Last Updated on September 25, 2023 by Food Articles
Sugar may today be perceived as a reason for the obesity pandemic being experienced in the western world today, but its image was not always such a negative one.
There was a time in history when sugar was more expensive than gold, when the use of this ‘white gold’ was restricted only to the echelons of society which could afford it.
The origins of sugar started in Southeast Asia and India gently meandering its way towards the Middle East, where sugar was first cultivated through sugarcane. Over the ensuing centuries sugar became as precious a commodity as silks and spices, making its way through Europe and into the Americas.
In the 14th century in London, a pound of sugar would have cost you a couple of shillings – which is about the average annual salary for an ordinary working man.
There is a reason why the ruling classes were identified by their rotting teeth – they were the only ones who had the means to indulge in the sweetness.
The increasing availability and use of sugar led to a competitive tradition of pastry making and confectionery as a specialist craft. Traditional concoctions such as marzipan became the foundation of many different desserts.
Symbolism within different cultures
Every country has its own unique relationship with sugar and dishes that come with the use of sugar. For example, in Turkey this white delight has a special place in the country’s ceremonies and celebrations.
The Sugar Festival (Şeker Bayram) follows the holy month of Ramadan, and for three days sweet treats are offered by guests visiting friends and family in their neighbourhood, and kids sprint from house to house knocking on doors with a basket, asking for it to be filled with sweets.
Turkey is particularly known for the golden layers of filo pastry soaked in a sugary syrup – baklava. The very first version of baklava was traced back to the Assyrian Empire 1300 years ago.
However, although several other countries can boast their own version of this tooth achingly sweet dessert, it is Turkey who is now internationally recognized as the real baklava afficionado.
Traditional Indian Sweets
If you cut through the middle of the different Indian sweets you would see the history and culture of the country running through them like the rinks in a tree trunk. For example, the Gulab Jamun is a dough ball that has literally been drowned in syrup.
It was brought to India by the Mughals, who were inspired by the Arabic dessert Luqmat al-qaadhi (The Judge’s Bite). Gulab Jamun is actually Persian, meaning flower (gul), water (ab), and black plum (jamun).
Another Indian sweet wreathed in tradition and myth is the Rasgulla. On the ninth day of Rath Yatra it is traditional to offer Rasgulla to the Goddess Lakshmi.
This comes from the story of Lord Jagannath who decided not to take his wife Lakshmi to the Rath Yatra. She was so upset that he offered her Rasgullas to try and cheer her up.
Modern day sweets
Whether you are looking for vegan, vegetarian, gluten free or halal sweets, the confectionery industry has capitalized on the overwhelming desire of the global population to satisfy its sweet tooth.
The history and culture that drove the tradition of different types of sweets and desserts in different countries is now driven by the strength of different brands that are recognizable in sweet shops the world over. Names like Mars, Snickers, Haribo and M&Ms are recognized by communities across the world, no matter what the religion or culture.