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What is Jaggery

Jaggery, also known as gur, is a popular type of sugar. It is made across the lands of India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Sri Lanka. Over the ages jaggery has been produced from sugar cane and date palms.  In recent years, oriental countries such as Malaysia and the Philippines have been manufacturing jaggery from coconut sap and sago palms.

Nowadays jaggery is produced in mechanical plants. Nevertheless, it mostly continues to be manually prepared within rural areas. Furthermore, the majority of the world’s jaggery is made by hand in India.

In essence, jaggery is an unrefined sugar. It results from the boiling of raw sugar cane or palm juice. This usually takes place in iron pans known as kadnai. The boiling process takes hours because most of the water must evaporate. The liquid needs to be continuously stirred to prevent it from sticking to the base of the kadnai. For this reason the preparation of a batch of jaggery is likely to involve more than one family member. 

Cooking ceases with the formation of a thick paste, and although the process may seem simple, it is far from it. The preparation of jaggery has been handed down through the generations. It needs to be learned well, because if cooking is not stopped at the right time, the flavor is impaired.

When it has set, the jaggery is cut into blocks. No other technique takes place, therefore it retains nutrients. Of all the sugar types, jaggery is probably the healthiest option. Although the boiling process does destroy some nutrients, the molasses are not separated and it is this which accounts for the health benefits.

Unlike refined sugar, jaggery does not give an immediate boost in blood sugar concentrations. The sugar levels tend to rise far less rapidly and over a longer period. Nevertheless, jaggery is still a sugar, and for this reason it is not suitable for those with diabetes.

A variety of shades pertain to jaggery, ranging from golden to deep brown. In general the darker the color the stronger the flavor, and as with all recipes different folk prefer assorted tastes. It is however known that the darker the jaggery the higher the mineral content, in particular that of iron.

Even though it is mostly used in confectionery and desserts, a pinch of jaggery is sometimes added to savory dishes. Furthermore, jaggery is frequently cut into slices and eaten alone. Although it is mostly consumed in India and the surrounding countries, jaggery can be found in parts of Africa, Latin America, and the Caribbean where it is sometimes used as an ingredient in rum.

Recipes that include jaggery are widely available online. Nevertheless it is unfortunate that the jaggery which is made in the orient is hardly ever available in the west.  In the United States the traditional type is hard to come by, although it can sometimes be found in Indian grocery stores. In any case, the absence of jaggery should not deter the creative cook because brown sugar may be used as a substitute.

Within the ancient Indian ayurvedic medicine, jaggery has long been prescribed for the relief of sore throats, and to assist in the treatment of bronchial infections. It is considered to be a powerful antioxidant, and is taken to strengthen the nervous system, relax the muscles and relieve fatigue.

The health tonic known as chyawanprash contains jaggery. In fact, throughout India this type of sugar is frequently included in the ingredients of local cough and cold remedies. Furthermore Indian people swear by it as a lung and respiratory tract cleanser. Those who experience large quantities of dust on a daily basis think of jaggery as a godsend.

Jaggery can be found at almost all religious gatherings throughout India. In the south it is included into the dish known as pongal. Incidentally, the name pongal applies to both the celebration and the recipe, and the fare is offered up to the gods during the festival. 

Throughout India, jaggery is far more than a food and a medicine. It serves a variety of spiritual purposes. It is thought to bring blessings. For this reason jaggery is frequently eaten at weddings, and prior to new endeavors and important journeys.

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