06/04/2021 16.00 UK
In contrast to the centuries-deep agricultural origins of sugarcane, the idea of sugar from beets and other vegetables emerged of German laboratory scientists around 1800. The economic history of sugar in the nineteenth century is generally told as a war between these two industries, culminating in the near-bankruptcy of some European states that subsidized their domestic beet producers. In this chapter, I show that the idea of beet sugar was not a scientific discovery but rather a radical invention. For Enlightenment philosophes, practical chemists, merchants, and producers, sugar was something that came from the cane. Not until the middle of the century did new forces within chemistry itself, allied to certain political and economic agendas, persuade publics that the crystals extracted from beets were not just a substitute for cane sugar but in fact the same substance.