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Ukraine's Sugar High

These days any self-respecting Ukrainian matriarch is up to her ears in canning, pickling, jam, and conserve making. This is the height of the harvest and all its bounty must be preserved in brine, sugar, alcohol, and what not for the winter. All of this requires copious quantities of sugar.

As if to make the already not particularly easy life of the average Ukrainian woman even more difficult, the price of sugar has skyrocketed. And not only in Ukraine, around the world the price of sugar has reached a 28-year high.

Ukraine produces its own sugar from the bounty of vast sugar beet fields. This spring the price of a kilogram of the sweet stuff was 4.50 hryvni (about 50 cents), today it has nearly doubled. Why?

Speculators, says Ukrainian Prime Minister Yuliya Tymoshenko and promises to take steps to stabilize the price.

Don’t panic, echoes the economy minister, “We’ve got 735 tons of sugar in reserves.” That’s all fine and good but considering that Ukrainians on average consume 150-160,000 tons per month, those reserves may not last for very long.

Where does all this sugar go, one may well ask. Well Ukrainians do have a sweet tooth. I’ve never seen anyone drink a cup of tea without at least four sugar cubes.

I would also venture to say that the age-old tradition of samohon, i.e. moonshine, takes its share of the sweet stuff. To make home brew that is 40 percent pure, an enterprising distiller will use anywhere from 150-200 kilograms of sugar per month, while even the most enterprising homemaker will need an average of 50 kilograms for three months of canning, pickling, and jam making.

Speculators? I don’t think so. Ukraine on average consumes 2 million tons of sugar per year while producing only 1.5. If the bulk of sugar goes for moonshine, it’s no wonder that Ukrainian Betty Crockers have to pay more to make their marmalade.

-- Irene Chalupa

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