The manufacture of brown sugar bricks began in the 16th century on the Spanish-owned Canary Islands in the Atlantic Ocean. The product was exported to all of Spanish America in the 17th century during the period of great sugarcane expansion.
‘Rapadura’ comes from scrapings of the layers (crust) of sugar that were stuck to the walls of the cooking devices used in the manufacture of sugar. The resulting syrup was heated and placed into brick-like forms.
In Brazil, the rapadura factories existed from the 17th century, or possibly earlier. There are records of rapadura manufacture from 1633 in the region of Cariri, Ceará.
The rapadura factories were small and rudimentary. They were made up only of the mill, the factory, where the furnaces were kept, and the sugarcane plantations that, usually, shared the area with other types of subsistence farming.
The large factories also made rapadura, but not for commercial purposes. The product was used simply for local consumption.
The sugarcane used to manufacture rapadura in Brazil, until the 19th century, was the Creole variety. Later came the more pest-resistant Cayenne, with various other types appearing later, such as pink, ribbon, bamboo, carangola, cabocla, black, and others.
In the beginning, the mills were made of wood and powered by water (where there was an abundance of water) or animal power (horses and oxen). In the 19th century, iron mills appeared using the same types of power. Afterwards, the factories evolved to be driven by steam, diesel and finally electricity.
As it had a smaller market in comparison to sugar, production was of a regional nature without the need of sophistication required by the manufacturers of export-quality sugar. To this day, rapadura is produced in Brazil using rudimentary methods and techniques. There has been neither an introduction of innovations in the productive process nor a diversification of products. The large majority of factories continue to produce rapadura in packs of 400g to 500g which are sold in the regions near the areas of productions.
In Northeast Brazil, the active rapadura factories have mostly existed for many years. Rapadura’s production is seasonal, generally taking place from July to December, i.e. the dry season in the semi-arid regions. The States of Ceará, Pernambuco and Paraíba are the largest producers, while significant production exists in the States of Piauí, Alagoas and Bahia as well.
In Ceará, the leading production areas are Cariri and Serra do Ibiapaba. In Pernambuco, rapadura factories are concentrated in the semi-arid region, with the municipalities of Triunfo and Santa Cruz da Baixa Verde being the largest producers. In Paraíba, the two main centres are the regions of Brejo and Sertão.
According to Câmara Cascudo, rapadura was the sweet of poor children, simple men, and luxury of slaves, cangaceiros, cowboys and soldiers.
Rapadura is always on the dining tables of country folk. It is the sweetener for coffee, milk and yogurt. It is eaten with flour, mungunzá, sun-dried meat, paçoca, couscous and corn. No home in the countryside is without flour and rapadura.
Healers also used it as a sweetener for goats milk for “fracos-do-peito” (chest weaknesses), an early-morning tonic; mixed with crushed herbs and hot oil to cure ulcers and chilblains, as well as considering it a fortifier.
The consumption of rapadura continues in the Northeast, despite having to face competition from sugar and other sweeteners, especially in the semi-arid regions, though nowadays it is a declining market. In the region’s large port cities, rapadura is mainly sold at public markets and, to a lesser degree, in large supermarket chains. São Paulo has also become a consumer of note, due to migrants from the Northeast.
Rapadura has started to be introduced lately into the school lunches of several towns and cities, and in the food handouts given to families by the Government.
The consumption of rapadura is 1kg per inhabitant/year. The largest worldwide consumer is Colombia, with a level of 25kg per inhabitant/year, besides being the largest producer of rapadura in the Americas and second largest in the world after India.
Recife, 16 September 2003.
(Updated on 25 August 2009).
Translated by Peter Leamy, February 2011.
CASCUDO, Luís da Câmara. Rapadura. In: _____. Sociologia do açúcar: pesquisa e dedução. Rio de Janeiro: IAA. Serviço de Documentação, 1971. p. 121-132. (Coleção canavieira, n.5).
JAMBEIRO, Marusia de Brito. Engenhos de rapadura: racionalidade do tradicional numa sociedade em desenvolvimento. São Paulo: USP, Instituto de Estudos Brasileiros, 1973. 193 p.
LIMA, João Policarpo Rodrigues; CAVALCANTI, Célia M. Lira. Do engenho para o mundo? A produção de rapadura no Nordeste: características, perspectivas e indicação de políticas.Revista Econômica do Nordeste, Fortaleza, v. 32, n. 4, p. 950-974, out./dez. 2001.
RABELLO, Sylvio. Os pequenos engenhos de rapadura. In: REGIÃO, formação social e desenvolvimento – suas interrelações: o caso nordestino. Recife: IJNPS, 1974. p. 133-142.
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Source: GASPAR, Lúcia. Rapadura (Brown Sugar Brick) Factories.. Pesquisa Escolar On-Line, Joaquim Nabuco Foundation, Recife. Available at: <http://basilio.fundaj.gov.br/pesquisaescolar/>. Accessed: day month year. Exemple: 6 Aug. 2009.