ALL ABOUT JAGGERY
When I’m in the mood for a little sweetness or need to keep my Vata in check, there are a few natural sweeteners I favour — maple syrup, raw honey, dried fruit — but nothing floats my boat like the deep colour, texture and flavour of jaggery. Whether you’ve heard of it or not, you may not know exactly why I (and Ayurveda) love it so much, so I’ve made you a little guide to this most superior of sugars.
WHAT IS JAGGERY?
Jaggery is a traditional sweetener from South Asia, made from raw, unrefined sugar cane juice or palm tree sap, cooked down without separation of the molasses and crystals into a concentrated treacle — just like maple syrup from maple sap — and then set in moulds. Unlike the more liquid maple syrup, jaggery comes in blocks of all shapes, textures (some very rough and harder to cut, some that start going gooey as you slice) and colours, from a very light gold (which usually tastes fruity, with honey tones) to a dark brown, which has a stronger flavour (molasses taste and caramel tones). It is a less processed version of demerara and brown sugar, so has more nutrients than these powdered or granulated sugars. Just like all unrefined products from nature, the colour, taste etc. vary from batch to batch, from year to year.
In India you can get jaggery that’s so rich with molasses it appears almost black. I’ve seen it shifted from the back of carts in huge wheels. One local man told me that when he was growing up teeth cavities and diabetes were not a problem when all they knew was this type of sugar.
Latin Americans use something similar called rapadura in Portuguese or panela in Spanish, and in Thailand, it’s palm sugar (if it is from the palm tree!). Like jaggery this variant is found in caramel-coloured blocks, fudgy pots or wrapped in banana leaves.
WHERE CAN I FIND IT?
More and more larger supermarkets are carrying blocks of jaggery, and it is always available from Asian shops, as well as Hispanic markets (where it will be labeled as “piloncillo”). Avoid the granulated kind you might find in health food shops, as it has been refined and rid the jaggery of some of its benefits, not to mention is more expensive. Check out the shop for ideas.
WHAT’S THE HYPE?
Jaggery contains more nutrients than many other sweeteners and brings plenty of medicinal properties to the table. Not only is it great for pacifying Vata, it also aids digestion, helps flush out toxins, build immunity and even lessen period pains! It contains lots of antioxidants, zinc, selenium, potassium, magnesium, iron and more vital nutrients, making it much more beneficial than white sugar. For a whole food sweetener it’s also much cheaper than raw honey, maple and most dried fruit so it’s economical to use as your everyday sweetener too. That said, as jaggery is still a form of sugar, it should be consumed in moderation and only to bring a bit of sweetness when needed. Kapha types should avoid eating too many sweet foods in general, and may be better off using raw honey for added sweetness instead.
HOW DO I USE IT?
Many of my recipes call for jaggery, as it works really well for baking. That’s because it doesn’t add moisture like maple syrup and doesn’t lose too many nutrients when heated like raw honey does — plus cooking or heating raw honey is not recommended in Ayurveda. As for storage, you can keep your block in a jar to grate as needed, or you can leave it on a chopping board with a bowl over it for quick access! As with all food products, use a clean knife each time for hygiene (no licking the block when nobody's looking!) and keep it away from sunlight or heat, which can deteriorate it. I usually stash mine in the fridge when it’s warm in the house. Try the following recipes to experiment with this beautiful sweetener:
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