The history of brown sugar -- in Russia?
May 15, 2016 9:32 AM   Subscribe

I've been trying to do some research on whether or not a poorer community in Russia around the turn of the 20th century would have had any access to or knowledge of brown sugar.

What I've found by doing some Google book research is that it's more likely that beet sugar would have been used, I think, but I'm not sure I've exhausted my resources. Can anyone point me in a more specific direction?
posted by roomthreeseventeen to Food & Drink (7 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
It doesn't seem to have been a thing from a little quick googling, but I can't tell you for sure. Do you read Russian? The search term is "коричневый сахар."
posted by languagehat at 11:30 AM on May 15, 2016

Just going off of the gefilte fish line (beet sugar being available in Poland, but not in Lithuania, leading to sweet dishes among Polish Jews, and savory dishes among Lithuanian Jews), I would lean towards "not so common", even for beet sugar.
posted by damayanti at 12:07 PM on May 15, 2016 [2 favorites]

FWIW, in my experience even today brown sugar is not commonly used in Russia. You can find it if you look, but it's not a common recipe ingredient or something that people generally have around the house.
posted by sparrow89 at 12:30 PM on May 15, 2016 [3 favorites]

Elena Molokhovets wrote the definitive cookbook for (rich, estate-running) Russian housewives around the turn of the 20th century; if her recipes never call for brown sugar then I suspect that increases the likelihood that poorer households wouldn't have access to it either. (I don't have access to a copy to check right now or I would because now I'm really curious.) The English-language translation of her book includes a section written by the translator on ingredients which seems to uphold your supposition that beet sugar was more common, but that may be one of the Google Book results you're referring to. Interestingly, Wikipedia indicates that you can make brown sugar from beet sugar molasses (apparently this is a thing in Belgium and the Netherlands?) but of course that doesn't mean that anyone actually did it in Russia circa 1900.

I would not be surprised to find that the definitive answer to your question is somewhere in an article or book written by Darra Goldstein, who's written extensively on the cuisine and history of the former Russian Empire, but I don't have any specific publications to point you towards.
posted by posadnitsa at 1:10 PM on May 15, 2016 [1 favorite]

When you say "brown sugar" do you mean incompletely refined sugar (e.g., demerara, turbinado, panela, jaggery, etc.) or do you mean the moist product typically sold as "brown sugar" which is actually refined white sugar with molasses added?
posted by slkinsey at 2:04 PM on May 15, 2016 [3 favorites]

i don't know if you've found this already, but it implies that sugar production from both cane (imported) and beet (grown locally) increased in the 19th century.

i would suspect that the cheapest, most widely available varieties of sugar would be less refined and so darker (even if not referred to specifically as "brown"), but i don't have any proof.
posted by andrewcooke at 2:11 PM on May 15, 2016

I just checked my copy of Elena Molokhovets's book and there is no brown sugar or even molasses in it. There IS carmelized sugar. There's also a few paragraphs (pg 64) about the changing uses of sugar (moving away from honey, increasing amounts of sugar.) The edition she translated I believe is from 1897.
posted by small_ruminant at 6:06 PM on May 15, 2016

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