Historical Highlights

The initial history of carbohydrates is the story of sugar cane and the human passion for sweetness. Although there is some dissension, sugar cane's origin is thought to be Papua New Guinea. It was probably cultivated from wild plants (still in existence) about 10,000 years ago at the time of the global Neolithic agricultural revolution. The slow diffusion of migrants carried it to India, Southeast Asia, and China. Sugar was mentioned by an Indian author in 325 BC. After the Arabs defeated the Romans, they brought the sugar cane from Persia to Europe and the Mediterranean where it failed to thrive, apart from the Moroccan coast. The returning Crusaders brought sugar to the European courts where it became an important and desirable luxury dietary constituent. Sugar cane was introduced to the Caribbean by Christopher Columbus on his second voyage, in 1493. The plants came from his father-in-law's plantation established in Madeira in 1492 (Canary Islands). They thrived and were dispersed to Central and South America and throughout the Caribbean. By the early 17th century, raw sugar was being handled by refineries in England and France. Beets (unlike sugar cane, which needed a tropical or semitropical climate) could be grown in temperate climates and were first recognized as a source of sugar by Marggraf in 1747. Napoleon used beets to bypass the British sugar blockade of the French Caribbean Islands; by 1813, approximately 35,000,000 kg (35,000 tonnes) were being produced. Sugar from beets now represents 40% of the world sugar market. Kirchoff, a Russian chemist, reported in 1812 that starch, the plant storage form of carbohydrate, when boiled with dilute acid gave rise to a sugar identical with that of grapes (glucose). Schmidt, in 1844, designated carbohydrates as compounds that contained C, H, and O and showed that sugar was found in the blood. Liver glycogen, the animal storage form of carbohydrate, was discovered by the outstanding French physiologist Claude Bernard in 1856. Sugar is now cultivated in practically every country in the world and is consumed as a basic or staple food.

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