Sugar in the Modern Age

Appears in

Oxford Companion to Sugar and Sweets

Oxford Companion to Sugar and Sweets

By Darra Goldstein

Published 2015

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In the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, a few dissenting voices to the “sugar-as-nostrum” appeared, along with the spread of a new milling technique that eliminated the need to chop the sugarcane before pressing. The German physician Hieronymus Bock described sugar as “more an extravagance for the rich than as a remedy” (1539), and he and others noted sugar’s reprobate role in tooth decay, especially among the wealthy. See dental caries. By the mid-seventeenth century, European medical professionals had largely changed their position on sugar. James Hart’s The Diet of Diseases (London, 1633) described sugar as having dangerous effects on the body, causing hot blood, wasting, blackened teeth, and “a loathsome stinking breath.” Although Dr. Frederick Slare considered sugar to have curative powers, he noted in 1715 in one of his Experiments and Observations publications that it was “very high a Nourisher” and may make women “fatter than they desire to be.” Slare was one of the first physicians to link sugar to corpulence.