Sugar crystals come from the sugar cane plant. People from the Polynesian Islands first used it more than five thousand years ago. In 1493, Christopher Columbus brought sugar cane to the Caribbean.
The sugarcane plant looks like a big grass. It has a very juicy stalk. Pressing the stalks through large rollers squeezes the juice out and it is mixed with water before being heated. It is also treated with limewater (the common name for a diluted solution of calcium hydroxide) and sulphur dioxide.
Eventually, after more heating, a clear liquid is separated from the sugarcane juice. It turns into a brownish syrup, which is bleached, or turned white by adding sulphur dioxide. With more heat, sugar crystals are created and a thick dark sticky liquid called molasses is left. Molasses is used for making alcohol.
Sugar crystals are made in different sizes; large, medium and small.
The organisation Action on Sugar warns that as well as being “a major cause of obesity”, there is “increasing evidence that added sugar increases the risk of developing serious illnesses like type 2 diabetes, metabolic syndrome and fatty liver”.
In short, they think adding extra sugar to food or drink or eating too much sugar is bad for people. The problem is that sugar is added to many sweets, chocolate, cakes and some fizzy and juice drinks in the form of juice or honey. A can of fizzy cola drink has as much as seven sugar cubes in it. So children might be enjoying their drink without knowing the hidden dangers of drinking too much of it. While sugar cane in its original form has many health benefits, refined sugar does not.
Some countries have introduced a tax on the price of fizzy drinks. They are hoping that the higher price will make people choose other drinks instead. It seems to be working. If only change could happen quicker.
The food industry in the UK has only managed to cut 3% of sugar from supermarket, cafe and restaurant products over the last three years, according to a damning 2019 report from Public Health England. The organisation wants taxes or other measures that attack the profits of food companies to be introduced.
“Overall there has been hardly any change in the simple average sugar content from 24.6g per 100g at baseline (2017) to 24.5g per 100g in year 3 (2019),” says the report.