar generated national riches.

Muslims first introduced sugarcane to the Mediterranean region in the seventh century. While the soils of the Levant, Sicily, Cyprus, Crete, and Malta supported this early cane cultivation, the actual export of sugar to Continental markets did not take place until the Crusades, when Venetian merchants provided the capital and mercantile connections required for regular trade. The historian Noel Deerr has suggested that this coordination of European credit and trade "may be seen [as] the germ of the colonial system" that was fully developed in the Americas during the early modern period.

The center of the European sugar supply moved west with Portuguese exploration of the Atlantic basin. Iberian settlers on the island of Madeira established commercial sugar production in 1432, as well as on the African coastal island of São Tomé, where African slave labor was used exclusively to produce sugar in the early sixteenth century. During the next hundred years, Portuguese settlers in Brazil replicated this slave-based business plan after briefly experimenting with indigenous labor. With the assistance of Dutch financiers, the Portuguese planters and mill owners of northeastern Brazil developed the most productive sugar-producing region in the world. This symbiotic relationship between the two imperial powers helped generate the lion's share of sugar consumed in Europe, but in 1624 the Dutch gained tighter financial control over the industry by using military force, capturing the richest sugar-growing regions of Brazil. Although the Dutch were eventually expelled, the chaos inflicted by war disrupted Brazilian sugar production, thereby providing an opportunity for English and French West Indian sugar growers to emerge as important competitors in supplying Europe's increasing demand for sugar.

The leading sugar-producing nations expended tremendous resources protecting their colonists and their plantation trade. Laws similar to Britain's Navigation Acts or France's Colonial Pact were implemented by every colonial power as a means of ensuring that the benefits of imperialism would be maximized. Adherents to this political philosophy believed that the colonists' role in the larger economy was subordinate to the home country's drive for riches and power. Thus, each nation's set of mercantilist laws was designed to control colonial trade so that the commerce from the colonies would provide home governments with valuable tax revenues while stimulating each respective nation's merchant navy.

The major sugar-planting zones of Brazil and the Caribbean littoral had an enormous appetite for slave labor. The growing demand for sugar in Europe, combined with the negative natural population growth, fueled an unprecedented demand for labor. Throughout the early modern period, European planters expanded total production while simultaneously ignoring the poor nutrition, diseaseinfested living conditions, and excessive work endured by their slaves. The relatively low cost of importing new African slaves permitted planters to maintain healthy profits despite the regular loss of life. To illustrate the human cost of supplying the European craving for sugar, over half of the 5.7 million slaves transported to the Americas during the eighteenth century were destined to work in the cane fields or in related branches of the industry.

The sheer volume of the slave trade, the capital-intensive nature of sugar planting, and the contemporary assumptions about the importance of sugar colonies have led some modern historians to conclude that sugar and slavery were essential to the economic development of the metropole. Eric Williams, an Oxford-trained West Indian historian, did the most to promote this thesis in Capitalism and Slavery (1944). In this monumental work, Williams argued that the demand for sugar created a highly profitable colonial trade, which enabled slavers from Bristol and Liverpool to dominate the forced migration of Africans during the peak years of the slave trade. He posited that the slave trade generated an important stream of British capital accumulation, and that these funds, combined with the profits generated from the sugar industry, fueled Britain's industrial revolution.

Scholarship since Capitalism and Slavery has revised Williams's estimate that the slave trade produced 30 percent returns to investors. Although there were, indeed, examples of slave traders earning significant sums of money on individual voyages, the slaving business was a very risky and competitive lottery, with many investors losing money. If, therefore, one considers the whole range of returns on slave trading, the average is calculated to have been somewhere between 5 and 10 percent during the eighteenth century. With this more realistic view of slave-trading profits, the economic historian Stanley Engerman calculated that the net national return on the British slave trade represented less than 1 percent of total British income. This deflated view of the slave trade's importance to the British economy has been matched by more moderate assessments of the effect the total sugar industry had on the home country. The most recent research describes the colonial sugar industry as an important sector that contributed to the economic growth of the major sugar-growing nations, but was not essential to the industrial transformation of England or Europe.

See also Portuguese Colonies: Brazil ; Slavery and the Slave Trade ; Trading Companies ; Triangular Trade Pattern .


