The Colonial Period

Appears in
Oxford Companion to Sugar and Sweets

By Darra Goldstein

Published 2015

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It is difficult to reconstruct the eating habits of the varied native populations before European contact, but given the foods available, it is likely that Native Americans limited their sweet indulgences to certain corn products, maple syrup, and both fresh and dried wild fruits. See native american. Apart from the use of certain ingredients (maple sugar, corn, pecans, and the like), today’s culture of sweetness inherited little from the continent’s first inhabitants. Instead, America’s sweet tooth was largely passed down from the English colonists who first settled New England and Virginia. As early as the Elizabethan period, the English elite were notorious for their penchant for sweet food. As sugar became somewhat more affordable during the late colonial period, this predilection moved down the social ranks. Imports from the Caribbean assured British North America a continuous supply of both sugar and molasses. See sugar trade. The Molasses Act, passed by the British government in 1733, sought to limit imports of the sweetener from British possessions, but the law was widely flouted by the colonists. The similar Sugar Act of 1764 was one of several triggers of the American Revolution. See legislation, historical.