With my sweet tooth and lifelong addiction to sugar, I was fascinated to find a whole encyclopaedia has been devoted to the story of the human predilection for sweet food. Ah, it’s not just me then. The Oxford Companion to Sugar and Sweets, edited by Darra Goldstein, has just been published. Happily a copy landed on my desk.
As with all good encyclopaedias, Sugar and Sweets is a fascinating collection of facts, stories and ideas. You can dip into them at will and use them as a reference tool. There are nearly 600 entries, 265 contributing experts, 160 images and two full-colour inserts. Dara has fashioned a veritable treasure trove. My only reservation is that the images are all in black and white, apart from the colour inserts obviously, which makes the book seem a little old fashioned. History, politics, language, religion, art, science and of course food are all covered and demonstrate how sugar has been an integral part of human development and civilisation.
Sugar and Sweets
Appendices at the back are a nice touch. There are entries for films and songs that have been influenced by sweets. These range from Julie and Julia to Like Water for Chocolate and from Blueberry Hill by Fats Domino to Jelly Roll Blues by Jelly Roll Morton. Two more appendices list pastry shops from around the world and confectionary museums. Who knew there was a museum specialising in gelato or one on Thai desserts? Running through the list of contributors, I realised I wasn’t nearly as “up”on the subject as I’d imagined. A few names like Rose Levy Beranbaum, Ivan Day, Trine Hahnemann and Maricel E Presilla, jumped out at me, but most were unfamiliar.
Some entries, such as the one for stevia are quite short. Others such as children’s literature span several pages. I learnt that wagashi means Japanese confectionery and that mochi and dumplings have been made in Japan since the prehistoric era. I was surprised to find that Marshmallow Fluff, which I only heard about a couple of years ago has been made in Massachusetts since 1920. Our very British pudding comes from the French boudin which originally meant sausage and referred to blood pudding.
Toward the end of the book, I noticed an entry for xylitol. It states that not only is this sugar substitute suitable for diabetics, but it’s also good for dental health. It seems that CT and I are not as crackpot as I’d thought. We both use it as a mouthwash for this very reason.
It’s Not All Fun
Not all the subjects covered are “sweet”, there are entries on dental caries, diabetes and the despicable horrors of slavery in the sugar plantations. It was Europe’s growing demand for sugar in the Seventeenth Century that kickstarted the international African slave-trade. Oh, our western civilisation has much to be proud of.
The Story of Chocolate
I was pleased, if not surprised, to see that chocolate gets more than just a mention. There are entries for single origin, cacao, chocolate pots and cups as well as the expected pre and post Columbian history. Although I’ve read many histories of chocolate in my time, it hadn’t quite sunk in that the Americas had been producing chocolate for over 2,500 years before it was “discovered” by the West in the Sixteenth Century. Many of the brands have their own entries such as Cadbury, Lindt, Nestlé, Mars and Hershey.
This hardback book is published by Oxford University Press and retails at £40. It’s a serious and thorough exploration of the subject of sugar and sweets. It would thus make a valuable edition to anyone’s bookshelf. I can see it’s going to keep me informed and entertained for years to come.
Stay in Touch
Thanks for visiting Tin and Thyme. If you get hold of Sugar and Sweets, I’d love to hear about it in the comments below. Do share photos on your preferred social media site and use the hashtag #tinandthyme, so I can spot them.
Sugar and Sweets Giveaway
Oxford University Press has kindly agreed to give one Tin and Thyme reader a copy of The Oxford Companion to Sugar and Sweets. To be in with a chance of winning, please fill in the Gleam widget below. You will need to leave a comment on this post, answering the question, which then gives you additional chances to enter if you so wish. Gleam will pick a winner at random from the entries received. If you are commenting anonymously, please give me some way of identifying you as I will be verifying the validity of entries. Any automated entries will be disqualified. This giveaway is only open to those with a UK postal address. Winners will need to respond within 7 days of being contacted. Failure to do this may result in another winner being picked.
Prizes are offered and provided by Oxford University Press and Tin and Thyme accepts no responsibility for the acts or defaults of said third party. Tin and Thyme reserves the right to cancel or amend the giveaway and these terms and conditions without notice.
Closing date is Tuesday 11 August 2015
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