Curtin, Philip D. The Rise and Fall of the Plantation Complex: Essays in Atlantic History. Cambridge, U.K., 1990.

Deerr, Noel. The History of Sugar. Vols. 1 and 2. London, 19491950.

Eltis, David, and Stanley L. Engerman. "The Importance of Slavery and the Slave Trade to Industrializing Britain." Journal of Economic History 60 (2000): 123144.

Klein, Herbert S. The Atlantic Slave Trade. Cambridge, U.K., 1999.

Morgan, Kenneth. Slavery, Atlantic Trade, and the British Economy, 16601800. Cambridge, U.K., 2000.

Williams, Eric. Capitalism and Slavery. Chapel Hill, N.C., 1944.

David Ryden


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Sugar, from the Greek word saccharis, is a term with a variety of meanings. To the biochemist, sugar is a broad term covering a large group of related organic compounds , all of which are composed of carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen. Green plants utilize their chlorophyll to transform solar energy (sunlight) into chemical energy by converting carbon dioxide and water into plant sugars through the process of photosynthesis. Generally, when people speak of sugar, they are referring to sucrose, which is a disaccharide or double sugar composed of equal parts of glucose and fructose. Glucose and fructose are monosaccarides or single sugars, found in fruits and in honey (together with sucrose). There are hundreds of different sugars and these are only a small section of the vast family of carbohydrates, which includes cellulose at one end of the scale and simple alcohols at the other. Starches, also made by plants, are dense complexes of sugar molecules. Starches and sugars make up the group of foodstuffs known as carbohydrates. All carbohydrates are formed originally by photosynthesis.

Sources of Natural Sugar

Sucrose, fructose, dextrose, and glucose are the natural sugars most frequently used. Although many fruit-bearing plants like the date palm and the carob produce sugar as a product of photosynthesis, the world's major supply of sugar is obtained from the cultivated or managed crops of sugarcane, sugar beet, corn, sugar maple, and sweet sorghum. Sugarcane, corn, and sweet sorghum are cultivated grass plants that store sugar in their stalks or seed. Sugar beet is a broadleaf plant that stores sugar in its root. Sugar maple is a hardwood tree with sugar in its sap, and honey is produced by honey bees from the nectar of plant flowers that contains sugars.

Sugar, Calories, and Energy

In addition to its flavor, which was the original reason for its popularity, sugar supplies an important nutritional factor in the form of energy. Sugar contains four calories per gram and one teaspoon of white table sugar (sucrose) weighs about 3.5 grams. The basic calorie requirement for maintaining life (respiration, circulation, muscle tone) varies between 750 and 1,630 per day in a state of complete rest. Intense muscular effort may require upwards of 7,000 calories during the day. Carbohydrates are an essential component of the human diet, and Recommended Dietary Allowances (RDAs) for nutrients in the American diet have been established by the National Academy of Sciences. The RDAs suggest that the average dietary energy intake (in calories) should consist of 10 to 15 percent protein, 35 to 40 percent fat, and 45 to 50 percent carbohydrates. Carbohydrates, therefore, contribute the major part of the available energy in the human diet. In less-developed areas, it is not unusual to find 80 to 90 percent of available energy in the diet coming from carbohydrate sources.

To get the energy needed, humans reverse the process that plants utilize to make sugar. Digestion of sugars (carbohydrates) is accomplished by enzymes beginning in the mouth and continuing in the small intestine. In the cells of the human body, all usable carbohydrates are converted to the same basic fuel, pyruvic acid , which is then burned to release energy, stored as fat for future energy needs or converted to intermediates for growth or maintenance of body tissue. Although proteins and fats can also be used as sources of energy, only sugars can yield pyruvic acid. That is why sugar is the principal and preferred fuel for the body's energy cycle.

