Sugar and jaggery are both sweet and can be made from sugarcane juice or palm sap. As a result, they are sometimes interchangeable but not always. Let’s compare them in the SPICEography Showdown below.
How does sugar differ from jaggery?
One key difference between sugar and jaggery has to do with how they are processed. Both can be made by boiling sugarcane juice, but to make sugar, the juice is clarified with charcoal. The charcoal removes the particles responsible for color and gives the liquid (and the sugar made with it) a clear look. Jaggery is never clarified. Because it doesn’t require refining, anyone with access to sugarcane juice or palm sap can make it.
The result of the different processes is that sugar and jaggery have different appearances. Sugar is often white, while jaggery is always a shade of brown. Jaggery can be a pale or golden brown ranging to a dark brown.
The textures are different, as well. White sugar consists of hard, free-flowing crystals while jaggery is soft but solid and is often molded to give it a specific shape. Sugar is easy to use. Just measure out the amount you need and add it. Jaggery has to be broken down before use. You will need to grind, grate, or chip a cake of jaggery to get it into a usable form.
Sugar is processed to be primarily sweet. While some forms of sugar contain small amounts of molasses and have a mild caramel or toffee flavor, the most common type of sugar is simply sweet. It has no other flavors aside from that of sucrose. Because jaggery has been minimally processed, it contains a complex flavor profile with strong molasses and caramel notes.
Can you use sugar as a substitute for jaggery and vice versa?
Some forms of sugar can stand in for jaggery in a pinch but are not ideal. Both light and brown sugar have some of jaggery’s qualities and may actually be easier to use since you won’t have to grind them before adding them to the dish; however, they won’t have the same kind of butterscotch richness that you would get from jaggery. White sugar is not a good jaggery alternative since it won’t provide any of the same flavor notes aside from sweetness.
Jaggery can stand in for brown sugar in most applications. Its strong flavor may improve some of the baked goods and other dishes that require brown sugar. Like brown sugar, it is a less than ideal substitute for white sugar since it comes with its own strong flavor profile and color. While it will still sweeten recipes that call for white sugar, they will have a considerably different taste and appearance than intended.
When should you use sugar and when should you use jaggery?
White sugar works as a neutral sweetener wherever you want a sweet flavor without any additional complexity. Brown sugar can add more depth of flavor but not much. Use it when you want a subtle molasses flavor.
Jaggery is the preferred sweetener for many Indian candies and desserts like rice pudding. It is also used in chutneys and beverages. When ground, jaggery can work as a more flavorful substitute for brown sugar in most applications, including baked goods like apple pies, oatmeal cookies, and gingerbread. You can also use it as a brown sugar substitute in barbecue sauce and dry rubs for meat that will be smoked.