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Vol. 31 No. 4
July-Augustl 2009

Stamps International |

See also www.iupac.org/publications/ci/indexes/stamps.html


Sweet Chemistry

Sugar, the ubiquitous sweet stuff that we enjoy in our foods and drinks (sometimes too much!) is an important source of dietary carbohydrate, mainly sucrose, and is commercially obtained in a huge scale from sugar cane or sugar beets. Although it is produced today in more than 100 countries, about 50 percent of the world’s annual output, currently estimated at 160 million tonnes, comes from only four: Brazil, India, Thailand, and China. The extraction of sugar from cane has been practiced in India and Southeast Asia for centuries and the plant was taken by Columbus to the West Indies, where it flourished due to the tropical weather in the region. However, it was only in 1747 that a German analytical chemist, Andreas Sigismund Marggraf (1709–1782) announced the discovery of sugar in beets and verified that its composition was essentially the same as that of sugar isolated from cane. The growth of beets as a source of sugar is favored in regions with more tempered climate, especially since it requires four times less water that sugar cane.

The stamp from Germany illustrated in this note was issued on 12 March 1992 to commemorate the 125th anniversary of the Sugar Institute in Berlin, now associated with the prestigious Technical University (TU Berlin), where the extraction and production of sugar from beets in an industrial scale has been investigated since 1867. The stamp features a sprightly specimen of white beet (Beta vulgaris) and the silhouettes of the three chemists who played key roles in the development of the sugar industry, namely Andreas Marggraf, his student Franz Karl Achard (1753–1821), who built the first beet sugar factory in 1801, and Carl Scheibler (1827–1899), one of the founders of the Sugar Institute in Berlin. And if you find yourself in Berlin looking for a sweet treat, don’t hesitate to visit the local Sugar Museum!

Written by Daniel Rabinovich <drabinov@uncc.edu>.


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