By Harold McGee
Ordinary sugar is an extraordinary food. Sugar is pure sensation, crystallized pleasure. All human beings share an innate liking for its sweetness, which we first experience in mother’s milk, and which is the taste of the energy that fuels all life. Thanks to this deep appeal, sugar and sugar-rich foods are now among the most popular and widely consumed of all foods. In centuries past, when sugar was rare and expensive, they were luxuries reserved for the wealthy and for the climax of the meal. Today sugar is cheap, and manufactured sweets have become everyday, casual pleasures, affordable and entertaining morsels. Some are soothing classics, cream and sugar cooked into rich brown caramels, or clear sugar tinted to look like a shard of stained glass. And others are provocative novelties with glaringly unnatural colors, whimsical shapes, hidden pockets of hissing gas, and burningly excessive doses of acidity or spice.