Home Articles History Sugar – A Sweet Indian Gift to the World

Sugar – A Sweet Indian Gift to the World

The most popular sweetener in the world – Sugar – was invented in India. Prior to the introduction of Sugar from India, the most popular sweetener in the western world was – HONEY!

Infact the very word Sugar (and even Sucrose) is derived from the Sanskrit word for SugarSharkara.

For the past thousands of years Sugar cane is being cultivated in India. However Sugarcane became popular and spread to the rest of the world only after Indians developed the technique of turning sugarcane juice into granulated crystals there by making it easy to store as well as transport. India is the world’s largest producer of Sugar after Brazil today.

The earliest reference to Sugar can be found in the ancient vedic text of Atharva Veda. Susrutha Samhita lists 12 different varieties of Sugar. The best of which were called Vamshika (with thin reeds) and Paundraka (which came from the Bengal region). Even today Bengal produces some of the best sweets in the world using sugar syrup as a major ingredient. If you haven’t tasted a Bengali Rasgullah yet – then you probably dont know how sweet sugar can really be!

Darius – the King of Persia – who invaded India at around 510 BCE was fascinated when he tasted this “Reed which gives Honey without Bees“. Alexander’s army tasted it in India in 326 BCE.

Sugar was carried to other parts of Asia by the Indian Sailors whose dietary mainstay was Sugar + Clarified Butter (Ghee). Even today Sugar and Ghee is a favorite combination in many parts of India.

Coconut Candy

The Buddhist monks from India who went to spread Buddhism introduced Sugarcane in China at around 110 BCE.

In the first century CE Dioscorides described sugar as ‘a honey called sakkharon collected from reeds in India‘ which had the ‘consistency of salt and which could be crunched between the teeth‘.

Sugarcane / Sugar reached Persia at around 6th century CE. From there the Arabs took it to Egypt in 641 CE. And finally to Spain at around 714 CE.

Western Europe discovered Sugar only after the Crusaders in the 11th Century tasted this “New Spice”. It entered England in 1099. During his second voyage  in 1493 Columbus took Sugarcane from Canary Islands to the Caribbean.

During the years 1625 to 1750, Sugar was worth its weight in gold and was referred to as “White Gold”. To make it cheaper Europeans opened the slave trade in the Caribbean islands, where the native american slaves were made to cultivate and grow sugar cane. However instead of having the cane processed in the same place where it was grown, the Europeans brought it to England to refine it into Sugar. Wouldn’t it have been cheaper to refine and process the large mass of sugar cane right at the place where it was being grown? Well, Europeans did NOT want the slaves to learn the secret skills of preparing Sugar from cane, even though they themselves had BORROWED these skills from India.

Introduction of Sugar brought in a major major change in the eating habits of the western world. Initially most sugar in Britain was used to prepare tea, but later candies, chocolates, coffee, cocoa, jams, and other sweets became very popular.

Thus became Sharkara – the most popular sweetener of ancient India – the most popular sweetener of the modern world.

Referring to the invention of modern mathematics (invention of zero and place value system) in ancient India, Einstein once said

We should be thankful to Indians who taught us how to count without which no worthwhile scientific discovery would have been possible

On similar lines shouldn’t the west also say,

We should be thankful to Indians who taught us how to prepare sweets without using honey without which no worthwhile sweet preparation would have been possible.

The next time you taste a sweet, most probably it would have some sugar in it, and if so then you know where it originally came from :)

Also Read, A History of Sugar

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Gurudev is the developer of Gurunudi AI Platform. This is his official website where he pens his thoughts on a wide range of topics, answers queries, shares resources and tools developed by him.


  1. Gurudev

    As far what i have heard from shri Rajiv Dixitji lectures, he said that it was Britishers who started producing sugar in india by setting up factories… we only had jaggery and used to prepare only that… he also adds that sugar is not at all good for health as it is prepared using many chemicals and has phosphorus (don’t remember exactly) or something which is not good at all as the final product mainly contains chemicals only….
    He says jaggery is the best of all to use/consume as it has iron.. and as far as i remember from childhood we were always told to eat jaggery+nuts, jaggery+dry coconut etc…

    since you memntion it was mentioned in atharvaveda..

    Your thoughts on this please…

    • Yes Sainath, Indians produced different types of sweetener from sugar cane and Jaggery is one of the widely used. But the crystallisation of sugar was also widely practiced in India in ancient times, for instance there are records of sugar crystallisation techniques practiced during the times of Gupta dynasty. There are also records of ancient Indian sailors carrying with them mixtures of Butter and Sugar, which is a combination we use even today, we dont use jaggery with butter :)
      And apart from this there are atleast two different ancient Chinese records which mention about how the Chinese learnt the techniques of sugar crystallization from the visiting Buddhist monks of India.
      Ref: Adas, Michael (January 2001). Agricultural and Pastoral Societies in Ancient and Classical History. Temple University Press.

  2. Long ago I was told by someone that Hockey game was originally from India, whereas I found out that its actually from American Indians. Usually we are wrongly identified. I will be surprised if American Indians first processed sugar, but not if they created the Hockey game.

    • As for the Quote about Sugar, I wrote it because it could mean either way sarcastically – be it American Indians (Native Americans) or actual Indians – both civilizations suffered at the hands of colonialism – so both – those who invented Sugar as well as those who were made to produce sugarcane almost for free – both could consider it to be their curse :)

      As for Hockey, it was introduced in India by the British, and it is they who invented the modern hockey as a game similar to football played using sticks, and they inherited the idea of this game from Romans who in turn got it probably from Egypt, ancient Egyptian drawings show people playing a similar sport.

  3. Guru,
    Please read that the reference site you have given states that its American Indians and not us Indians
    “So, it was because of the white man’s theft of America, from the American Indians, that the phrase of “Indian’s Revenge” becomes clear.  The white man stole the entire continent from the Indians, but the Indians gave virtually all of our modern diseases back to the white man — in the form of cheap sugar.”

    • I know Suchin, Native Americans are called Indians because Columbus called them So. When Ottoman turks captured Constantinople in 1453 blocking the land route from Europe to India, the Europeans who were so much dependent on Indian imports of spices diamonds etc started desperately looking out for a sea route to India and thats how the expeditions of Columbus, Vasco Da Gama etc were funded. Columbus who landed up on the American continent thought he had landed on the east coast of India and hence called the native Americans “Red Indians” and thats how we have “Indians” and “Indiana” in America and thanks to India which led to the discovery of American Continent :)
      I had written on this long back – Myth About British Creating India


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