What is the historical and cultural significance of sugar?

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jameadows eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Sugar played a role in the development of the transatlantic slave trade. The Portuguese started sugar plantations with slave labor in Brazil, and, in the 17th century, sugarcane plantations were introduced in the Caribbean. Sugar became immensely popular in Western Europe. Sugar is a labor-intensive crop that resulted in the wide-scale use of slaves, imported mainly from West Africa, to cultivate. During the 17th-19th centuries, approximately 12 million Africans were brought to the New World as slaves, mainly first to the West Indies to grow sugar cane. 

In the resulting "triangle trade," Europeans produced manufactured goods such as textiles, rum, and guns to trade for slaves, who were then forcibly brought to the New World in the brutal "Middle Passage." As a result of this trade, new cultures developed in North, Central, and South America, and, as result of the growth of manufactured products for export, Western Europe's manufacturing and banking sectors developed, particularly in England. 

Sugar also holds an important role in Western culture, as the commodity now makes up a large percentage of our diet. We eat an estimated 100 pounds of sugar per person per year, and sugar is an ingredient in many of the foods we love, including fast food and products made by the candy industry. Partly as a result, Western society is also faced with an obesity epidemic.