Places to visit

Sugar-beet farming & sweets

The importance of sugar products in this region owes a lot to Napoleon. In the eighteenth century England had seized most of the West Indies islands, and had a lucrative trade bring cane sugar across the Atlantic - and re-exporting it to the Continent.

Sugar smuggling
During the long wars between England and France after the French Revolution, Napoleon tried to crush England by ruining its trade and industries - a policy called the "Continental Blockade".

The French Navy tried to sink English merchant ships, and there were heavy fines for smugglers.


The sugar beet plant - was originally grown to feed the leaves to cattle. Prussian scientists discovered how to extract sugar from the beet root.

The state built new factories to extract the sugar - so a new industry was born.

An important crop
Today more sugar is made from beet than cane. It is an important crop in Europe, especially around Cambrai. In north France, you can often smell sugar beet processing plants working flat out in the autumn.

In recent years, craft producers have revived popular 19th century confectionery favourites. Many towns have a speciality sweet, that is sold to tourists as a souvenir.


Sugar from beet
As part of this policy, the French state ordered farmers to grow sugar beet. In 1802 a Prussian scientist had discovered how to make sugar from this root vegetable. The fertile soils of the former marshes in the Flanders area of France and Belgium were particularly suitable for growing beet. Belgium was then part of Napoleon's French Empire.

Huge fortunes were made growing sugar in the West Indies and shipping it to Europe - Napoleon hoped to cripple Britain by developing an alternative supply.
1. Slaves plant cane on a plantation; the windmill crushes the cane, and the fort on the hill guards the slaves who outnumber owners. French planters had slaves too, in Haiti and Guadeloupe.
2. Shipping sugar and barrels of molasses to England. The ships would return via Africa with more slaves.


Places to visit:
Les Chocolats de Beussant - small workshop hand-making a regional speciality.
BECASUC - make your own sweets, in Boulogne
Bêtises de Cambrai - factory making famous minty sweets
Gayantines of Douai - local sweets and chocolate

Related background information
Chocolate - brought to Eurpoe by Spain
History of Flanders

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