The History of Sugar

We know a lot about sugar here at Bare Body Sugaring; we’ve learned about how it can be used in foods, household care and skincare. We’ve learned how sugar beets and sugarcane are refined into the table sugar in our homes. We’ve even learned that body sugaring has been around for thousands of years, since the ancient Egyptians, and that body hair removal has been around for millenia as a standard of beauty. Today, we’re going to dive into the history of the product that brought it all to us; the sugar itself.

Sugarcane was the first source of sugar, and the people in the Bengal region of India began refining it into sugar around 3000 years ago; the substance they made was known as guda, and it was not nearly as refined as modern sugar. The sugary substance began making its way to other areas, with the Roman Pliny the Elder remarking it was a honey-like substance that was good for soothing the stomach when added to water.  

Indian sailors loved sugar (don’t we all), so they’d bring it with them on their trips overseas. They would share the sugar with the people they met in foreign lands, who became interested in the cultivation and refining of sugarcane. The Middle East, as a result of their interest, picked up the techniques from India and began their own sugar production in the Middle Ages. This region, being much closer to Europe than India, began selling sugar as an expensive spice to the Europeans, who now considered it a flavorful additive to food, and not as medicine. Sugar remained prohibitively pricey for most until around 1400, when better sugar presses were developed to improve production and reduce cost.

During the Renaissance, there were efforts by colonial powers to extract as much resources from the New World as possible; this is when sugar entered it’s darkest period. Sugarcane was imported to Brazil and other tropical areas where it flourished under the control of European powers, who no longer had to rely on their Middle Eastern and Asian counterparts for supply. Sugarcane is, however, exceptionally labour intensive to harvest and refine, so slaves were used to manufacture it. The sugar plantation industry was massive, and it was built on the backs of slaves.

Fortunately, that time is past us now. Around the year 1800, we learned that sugar beets could be used to extract and refine sugar, and cultivation moved north to more temperate regions. Industrialization also enabled us to use factories and machine-operated presses instead of the intensive hand-operated presses of the past.

As time has gone on, we’ve learned that too much sucrose can be harmful to our health; that’s why sugar substitutes have been created to replace it in food. There’s nothing better than good old sugar for body sugaring, though, and we’re proud to be part of a tradition that dates back to the Ancient Egyptians!