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Deutsches Technikmuseum - December

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Exhibit of the Month December 2011

Photo: Close up of the open, wooden sugar chest. In the middle a shapeless sugar loaf.

Wooden swedish sugar chest, © SDTB

Swedish Sugar Chest, Late 18th Century

Transforming sugar into bite-size form is a technical challenge. Beginning in the Middle Ages, sugar loaves were first crushed with a sugar hammer and reduced to handy pieces with a cutting device. After crushing, the lumps of sugar were cut into serving-size pieces with a sugar nip, which resembles a set of pliers.

Sugar chests like the one on display, which was used to break the sugar loaves, were an indication of nobility up until the 19th century, and later of bourgeois prosperity. 

From sugar loaves to sugar cubes

The hardness of the sugar loaves can be explained by their production: a crystal syrup mixture is poured into a funnel-shaped clay pot. The syrup runs off through a hole in the bottom tip of the container, in a process that lasts several weeks. The final product is a white sugar loaf made of condensed sugar crystals.

To facilitate sugar consumption, Jakob Christoph Rad - the director of the sugar beet factory in Dacice, Moravia - developed the sugar cube, which was produced in a patented press die machine in 1843. In Germany, Eugen Langen invented another process in 1872, in which overcooked refined sugar was poured into a holding vessel and spun in a centrifuge. Factory workers sawed the resulting blocks into cubes. Today the mechanical production process creates pressed sugar, or sugar cubes, from loose sugar, which is a popular way to sweeten hot drinks in many households.

This exhibit is from the former Sugar Museum of the Stiftung Deutsches Technikmuseum Berlin. The new and updated exhibition "Sugars and Beyond! Food – Matter – Energy" is open since 26 November 2015 in the New Building of our location Berlin-Kreuzberg.