Throughout history, when food is scarce or expensive, people find creative ways to extend a food item, often by mixing it with something cheap to make it last longer. Sometimes merchants do the same.
For example, during the Great Depression, meatloaf was a common meal that could stretch a food budget by adding cereal grains or bread crumbs to meat to make it feed more people with less meat. (I personally dislike meatloaf – it resembles dog food and reminds me of the hamburgers served at fast food joints in Manila during my childhood.) My friend Bill Taylor grew up in the African bush; his father was a missionary doctor. He tells how his dad would test the milk sold by the locals to check the percentage of cow urine, and would refuse to buy it if it was too high, like more than 20%. The first time Bill drank milk with no urine, he was shocked by the taste. I don’t know which he preferred.
We don’t have anything quite that severe here (that I know of), but last week I discovered first hand one of the ways they try to extend an item. It’s mixing sand with sugar. At the market they sell sugar in small thin hand-tied plastic bags. There is a slight difference in some of the sugar – one is a light color and finer than the slightly darker, coarser sugar. Cher had been warned when she first moved here to buy the darker sugar, so she did. But we ran out, so when Jon and I went for a walk, we bought more sugar and didn’t know about the light versus dark problem. We bought light.
I sometimes don’t believe the stories I hear from the missionaries because often I think they are passed from one to the next with no one testing their validity. But this time the warning was true. I made three loaves of cinnamon/raisin bread, and my, my, my. That bread was crunchy and grainy. Like eating bread with sand in it. Not nice at all.
So we’re back to the dark, coarse sugar and using the other for tea or coffee because the sand can sink to the bottom.