What is jaggery; how is it best used; and why is it good for you?
Jaggery is a kind of unrefined sugar. Raw, concentrated sugarcane juice is boiled until it becomes solid and can be formed into blocks. It has the slight bitterness of molasses and the richness of caramel.
Types of jaggery
There are four other kinds not made from sugar cane but they are unusual. One, Nolen Gur (found in Bengal – ‘nolen’ means new and ‘gur’ is the word for jaggery), is made from date palm sap; and a second type is made from coconut sap. In Sri Lanka they make a kind of liquid jaggery, or treacle, from the sap of the kithul (aka jaggery palm) tree. In Myanmar they make jaggery out of the sap of the local toddy palm.
Where jaggery is most commonly found
It is used commonly throughout India, Afganistan, Iran and south-west Asia (in Hindi it’s known as Gur).
Potential health benefits
All kinds of health benefits are claimed for jaggery, from curing constipation to reducing blood pressure and everything in between; certainly it contains useful vitamins and minerals not present in refined sugar. In Ayurvedic medicine it’s used to treat respiratory conditions. If eaten during the winter months, when the sugarcane is harvested, and it is fresh it’s claimed that eating it provides a boost to the immune system. Jaggery can be preserved into the summer but it needs to be frozen.
However, there are probably other things which are more efficient at that (see my hot toddy post), so the important question about jaggery is really how to use it to best advantage in cooking.
The darker the better
The first important thing to note is that the darker it is the richer and deeper the flavour.
What you can substitute for jaggery if you can’t find any
It’s widely available – on Amazon, or in Asian shops. But if you can’t find it you can substitute molasses (which is a by-product of the process of making jaggery).
Here are some ideas for what to do with it – it’s useful in both savoury and sweet dishes:
- Grate it over ice cream, or make it into a syrup for ice cream
- Make Rasgulla – soft, melt-in-the-mouth cottage cheese balls with silky smooth brown jaggery syrup
- Joymalya Banerjee presents his prawn and crabmeat dumplings in a date palm jaggery reduced syrup
- Make Ratna’s sweet and sour aubergines
- It’s often used in dahl – a sort of thick lentil broth
- You can use it to counteract the heat of very hot and spicy food