While the exact origins of sugar are unknown, the Polynesians were probably the first to use it roughly 5,000 years ago. The Indians invented the manufacture of sugar granules from sugarcane about 2,000 years ago, though sugar was considered very expensive through the Middle Ages.
Ancient Polynesians used to chew on the stalks of sugarcane to release the sweet flavor. They also had some rudimentary methods for extracting sugar. Polynesians brought the sugarcane to the Indians coasts, and the Indians are the ones who developed a process for extracting juice and producing sugar granules.
After the Persians conquered India, they exported sugar to their homeland. When the Arab peoples invaded Persia in the 7th century, they learned the secrets of sugar production. They brought sugar production to other lands they conquered, such as Spain and North Africa.
The rest of Europe discovered sugar because of the Crusades. The first recording of sugar in England came in 1099. Though the production of sugar spread across Europe, it was still considered a "fine spice" suitable only for the rich.
When Christopher Columbus sailed to the "New World," he brought sugarcane plants to the Caribbean. The plants thrived in the climate, and the area became the center of the sugar industry. Other explorers brought sugarcane plants to Brazil, Cuba, Mexico and the West Indies.
In the 18th century, people identified sugar beets as a source of sugar granules. This became the foundation for modern sugar production.