Social and Environmental Impact

During its long history, sugar has been the cause and prize of wars, as well as the object of political activity. There are logical reasons for this. Sugar is an attractive commodity and thousands of people throughout the world gain their livelihood from sugar. With a rapidly expanding world population, this is important because sugarcane and sugar beet are, respectively, the most efficient plant fixers of solar energy among tropical and temperate-zone vegetation. Sugarcane is four times as effective as any tropical plant in terms of dry-matter production per unit of land, and sugar beet is twice as productive as any temperate-zone plant. It requires an average of only 0.07 hectare (0.17 acre) to fix solar energy to the equivalent of one million kilocalories of energy in the form of sugar. All other forms of edible energy require more. Beef is at the top end of the scale, needing 7.7 hectares (19 acres)more than one hundred times as much land as needed for sugar.

Processing and Marketing

Crystallized sugar, which is the basic commodity of the international sugar trade, comes from sugarcane, grown in warm, moist climates, and sugar beet, grown in temperate climates. Juice containing sugar is extracted from the stalks of sugarcane and from the roots of sugar beet. The process of crystallization separates sugar out of a sugar-saturated solution. It begins by the formation of minute crystals that act as nuclei for the growth of larger ones. The size of the crystals is controlled by temperature. The uniform small crystals in table or white sugar are the result of controlled crystallization.

Sugar in the international market is under the review of members of the International Sugar Agreement. About 70 percent of the world's sugar supply is consumed in the areas in which it is grown. Twenty percent is marketed through agreements or some form of preference. The remaining 10 percent is world market or free market, and is sold at a price that has no relationship to the cost of production.

Total caloric sweetener consumption in the United States is about 130 pounds per capita each year. Use of refined sugars (from sugarcane and sugar beet) has declined from 67 percent of total caloric sweeteners (84 pounds) in 1980 to less than 49 percent (63 pounds) in 1999. The principal reason for this decline is the increased per capita consumption of corn sweeteners, especially high fructose corn syrup. The approval of the artificial sweeteneraspartame (for example, Nutrasweet) for table and industrial use in 1982 is another reason for this decline.

see also Carbohydrates; Economic Importance of Plants; Grasses.

Garry A. Smith


Clark, Margaret A., and Mary Ann Godshall, eds. Chemistry and Processing of Sugar-beet and Sugarcane. New York: Elsevier, 1988.

Patura, J. M. By-products of the Cane Sugar Industry, 2nd ed. Amsterdam: Elsevier, 1982.

Smith, Garry A. "Sugar Myths and Majesties." Sugar Journal 61 (1998), nos. 2, 3, 4.

. "Sugar Beet." Principles of Cultivar Development, Vol. 2, ed. Walter R. Fehr. New York: Macmillan, 1987.

. "Sugar Crops." CRC Handbook of Plant Science in Agriculture, Vol. 2, ed. B. R. Christie. Boca Raton, FL: CRC Press, 1987.


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Sugar is a crystallized material nutritionally important as a source of dietary carbohydrates and it can also be used as a sweetener and a preservative. It is predominately derived from sugarcane and sugar beets. Other sources are sorghum (a tropical grass), maple trees, and palms. Sugarcane was cultivated by South Pacific island natives as early as 6000 b.c.. During ancient times it was also grown in India, where it was noticed around 325 b.c. by Greek soldiers under the command of Alexander the Great (356323 b.c.). While cultivation and refinement of sugarcane spread from India, it did not reach Europe until a.d. 711, when Moors (North African Muslims) invaded the Iberian Peninsula (present-day Spain and Portugal). In the 1490s Portuguese explorers carried sugarcane with them into the New World and planted it in Brazil. The Spanish colonists planted sugarcane in the Canary Islands at about the same time. Spanish explorer Christopher Columbus (14511506) took sugarcane cuttings to the island of Santo Domingo (present-day Dominican Republic) in 1493. About twenty years later the first sugar mill in the Western Hemisphere was built there. The Dutch introduced sugarcane cultivation and refining to Barbados. The French introduced it to Martinique; the British introduced it to the West Indies.

The crop became important to colonial economies throughout the Caribbean, where the Europeans used slave labor from Africa to work the fields. Sugar was the principle export of the region during the 1600s, but by the end of the century the economies of many Caribbean islands collapsed. Slaves were sold to growers on the North American mainland, where they were engaged in the production of other crops (such as rice, indigo, and tobacco). The sugarcane plant did not reach the North American mainland until 1751, when Jesuit (Catholic) missionaries brought sugarcane to Louisiana. A sugar mill was built there forty years later.

