Jaggery has been used in India since Vedic times. In the oldest Ayurvedic health treaty called the Charaka Samhita, jaggery is said to 'produce plenty of marrow, blood and muscle.
This natural sweetener is popularly used in different types of sweet and savoury dishes across the country and is gaining popularity in the Western world. But what exactly is jaggery? And is it a healthier alternative to sugar?
What is Jaggery?
Jaggery, also known as gul, gur, bellam, vellam or guda. It is unrefined brown sugar obtained from various plant sources. It is also called non-centrifugal sugar because it is not centrifuged to remove the molasses.
This non-centrifugal sugar is popularly consumed in India, Columbia, Brazil, Costa Rica, Indonesia, Philippines, Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore and Japan, which goes by different names. About 55% of the world's jaggery production takes place in India.
How is it made?
Extraction: The extraction process differs depending on the type of jaggery. For sugarcane jaggery, the juice is extracted by crushing sugar canes. For coconut and palymira palm jaggery, a wound is made at the tip of the inflorescence, and the sap is tapped from there. For date palm jaggery, an insertion is made in the tree bark, and a clay pot or collecting vessel is tied underneath the insertion point to collect the sap that oozes out.
Filtration: The aqueous extract is strained into a large flat vessel.
Concentration: The extract is boiled and churned continuously in a large flat iron vessel, and the impurities that arise to the top are skimmed off. The process is complete once it obtains a honey-like consistency.
Cooling: The viscous liquid is transferred into moulds, where it is left to cool. Palm jaggery is traditionally cooled in clean coconut shells and looks like a dome-shaped mound.
Types of jaggery
There are three main types of jaggeries:
The most popular jaggery in Indian cuisine is made from sugarcane. Jaggery is made by crushing sugarcane to extract the juice, filtering and boiling the concentrated juice, and then freezing and hardening the liquid to create jaggery blocks. The form in which it is most frequently consumed is crystallised. Based on the juice extracted, sugarcane jaggery has a sweet flavour with a hint of salt.
Unfermented coconut sap is used to make coconut jaggery, which is then drained, heated, crystallised, and put into different moulds. Due to the environment's freezing effect, this semisolid jaggery gradually turns into a crystallised hard mass. Among many people, Coconut jaggery and coconut jaggery powder is more widely consumed than sugarcane jaggery. It is one of the several jaggery varieties frequently used in Southern Indian cuisine.
The flavour of palm jaggery referred to as Khajoor Gur, is somewhat comparable to that of chocolate. Compared to refined sugar, palm jaggery retains all its nutrients even after being processed. It is abundant in minerals like potassium, phosphorus, magnesium, and iron. Date palm sap is extracted, boiled, and manually churned to produce this jaggery.
Jaggery powder benefits are uncountable, but we have listed a few important ones below.
- Boosts energy levels: Jaggery delivers progressive energy that lasts longer than sugar, which only offers a temporary energy boost. This is because it is unprocessed, which ensures that blood sugar levels aren't immediately altered but rise gradually. This in turn, can assist in avoiding tiredness.
- Relieves menstrual cramps: An all-natural treatment for menstrual cramp pain is jaggery. Endorphins, a pleasant hormone released when jaggery is consumed, help reduce PMS symptoms like mood swings, impatience, food cravings, and many more. Consuming jaggery regularly may also help control erratic menstrual cycles.
- Controls blood pressure: Jaggery's potassium and sodium content aid in preserving the body's acid balance. In turn, this keeps blood pressure levels within acceptable ranges. Blood vessel dilation caused by jaggery stabilises blood pressure and allows for smooth blood flow.
- Detoxifies the Liver: Jaggery is a natural cleanser that is particularly beneficial for the liver. The natural sweetener aids in eliminating dangerous poisons from the body. This aids liver detoxification even further. As a result, jaggery consumption is advised for persons with liver disorders.
- Boosts immunity: Jaggery is a rich source of antioxidants and minerals, including zinc and selenium, reducing the risk of free radical damage and increasing infection resistance. Jaggery also aids in raising the blood's overall haemoglobin concentration.
- Prevents Anemia: Jaggery is high in iron and folate, which help to prevent anaemia by ensuring a normal level of red blood cells in the body. Pregnant ladies will especially benefit from this. It makes sure that the number of red blood cells is kept at a normal level.
- For Weight Loss: Jaggery is an excellent potassium source that balances electrolytes, speeds metabolism, and helps develop muscles. Additionally, potassium can aid in lowering bodily water retention, significantly contributing to weight loss.
Uses of Jaggery for Cooking
There are multiple uses of jaggery in Indian cooking, especially sweet dishes like ladoos, kheer, sweet roti, halwa, modak, and many more. Jaggery can be used in many similar ways to how sugar is used, such as in baking, cooking, seasoning, and sweetening dishes and beverages. Jaggery and tamarind pulp are mixed to create candies in Myanmar. Vitamin C and antioxidants can be found in abundance in jaggery. These health advantages have made it a staple of Ayurvedic treatment, where it may be found in tinctures and is suggested as a meal to balance particular doshas.
Tips to cook with Jaggery
- Colour: The sugar product has a rich brown to dark brown colour that will impart the colour to the food it is added to. Therefore, it is best used to make things like chocolate or plum cakes than, say, a vanilla cake.
- Acidity: Jaggery has a slightly acidic pH of approximately 5.5. If you are using it to sweeten hot beverages containing milk or plant milk, turn the heat source off before adding jaggery to prevent curdling.
- Different types of jaggeries taste different: Jaggeries taste different depending on their source. Care needs to be taken to use the type of jaggery better suited to the recipe.
- Substituting jaggery for sugar: You can substitute sugar with jaggery in a 1:1 ratio.
- Baking with jaggery: Use natural jaggery powder and sift it with dry ingredients to prevent lumps. Alternatively, you can dissolve it in wet ingredients like milk or buttermilk.
- Jaggery as caramel: Jaggery, especially cane jaggery, tastes like caramel. Hence, you can use it to impart the flavour of caramel. You can also use natural granular jaggery as a garnish for cakes, cupcakes, ice cream and yoghurt.