The manufacture of sugar from sugar-cane juice is an industrial process that involves a cocktail of chemicals. Sulphur dioxide, lime, phosphoric acid, formic acid, bleaching agents and viscosity reducers are just a few of these. Moreover, as the processing of sugar is carried out in equipment and containers made out of mild-steel, it often leads to a high dosage of nickel in the mother liquor.
In contrast to this, Jaggery is a "natural" sweetener made by the concentration of the same sugar-cane juice, but without the use of any chemicals or synthetic additives or preservatives. Jaggery is also sometimes made from the sap of the date palm, and nowadays the sago palm and coconut palm are tapped as well, for producing jaggery in southern India and Sri Lanka. The benefits of Jaggery (all flavours) include its ability to cleanse, detoxify and decontaminate your body, act as a digestive agent, sweeten your food in a healthy manner, and provide good amounts of minerals, as it contains a wealth of minerals/protein/vitamins within it.
More importantly, Jaggery has great nutritive and medicinal Value. It has for long been used as a medicinal sugar in the Ayurvedic and Sidda systems of medicine. Ancient Medical scriptures dating back to 2500 years state how Jaggery:
"purifies the blood, prevents rheumatic afflictions and disorders of bile, and possesses nutritive properties of high order." ... (Sushruta Samhita, Chapter 45, Sloka 146).
Indigenous Indian medicine has for long known what western medical science is learning today: that Jaggery could enhance the translocation of dust and coal particles from the lungs to tracheobronchial lymph nodes. And so it is no wonder that Jaggery is regularly consumed in India as a home remedy by thousands of industrial workers, traffic policemen and their like, who are exposed to high levels of pollution, as it does help them breathe easier and counter pollution naturally. Considering all this, it is well worth replacing (at least partially if not completely) the white sugar in our diets with Jaggery. Here are some health facts about Jaggery that all of us ought to know about:
Jaggery has high concentrations of proteins, minerals and vitamins, which are all essential constituents for the body. It is also a potent source of Iron, and has higher iron and copper content than crystalline white sugar. It is considered a most superior product among all natural sweeteners, it is an energy food that can "purify" the blood, regulate liver function, and overall keep the body healthy.
Jaggery is quite easy to find, but it would be best to buy from a reputed supplier. Most speciality and organic stores, especially the south Asian grocery kinds, stock it. The jaggery should appear clean, and possess a unique sweet smell. If it is too dry and fine with a polished golden colour, avoid it, as it is likely that is has been treated with some chemicals. So prefer the slightly stickier, darker coloured Jaggery. Here are some recipes that include Jaggery to start you off on a culinary journey to discover its goodness right in the kitchen of your home:
Paanagam – A Lemon, Ginger, Cardamom & Jaggery Flavoured Cool Drink: In South India, this drink is called “Paanagam.” It is used as an offering to the gods during festivals and religious rituals. It is so delicious that one sip is enough for you to understand why it is fit for divinity.
Ingredients: 1 cup powdered Jaggery, 4 cups water, 3 to 4 pods powdered cardamom, 2 tsp grated dried ginger, the juice of 1/2 a lime, mint leaves for garnishing.
Directions: In the 4 cups of water, dissolve the Jaggery powder and let it stand for a couple of minutes until the impurities settle down. Use a strainer to strain the solution, add cardamom, dried ginger and the lime juice, and stir. Taste it and adjust quantities of ingredients based on just how you like your beverage. Transfer to the fridge for about 20 minutes so that it is chilled. Pour into glasses, garnish with mint leaves and serve!
Rasam – A Hot Light Lemon Soup with Jaggery: Soups are comfort foods, and are rated among the most wholesome comfort foods in almost all culinary cultures. This lemon soup is magnificently light and is a perfect blend of the sour, the sweet and the spicy.
Ingredients: 2 cups water, 1 tsp salt, 2 tsp crushed Jaggery, 1 fresh green chilli split into two, 1 lime.
For Tempering: ½ tsp oil, ¼ tsp black mustard seeds, 1 sprig curry leaves.
Directions: Take a large pot, add the water, the Jaggery, the salt and split chilli, and bring to a boil. If you'd like to cut down the spice in the soup, you may de-seed the chilli. Once the decoction comes to a boil, taste for seasoning and make necessary adjustments according to palate. Turn off the heat and squeeze lime juice into the soup. In another pan, heat some oil and add mustard seeds when the oil starts to smoke. As mustards start sputtering, add fresh curry leaves and turn off the heat. Blend using a spoon for a few seconds and pour it over the soup. Serve hot.
Pacchadi - A Green Mango Salad with Lemon Jaggery Dressing: This is a refreshingly tangy salad that is a great way to whet the palate before a traditional south Indian meal.
Ingredients: 2 or 3 peeled green mangos, 2 tbsp finely chopped fresh coriander, ½ peeled and finely chopped red onion, 1 red chilli.
For the lemon-Jaggery dressing: Half small cup grated Jaggery, Juice of 1 lime, ½ tsp kalonji seeds, a pinch of sea salt.
Directions: Shave ribbons of the mangoes with a potato peeler Into a bowl. Add the onion, coriander, chilli and toss. In a pan, heat the kalonji seeds until fragrant. Add lime juice, Jaggery, salt and whisk until heated. Cool the dressing and drizzle on the salad. Serve as accompaniment.
Dessert - Jaggery And Chocolate Fudge:
Desserts are the crowning glory of any meal, and this jaggery and chocolate fudge recipe is sure to be spot-on as a hit.
Ingredients: 1 cup Jaggery, 1 cup grated dark chocolate, 1 cup crushed cashewnuts & almonds, 1 tbsp white unsalted butter.
Directions: Use butter to grease an aluminium tray. In a double boiler, melt the jaggery, add butter and mix well. When everything is melted, add the chocolate and the crushed nuts and stir until well blended. Transfer the mixture onto the aluminium tray and spread out. Allow it to cool to room temperature for about 15-20 minutes. Transfer to the refrigerator for 5 minutes. Cut into bite sized pieces and serve.