The Ancient and Essential Role of Sugar

Appears in
Oxford Companion to Sugar and Sweets

By Darra Goldstein

Published 2015

  • About
Sugar was vital to the development of confections. Originally, Europeans sweetened foods with honey (which is still used in nougat), or in grape juice boiled down until thick and syrupy, but these products have distinctive flavors and tend to be colored. When sugar first reached medieval Europe from the East during the period of the Crusades, it must have seemed magical, with its ability to be refined into limpid syrups, crystals of sparkling transparency, or worked until pure white in color. Using special knowledge of the “secrets” of working sugar as a material, craftsmen could make it up into various confections with interesting textures that snap and crunch and crumble when eaten.