Sugars are found in the tissues of most plants and are present in sugarcane and sugar beet in sufficient concentrations for efficient commercial extraction. In 2017–18, the world production of sugar was 185 million tonnes. The average person consumes about 24 kilograms (53 lb) of sugar each year (33.1 kg in developed countries), equivalent to over 260 food calories per person per day. Since the latter part of the twentieth century, it has been questioned whether a diet high in sugars, especially refined sugars, is good for human health. Over-consumption of sugar has been implicated in the occurrence of obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, dementia, and tooth decay. Numerous studies have been undertaken to try to clarify the position, but with varying results, mainly because of the difficulty of finding populations for use as controls that do not consume or are largely free of any sugar consumption.
The etymology reflects the spread of the commodity. From Sanskrit शर्करा (śarkarā), meaning "ground or candied sugar," originally "grit, gravel", came Persian shakar, whence Arabic سكر (sukkar), whence Medieval Latin succarum, whence 12th-century French sucre, whence the English word sugar. Italian zucchero, Spanish azúcar, and Portuguese açúcar came directly from Arabic, the Spanish and Portuguese words retaining the Arabic definite article. The earliest Greek word attested is σάκχαρις (sákkʰaris).
The English word jaggery, a coarse brown sugar made from date palm sap or sugarcane juice, has a similar etymological origin: Portuguese jágara from the Malayalam ചക്കരാ (cakkarā), which is itself from the Sanskrit शर्करा (śarkarā).
Sugar has been produced in the Indian subcontinent since ancient times and spread from there into modern-day Afghanistan through the Khyber Pass. It was not plentiful or cheap in early times and honey was more often used for sweetening in most parts of the world. Originally, people chewed raw sugarcane to extract its sweetness. Sugarcane was a native of tropical South Asia and Southeast Asia. Different species seem to have originated from different locations with Saccharum barberi originating in India and S. edule and S. officinarum coming from New Guinea. One of the earliest historical references to sugarcane is in Chinese manuscripts dating back to 8th century BC that state that the use of sugarcane originated in India.
In the tradition of Indian medicine (āyurveda), the sugarcane is known by the name Ikṣu and the sugarcane juice is known as Phāṇita. Its varieties, synonyms and characterics are defined in nighaṇṭus such as the Bhāvaprakāśa (1.6.23, group of sugarcanes).