This is the longest article of its kind on our favored food blog, the salt, on National Public Radio (USA)’s website, but it is worth the read for those inclined to food history; and for those in Raxa Collective’s India operations it goes a long way to explaining those beautifully manicured tea estates in a new light:
…Tea was practically unknown in Europe until the mid-1600s. But in England, it got an early PR boost from Catherine of Braganza, a celebrity who became its ambassador: The Portuguese royal favored the infusion, and when she married England’s Charles II in 1662, tea became the “it” drink among the British upper classes. But it might have faded as a passing fad if not for another favorite nibble of the nobility: sugar.
In the 1500s and 1600s, sugar was the “object of a sustained vogue in northern Europe,” historian Woodruff Smith wrote in a 1992 paper.
Sugar was expensive
and relatively rare, making it a perfect object of conspicuous consumption for status-chasing elites. Shaped into elaborate sculptures, mixed into wines, sprinkled on tarts and on glazed roasted meats — sugar was a much noted feature of upper-class life, says Smith, a professor emeritus at the University of Massachusetts, Boston who has studied the history of consumption. Cookbooks of the late 16th and early 17th century even treated sugar as a sort of drug to help balance the “humors” — energies that were believed to affect health and mood.
Then came the backlash: In the late 1600s, doctors started warning about the perils of sugar — it was blamed (correctly) for rotting teeth and (incorrectly) causing gout, among other ills — and it began to fall out of style among the rich and fabulous, Smith tells The Salt. Suddenly, sugar was the demon du jour. By around 1700, the word on sugar was no longer ostentation but moderation…
Read the whole article here.