The Oxford Companion to Sugar and Sweets

Editor-in-chief: Darra Goldstein

Foreword: Sidney Mintz

 S&S coverA sweet tooth is a powerful thing. Babies everywhere seem to smile when tasting sweetness for the first time, a trait inherited, perhaps, from our ancestors who foraged for sweet foods that were generally safer to eat than their bitter counterparts. But the “science of sweet” is only the beginning of a fascinating story, because it is not basic human need or simple biological impulse that prompts us to decorate elaborate wedding cakes, scoop ice cream into a cone, or drop sugar cubes into coffee. These are matters of culture and aesthetics, of history and society, and we might ask many other questions. Why do sweets feature so prominently in children’s literature? When was sugar called a spice? And how did chocolate evolve from an ancient drink to a modern candy bar?

The Oxford Companion to Sugar and Sweets explores these questions and more through the collective knowledge of 265 expert contributors, from food historians to chemists, restaurateurs to cookbook writers, neuroscientists to pastry chefs. The Companion takes readers around the globe and throughout time, affording glimpses deep into the brain as well as stratospheric flights into the world of sugar-crafted fantasies. More than just a compendium of pastries, candies, ices, preserves, and confections, this reference work reveals how the human proclivity for sweet has brought richness to our language, our art, and, of course, our gastronomy. In nearly 600 entries, beginning with “à la mode” and ending with the Italian trifle known as “zuppa inglese,” the Companion traces sugar’s journey from a rare luxury to a ubiquitous commodity. In between, readers will learn about numerous sweeteners (as well-known as agave nectar and as obscure as castoreum, or beaver extract), the evolution of the dessert course, the production of chocolate, and the neurological, psychological, and cultural responses to sweetness. The Companion also delves into the darker side of sugar, from its ties to colonialism and slavery to its addictive qualities.

Celebrating sugar while acknowledging its complex history, The Oxford Companion to Sugar and Sweets is the definitive guide to one of humankind’s greatest sources of pleasure. Like kids in a candy shop, fans of sugar (and aren’t we all?) will enjoy perusing the wondrous variety to be found in this volume

Awards and Recognitions

  • James Beard Award Finalist
  • Honorable Mention, Association of American Publishers PROSE Awards
  • Library Journal‘s Best Print Reference 2015
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Praise for Sugar and Sweets

  • “OUP’s Companion is nothing less than 944 pages of sheer brilliance!”
    AGA Living magazine
  • “I’m not sure if I’m more excited learning about wasanbon (the most famous sugar used in traditional Japanese confectionery), or sitophilia (which describes sexual arousal involving food), but lurking between the candy-coated endpapers of The Oxford Companion to Sugar and Sweets, is something gratifying for everyone.”
    Rozanne Gold, The Huffington Post
  • “The Companion abounds with curious theories and facts. Who knew, for example, that the familiar plastic flying toy known as the frisbee was named after the American bakery manager William Russell Frisbie, whose popular flat pies were sold in tin plates with his name imprinted in bold letters on the base? Or that the expression “to eat humble pie” is related to “umble” pie – a poor man’s dish containing deer offal? Or that early lollipops, first manufactured in Canada at the end of the nineteenth century, were pieces of hard candy stuck on the end of a slate pencil “meant to keep school pupils’ hands clean”?”
    Times Literary Supplement


Sugar and Sweets in the Media

  • The Huffington Post: Sugar and Sweets | Read Here
  • Scientific American: Sugar Was a Spice and Not Always so Nice | Read Here
  • The Splendid Table Podcast: A look at the history of sugar from art and language to 3-D printing | Listen Here
  • The Berkshire Eagle: Darra Goldstein’s tome hits sweet spot | Read Here
  • Vassar Hub for Alumni: The Sweet Obsession of Darra Goldstein ’73 | Read Here
  • Chicago Tonight TV interview on The Oxford Companion to Sugar and Sweets | Watch Here
  • Heritage Radio: Sugar and Sweets Around the World | Listen Here
  • KCRW: A History of Sugar, from Child Labor to Cotton Candy | Listen Below