The first probable extraction of sugar from sugarcane was in 8000 AD, by the indigenous people of Papua New Guinea – they used to chew it raw.
But the first sugar art took place during the Ming dynasty of China, between the 1300s and 1600s. The Chinese used a new technique known as sugar painting, using hot liquid sugar to create 2D objects. Aristocratic families molded small sugar animals for religious rituals – the art form grew in popularity and complexity as confectioners used new tools and techniques to perfect the art. Even today, it is considered a folk art form that the Chinese government has classified as “provincial intangible cultural heritage”.
In the West, when sugar was first imported from the Middle East, people first used it as a spice, preservative, or for medicinal purposes like stomach ailments and treating wounds. It wasn’t until raw sugar was refined that it became a coveted sweetener.
During the Renaissance, sugar creations adorned the banquet halls and tables of Europe’s wealthiest patrons. Confectioners, who were considered as talented as more traditional artists, created, squeezed, squeezed, and twirled sucrose into beautiful imitations of Greek palaces, English cathedrals, and even mythical figures like Venus and Hercules.
According to the US-based Getty Museum, the edible art of confectioners is sometimes so grand and theatrical that it would be considered installation art. And in other cases, pieces of sugar art that served as salad dressing were handed out to guests at banquets, who devoured them after they returned home.
In one example, when Henry III of France visited the Palazzo Ducale in Venice in 1574, a banquet was held for him, where the sugar sculptures were unlike anything anyone had ever seen – they were of bright white and looked like marble sculptures.