Sweet goodness - Jaggery

by Sanjeev Kapoor

Reading through history I found that jaggery and sugar are India’s gifts to the world! There are so many things that our country has given to the gourmet world. That makes me proud indeed. 

Jaggery or gur is a specific type of sugar popular in India. It is normally manufactured from either sugar cane or date palms, but recent trends in its manufacture have resulted in jaggery made from the sap of coconut and sago palms. While jaggery is useful in cooking, it is also an ancient part of Ayurvedic medicine and has spiritual significance in India too.

Jaggery, sugar and their origins

History also has it that India pioneered the technique of sugar making thousands of years ago. 

Apparently it was the first ‘spice’ to be exported from India. Throughout India jaggery continues to be used extensively in cooking. 

What is jaggery and how it is made 

Jaggery is unrefined sugar, which is widely used in Asia, Africa, Latin American and also the Caribbean countries. It is made from concentrated sugarcane juice, but here the molasses are not separated which is done in the case of sugar. There are two types of jaggery available – one that is made from sugarcane and the other one is made from Palmyra palm tree.

For making jaggery, sugarcane sap from palm trees is boiled for hours and then the concentrated liquid is poured into moulds to dry and set. These moulds come in different shape which is why the jaggery available in the market comes as cylinders, round balls, cones and half spheres. Then again their colour, ranging from pale gold to deep brown, will depend on the level of sweetness. My mother and others of her generation prefer the darker variety, saying that it is the purer form, well cured and therefore, has a better flavour and is sweeter. 

How to store jaggery

Jaggery stores well as long as it is stored in an airtight container in a cool and dry place. Break the jaggery into smaller pieces and store, so that whenever you need to use it, you need to handle just the amount that you need. 

The difference between jaggery and sugar

Though both are made from the same source, there is a lot of difference in their properties and benefits.

The first difference is the colour. Sugar is white in colour, whereas the colour of jaggery can range from golden-yellow to golden brown to dark brown. The colour is often dependent on two factors, namely the base ingredient used to make jaggery, and up to what extent it is cooked. 

The texture of sugar and jaggery differ – while sugar crystals are solid and hard, jaggery is semi solid, soft and shapeless. This is because the molasses and other impurities are not removed from it.

Most importantly the two are processed differently. Though for both initially the sugarcane juice is boiled, to make sugar the syrup it is further treated to remove unwanted particles as a result of which the end product got after condensation and crystallization is white. But in the case of jaggery, the sugar syrup is not treated, neither does it undergo crystallization process. Instead the sugarcane juice is boiled continuously till it thickens and forms a paste which is then poured into moulds or blocks and allowed to set. 

Their chemical composition is different too – while sugar is made only of sucrose, jaggery is made up of predominantly sucrose, mineral salts, iron and some fibre. This is why jaggery is considered healthier of the two and also recommended to those suffering from iron deficiency anaemia.

Influence on human body

The difference between sugar and jaggery is carried forward to their influence on the human body. Sugar which is the simplest form of sucrose, is absorbed almost immediately into the blood resulting in instant energy. This is why people with diabetes should stay away from sugar. Jaggery on the other hand, is made up of longer chains of sucrose, resulting in it being digested slowly and energy being released slowly. This energy lasts longer and is not harmful. Then again since jaggery is processed in iron vessels, it is also rich source of iron. It acts as a cleansing agent and cleans the lungs, stomach, intestines, oesophagus and respiratory tracts. Thus you can see that jaggery is better than sugar as it contains iron, minerals, vitamins and sucrose. But a word of caution for the diabetics and that is though it is better than sugar it should be consumed in moderation. 

Medicinal properties

•The minerals present in jaggery strengthen the nervous system and relaxes the muscles. 

•The selenium present in jaggery acts as an antioxidant whereas the presence of potassium and sodium helps to maintain the acid balance in the body cells and also to control the blood pressure. 

•Jaggery is also helpful in curing migraine and also easing cramps during menstrual periods. 

•It is generally given to new mothers soon after delivery because it helps remove all the blood clots within forty days after the birth of a baby. 

•It consists of moderate amount of calcium, phosphorous and zinc and therefore helps to purify the blood, prevent rheumatic afflictions and treat bile disorder. It is also helpful to cure jaundice. 

Culinary uses

Jaggery is used extensively in both sweet and savoury dishes across India and Sri Lanka. It is added to curries and dals in the southern states of India. A dash of jaggery when added vegetables like bitter gourd and brinjal reduces their bitterness to a great extent. The Gujaratis use it to enhance the taste in a lot of their dishes. Jaggery is also used in the preparation of toffees and some cakes. 

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MasterChef Sanjeev Kapoor

Chef Sanjeev Kapoor is the most celebrated face of Indian cuisine. He is Chef extraordinaire, runs a successful TV Channel FoodFood, hosted Khana Khazana cookery show on television for more than 17 years, author of 150+ best selling cookbooks, restaurateur and winner of several culinary awards. He is living his dream of making Indian cuisine the number one in the world and empowering women through power of cooking to become self sufficient. His recipe portal www.sanjeevkapoor.com is a complete cookery manual with a compendium of more than 10,000 tried & tested recipes, videos, articles, tips & trivia and a wealth of information on the art and craft of cooking in both English and Hindi.