There is no dearth of sweets when the festive season is around the corner. The decadence of the festive season looks authentic only if there is a plate of wholesome Indian sweets, usually a pile of laddoos or a sinful box of chocolates.
How can you wish a Happy Dusshera or Diwali without a sweet in front of you? A new-born baby is welcomed with a dab of honey on his/her lips, a mix of
dahi and sugar is popped in your mouth, along with good luck before an exam… the examples are a plenty. Sugar is the mainstay of any happy occasion in our country, and you could shout from the building tops about how bad it is for your health, but no one listens.
The Grinch that does seem to steal Diwali of its sugar lined dissolution are the organic substitutes like healthy coconut jaggery or honey. What blasphemy! How can this be allowed? Why can’t we just celebrate with our regular, favorite, good old white sugar?
It is not just us, people consume sugar in staggering amounts all over the world. It is viewed as a necessity and a gratifying commodity in our lives. We are rewarded with sweets as kids, we stir it in our tea, twice or thrice a day. We also call those we love with ‘sugary’ terms like “sweetheart” “sweet love” “Honey!” and all our desi languages too use it for terms of endearment.
You hear people compliment someone for their sweet smile. Being sweet is synonymous with being cordial. The taste that transforms into compliments, a synonym for a good time or a good person.
But today, the perfect way to say you truly love someone is slowly turning to, ‘Zero Sugar’ or ‘Sugar free’. This is the ‘I love you so much that I care for your health’ version. This is in light where the craving for sweetness has become a menace to health and well-being for millions around the world. But it was not always the case.
According to James Walvin author of
‘Sugar: The world corrupted, from slavery to obesity’ (2017) - “Honey was mankind’s main source of sweetness in a multitude of ancient societies… Rock art from 26,000 years ago, paintings from Egypt and comparable evidence from ancient Indian societies, all portrayed honey as a source of local sweetness.” So how did it change? When did sugar or cane sugar find its way and envelop the whole world in its sweetness?
You could take a guess, it began here in India. “Buddhist cuisine in India adopted sugar as a basic ingredient as early as 260 BC and, in time, sugar began to influence cuisine across South East Asia, then it moved westward to Africa, the Middle East and the Mediterranean. By 1400, it was cultivated in Egypt, Syria, Jordan, North Africa, Spain and possibly Ethiopia and Zanzibar,” writes Walvin.
The ill-effects of over consumption of sugar have been highlighted only too recently, tooth decay, obesity and diabetes, are just the tip of the sweet iceberg. Children are now instructed to not eat sweets. Sugar has achieved pariah status, as a global health problem. But it is still the life of our festivities, and it is unimaginable to celebrate without sugar.
The healthy options of honey, raisins or jaggery only let you express so much love, sugar is more potent, like a drug. It takes you high. This high is not just cane sugar, it is artificial sweetening agents and high fructose corn syrup. These super sweetened products are bad for us, but the high keeps us from seeing the facts.
Go easy on the mithai, you can always exercise the fat away, but the sweet tooth is never satiated. You will be searching for a sweet fix long after the festive season, it is not easy to wean off. So, tread carefully, sweetheart.
Sharon Fernandes is a journalist based in Delhi.