| Sugar Beet
| Sugar is important as a source of
carbohydrate, as a sweetener, and as a preservative.
| Until the nineteenth century humans were
dependent on sugar cane for their sugar.
| Sugar cane needs a semi-tropical climate.
It was probably first grown in New Guinea and then in India and China. In the
fifteenth century Christopher Columbus and other explorers and settlers took
sugar cane plants to the Caribbean and to America. Sugar plantations in the
West Indies became a source of wealth for Europeans. (Jane Austen's
character, Sir Thomas Bertram in Mansfield Park, has a sugar plantation.)
| Finding how to produce sugar from beet is
just one of the many discoveries that scientists have made, and that are of
benefit to human kind. Sugar beet can be grown in more temperate climates,
including that of Russia and much of Europe.
| It was a German chemist, Andreas Marggraf
(1709-1782), who discovered the sugar in sugar beet. The first factory for
producing the sugar was established in Silesia in 1802.
| But the first really extensive use of beet
sugar came a few years later, in France. The blockade by Britain, which was
hostile to Napoleon, made it very difficult for France to import sugar from the
West Indies. By 1811 there were 40 factories in France for processing sugar
| In the First World War, Germany relied
extensively on home-grown beet to provide sugar. But Britain, which was also
very short of sugar, was slow to develop production. It was said that it was a
risky venture. It would need a start-up capital of at least £250,000 and
that this was too great for a private venture. Then there was a difficulty in
1916 of obtaining the necessary seed for the beet because Holland, for example,
had forbidden its export.
| This meant that Britain remained wholly
dependent on imported sugar and supplies were very short.
| However by 1997 Britain's own sugar-beet
crop was worth £292m. Nonetheless Britain imported some 1,300 tonnes of
sugar that year, much of it from Europe.
| By the 1990s sugar beet provided some 40%
of all the world's sugar. More is grown in Russia than anywhere else.
| Sugar cane is grown in parts of America
like Florida, Brazil, China, Cuba, India, Mexico, Pakistan and Thailand.
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