Russia Meets the West

Appears in
Oxford Companion to Sugar and Sweets

By Darra Goldstein

Published 2015

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Although sugar had been known in Russia as early as the thirteenth century, traditional sweets were, until centuries later, made with honey or another liquid sweetener. Demand for sugar rose only in the mid-seventeenth century, when the use of tea became more widespread. Imported at great cost, chiefly through the far northern port of Arkhangelsk, sugar remained a luxury available only to the wealthy. Russia’s first domestic sugar refinery opened in Saint Petersburg in 1719, at Tsar Peter the Great’s prompting. By the end of the eighteenth century, Russia had 20 sugar factories, and the first factory for refining sugar beets was built in 1802. By 1900, Russia was one of the world’s great sugar producers. Nevertheless, devout Russians were reluctant to accept sugar in any form, since it was commonly refined with blood and therefore forbidden for fast days, which number nearly 200 in the ecclesiastic year.