Changes in Sucrose Consumption

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It is a much more straightforward business to enquire about sugar (refined sucrose) consumption than honey consumption in preindustrial times. All sugar supplies, in Europe, came from imports, so customs records constitute a readily accessible record of national consumption. In the 1520s, the Dissolution of the Monasteries reduced demand for bees-wax for church candles and brought about a small decrease in the production of honey. Almost simultaneous with this came an increase in the supply of refined sucrose, imported from the new European colonies. Sugar was still considerably more expensive than honey, but this combination of events gained it a more complete following among the wealthy. Cookery books were used exclusively by the well-to-do at this time and clearly illustrate that, for this section of society, sugar had, by the 1550s, usurped honey's place in the diet.

It was not until the early 1700s, however, when the supply of sugar boomed, its price fell, and coffee, tea, and chocolate entered the British diet, that ordinary people finally began to buy significant amounts, and the per capita consumption reached 1.8 kg per year. The changeover from honey to sugar occurred more gradually in rural areas than in the cities. From this point sugar consumption rose inexorably, while honey consumption declined. Beekeeping ceased to be the general custom that it had been in former years—there was no longer a hive in every garden. By the beginning of the twentieth century the availability of refined sugar reached about 50 kg per head per year in most industrialized nations. Surprisingly, it did not continue to increase but remained at approximately this level or declined throughout the next 100 years. The 'steady state' suggests that the market and the taste buds have reached saturation.

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