For about 70 years Madeira was the most important sugar producer in Europe

The introduction of sugar cane farming by the Portuguese into Madeira towards the first half of the 15th century – some decades before Columbus discovered America – meant that sugar could be exported, at first through Lisbon and then directly to the ports of Flanders (Antwerp and Bruges). In this way the consumption of the ‘white gold’ spread across the whole of Europe, altering people’s eating habits.

Although the archipelago of Madeira – geographically isolated in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean – had already been shown on earlier maps, it was only in 1418 that the first Portuguese navigators landed on the island of Porto Santo and subsequently discovered the much bigger island, Madeira.

The newly introduced sugar-based economy called for important innovations such as ‘sugar mills’ and ‘grinding stones’, together with the use of special moulds that gave rise to the famous ‘sugarloaves, the form in which refined sugar was produced and sold until granulated and cube sugars were introduced in the late 19th century. A tall cone with a rounded top was the end-product. The larger the loaf the lower the grade of sugar. A common size that time was 6.4 kg but the finest sugar from Madeira came in small loaves of only 1.4 to 1.8 kg.

From the very beginning of its origins in Madeira, production completely relied on the use of slave labour. Captives were taken along the coast of North and West Africa and brought to work at the sugar mills. When the sugar production in the much vaster territory of Brazil got underway in the 16th century, Madeira lost its privileged position. Sugar from South America was simply cheaper.

Sugarloaf mountain (Pão de Açucar) is the famous mountain in Rio de Janeiro at the mouth of Guanabara Bay in Brazil. Its name is said to refer to its resemblance to the traditional shape of the concentrated refined sugar loaf. The mountain became part of a World Heritage Site declared by UNESCO in 2012.

Bom fim de semana                                              Have a sweet weekend