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Sugar is the generalised name for a class of sweet-flavored substances used as food. They are carbohydrates and as this name implies, are composed of carbon, hydrogen and oxygen. There are various types of sugar derived from different sources. Simple sugars are called monosaccharides and include glucose, fructose and galactose. The table or granulated sugar most customarily used as food is sucrose, a disaccharide. Other disaccharides include maltose and lactose.
Sugars are found in the tissues of most plants but are only present in sufficient concentrations for efficient extraction in sugarcane and sugar beet. Sugarcane is a giant grass and has been cultivated in tropical climates in the Far East since ancient times. A great expansion in its production took place in the 18th century with the setting up of sugar plantations in the West Indies and Americas. This was the first time that sugar became available to the common people who had previously had to rely on honey to sweeten foods. Sugar beet is a root crop and is cultivated in cooler climates and became a major source of sugar in the 19th century when methods for extracting the sugar became available. Sugar production and trade has changed the course of human history in many ways. It influenced the formation of colonies, the perpetuation of slavery, the transition to indentured labor, the migration of peoples, wars between 19th century sugar trade controlling nations and the ethnic composition and political structure of the new world.
The world produced about 168 million tonnes of sugar in 2011. The average person consumes about 24 kilograms of sugar each year, equivalent to over 260 food calories per person, per day.
In modern times it has been questioned whether a diet high in sugars, especially refined sugars, is bad for health. Sugar has been linked to obesity and suspected of being implicated in diabetes, cardiovascular disease, dementia, macular degeneration and tooth decay. Numerous studies have been undertaken to try to clarify the position but the results remain largely unclear, mainly because of the difficulty of finding populations for use as controls that do not consume sugars.
Ancient times and Middle Ages
Sugar has been produced in the Indian subcontinent since ancient times. It was not plentiful or cheap in early times—honey was more often used for sweetening in most parts of the world. Originally, people chewed raw sugarcane to extract its sweetness. Sugarcane was a native of tropical South Asia and Southeast Asia. Different species seem to have originated from different locations with Saccharum barberi originating in India and S. edule and S. officinarum coming from New Guinea.
One of the earliest historical references to sugar cane is in 8th century BC. Chinese manuscripts that also refer to the fact that knowledge of sugar cane was derived from India. It appears that in about 500 BC, residents of present-day India began making sugar syrup and cooling it in large flat bowls to make crystals that were easier to store and transport than the cane itself. In the local Indian language, these crystals were called khanda(Devanagari:खण्ड,Khaṇḍa) which is the source of the word candy.
Different kinds of sugar