Plantations, Sugar

Appears in
Oxford Companion to Sugar and Sweets

By Darra Goldstein

Published 2015

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plantations, sugar, are large-scale enterprises that grow and process sugar for distant markets. Historically, the term “plantation” was sometimes used for products such as fish and iron, but the typical plantation produced tropical plants such as rubber, oil palm, cotton, coffee, and, above all, sugarcane, for the European market. Because sugarcane requires not only abundant water but higher temperatures than those found in the temperate zones, from the fourteenth century on, Europe turned to overseas plantations to acquire its sugar. See sugarcane. It looked first to the Mediterranean, then to the Atlantic islands, then to tropical colonies in the Americas and the Caribbean, and finally to European- or American-controlled tropical lands worldwide. The height of sugarcane plantation culture was in the Caribbean around 1800. From the late nineteenth century on, cane plantations faced fierce competition from the temperate sugar beet. See sugar beet. It should be noted that India, China, and Southeast Asia did not adopt the system of sugar plantations.