Jaggery Sugar: An Ancient Indian Sweetener

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Jaggery sugar is sugar in block form made from the juice of the sugarcane and sometimes from the sap of the date palm tree. It is consumed in Africa, parts of the Americas, and Asia. It is most widely used in India. While some sources claim that jaggery was brought to India by the Portuguese, it is more likely that it originated in the subcontinent. The Indian name for jaggery is gur and the Indian government claims that practitioners of Ayurvedic medicine have been using it for 3,000 years. However, the name jaggery actually comes from the Portuguese word jagara.

The Indian origin of jaggery sugar is more likely given the fact that India has been connected to the production of sugar for much of the time that sugar has existed. The sugarcane made its way to India from Polynesia before sugar made from it slowly spread through the rest of the world.

Among the sources that believe jaggery sugar to be Indian in origin, some state that it originated in the Eastern part of the country. Whenever and wherever it was first made, jaggery has been a major part of the Indian diet for a long time.

Today, jaggery sugar is still widely sold in India but no longer occupies the position that it once did. For a time, younger Indians were gravitating toward refined sugar. They viewed it to be a symbol of modernity. Jaggery sugar has been making something of a comeback among those who view it as being healthier than refined sugar. Jaggery sugar is not a very well-known or popular form of sugar outside of the areas where it is made.

Jaggery sugar flavor profile

Jaggery sugar is similar to the taste of other unrefined or less-refined sugars in that its aroma and flavor are evocative of caramel and butterscotch due to its molasses content. Its primary flavor is sweet as you might expect. Jaggery also has mild notes of fermentation mixed in with its molasses flavor.

Health benefits of jaggery sugar

As with the other types of raw (or raw-ish) sugar, jaggery is often touted as being healthier than refined sugar. While it is true that being less refined means that it does have more molasses and thus more of the nutrients that molasses contains, the reality is that it does not have that much molasses and molasses is not exactly jam-packed with nutrients. You will certainly get some trace minerals that you would not get from refined sugar, but those amounts are unlikely to provide much in the way of health enhancement. You would have to eat unfeasibly large servings to get nutritionally significant quantities of the minerals in jaggery sugar.

One clear nutritional benefit that jaggery shares with all sugars is its ability to provide energy. Sugar is easily broken down to provide the body with a potent but short-lived supply of calories that power cellular functions. This energy does come at a cost since excessive consumption of sugar can trigger insulin resistance and type 2 diabetes.

Common uses

Jaggery sugar can be used as an all-purpose sweetener like any other form of sugar. Crumble it for use in oatmeal or to take the place of brown sugar in any recipe. The traditional uses for it include til gur ladoo, an Indian dessert that involves combining jaggery sugar with sesame seeds. It is also used as a sweetener for kheer, an Indian rice pudding.

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