The cultivation of sugar beets dates back to ancient Babylonia (present-day Iraq), Egypt, and Greece. However, only as late as 1744 it was discovered that sugar beets are a source of the same sugar found in sugarcane. It was fifty years more before a practical method for removing the sugar from the beets was developed. In the early 1800s sugar mills were built across Europe and Russia. Sugar from beets was not introduced in the United States until 1838.

See also: American Plants, Triangular Trade


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sug·ar / ˈshoŏgər/ • n. 1. a sweet crystalline substance obtained from various plants, esp. sugar cane and sugar beet, consisting essentially of sucrose, and used as a sweetener in food and drink. ∎  a lump or teaspoonful of this, used to sweeten tea or coffee: I'll have mine black with two sugars. ∎ inf. used as a term of endearment or an affectionate form of address: what's wrong, sugar? ∎  [as interj.] inf. used as a euphemism for “shit.” ∎  inf. a psychoactive drug in the form of white powder, esp. heroin or cocaine.2. Biochem. any of the class of soluble, crystalline, typically sweet-tasting carbohydrates found in living tissues and exemplified by glucose and sucrose.• v. [tr.] sweeten, sprinkle, or coat with sugar: she absentmindedly sugared her tea | [as adj.] (sugared) sugared almonds. ∎ fig. make more agreeable or palatable: the novel was preachy but sugared heavily with jokes.PHRASES: sugar the pillsee pill1 .DERIVATIVES: sug·ar·less adj.ORIGIN: Middle English: from Old French sukere, from Italian zucchero, probably via medieval Latin from Arabic sukkar.


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1. Commonly table sugar or sucrose, which is extracted from the sugar beet or sugar cane, concentrated, and refined. Molasses is the residue left after the first stage of crystallization and is bitter and black. The residue from the second stage is treacle, less bitter and viscous than molasses. The first crude crystals are Muscovado or Barbados sugar, brown and sticky. The next stage is light brown, Demerara sugar. Refined white sugar is essentially 100% pure sucrose; technically described as semi‐white, white, and extra‐white (EU definitions). Yields 16 kJ (3.9) kcal/g. Soft sugars are fine‐grained and moister, white or brown (excluding large‐grained Demerara sugar).

2. Chemically a group of compounds of carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen (carbohydrates). The simplest sugars are monosaccharides. They may contain three (triose), four (tetrose), five (pentose), six (hexose), or seven (heptose) carbon atoms, with hydrogen and oxygen in the ratio CnH2nOn. The nutritionally important monosaccharides are hexoses: glucose (grape sugar), fructose (fruit sugar), and galactose. Two pentoses are also important: ribose and deoxyribose. See also disaccharides; oligosaccharides.


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sugar (saccharide) Any of a group of water-soluble carbohydrates of relatively low molecular weight and typically having a sweet taste. The simple sugars are called monosaccharides. More complex sugars comprise between two and ten monosaccharides linked together: disaccharides contain two, trisaccharides three, and so on. The name is often used to refer specifically to sucrose (cane or beet sugar).


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sugar sweet crystalline substance obtained from fruit juices XIII (suker); (old chem.) compound resembling sugar in form or taste XVII; (mod. chem.) soluble more or less sweet carbohydrate XIX. ME. suker, sucre, sugre, suger (sugar from XVI) — OF. c̣ukre, sukere (mod. sucre) — It. zucchero, prob. — medL. succarum — Arab. sukkar.
So sugar-candy sugar clarified and crystallized. XIV, — OF. sucre candi — Arab. sukkar kandī. sugar-cane XVI, -loaf XV. Hence vb. XV, sugary (-Y1) XVI.


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sugar Sweet-tasting, soluble, crystalline monosaccharide or disaccharide carbohydrate. The common sugar in food and beverages is sucrose. This is also the main sugar transported in plant tissues. The main sugar transported around the bodies of animals to provide energy is glucose. See also saccharide


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sugar (shuug-er) n. any carbohydrate that dissolves in water, is usually crystalline, and has a sweet taste. Sugars are classified chemically as monosaccharides or disaccharides. Table sugar is virtually 100% pure sucrose. See also fructose, glucose, lactose.