Sugar is simply fascinating. This incredible stalk of grass (yes, it is a grass) was at the market the other day so I bought it with the intention of just peeling, gnawing on the fiber and extracting all of the sugarcane juices. Then I thought I should really find out more about this plant/ingredient that figures so prominently in our food today and promptly got stuck for hours reading, exploring, googling, etc. Thatâ€™s why there was no post yesterday! Here is the seriously distilled version of thousands of pages of incredible information on sugarcane and sugar. About two-thirds of the world sugar supply today comes from sugar cane (the rest from beets! and other plants) and Saccharum officinarum is the most prolific cane of all. Believed to have originated from a wild grass in New Guinea, it spread throughout Southeast Asia, then on to India where the recorded history there is extensive starting several centuries B.C., then the Middle East. It was later brought by the Spaniards and Portuguese to Central and South America which then all sparked off the slave trade from Africa, etc. etc.
Sugar cane was probably growing wild throughout many parts of the Philippines in pre-historic times. It is generally agreed that people probably figured out it tasted really good and our ancestors were likely munching on cane for juice way back when. It is generally believed that we were crudely refining sugar cane to the rough equivalent of very raw brown sugar by the early 1700â€™s in home kitchens using wood fires. But that they would convert this grass into the white refined sugar we so dearly treasure today as part of our â€œ3 in 1â€ packets of Nescafe, Coffeemate and sugar or sprinkled on our light-as-air broas, sweetening our pastillas, yemas, etc., did not likely occur until the mid 1800â€™s. An enterprising British (not Spanish!) entrepreneur named Nicholas Loney brought western sugar refining machinery to Negros and the rich era of sugar based wealth was born. He did this because he had a thriving business in textile imports from England (that effectively killed local textile artisans) and he needed some goods to put on the empty ships back to Europe. So he encouraged locals to grow sugar. I am making a guess that most of our sweet desserts in the style of Spanish colonizers really came to the fore around this time. Prior to the 1850â€™s we probably had palm sugar and very dark brown sugars that at best flavored rice flour based desserts, etc. Thus my skepticism about Boholano and other Filipino/Spanish style desserts arising from church construction in the 1500â€™s (just wrong, churches there built much later) and the egg whites used to set the mortar set off millions of egg yolks to use in dessertsâ€¦
At any rate, sugar became plentiful and cheap in the 1800â€™s and we started this boom in baked sweets. Isnâ€™t it amazing that nearly every type of baked munchies or regional specialties are probably less than 150 years old? And before that we rarely had the taste of sugar in our diet? Frankly, it doesnâ€™t come across here but I was fascinated by what I read. My day is so filled with sugar that I canâ€™t imagine life without it. My daughter would have a nervous breakdown if she was forced to give up all forms of sugar except gnawing on some cane like in these photographs! We are so dependent on sugar we avoid it by drinking diet coke with synthetic sugar made from sugar!!! Anyway, instead of getting carried away, enjoy these photos of a really stunning cane of sugar (not like the thin canes from Batangas, these were thick, deep maroon and hard as bamboo canes) and I hope they bring back memories of your childhood when you used to munch on the fibrous and sweet caneâ€¦ I tried some yesterday and nearly broke off some expensive dental work… unless the cane is wickedly fresh, the memory seems far better than reality… heehee.