I associated sugar cane so closely with the West Indies it was a source of amazement to me that the plant was not indigenous to the New World. It is supposed to have originated in the Asian Pacific and was introduced to India, from where it moved westward to Europe. The Romans and Greeks (Seneca and Erathosthenes) mention sugar cane in their writing. Although the plant was known, it is the Arabs who get the blame for the spread of sugar production in Southern Europe and the Crusaders get the blame for its introduction to Northern Europe. Columbus stopped by the Canary Islands(1493), which was known for its plantations, and brought some plants with him to the New World.
He was amazed at how well and quickly the plant established itself in the West Indies. This is always a bad sign for the environment; as an invasive exotic, it pushed out many of the native species. It was bad for humans too and not just for being a source of empty calories and ruining teeth. The trade in sugar was lucrative but production was labor intensive and expensive so the slave trade sprung up.
The main source of sweetener for most of Europe through the Middle Ages was honey.
For more reading, there is Redpath: The History of a Sugar House by Richard Feltoe, which I referred to for this post, but there is also Noel Deerr's History of Sugar, which appears to be 'the' book on the history of sugar. I suspect there is a lot of sad things that make us humans look bad in that history.