Say goodbye to sugar; embrace the health benefits of using jaggery

Seeking a cheerful and relaxed mood? Include jaggery in your diet! Apart from being loaded with minerals and antioxidants to prevent free radicals’ malefic effects, it helps in releasing endorphins – the happy hormone. Little wonder then, that our grannies used to give us a chunk of jaggery to relieve PMS, menstrual cramps and abdominal pain. Packed with potassium, it also aids in weight loss and maintains electrolyte balance in the body.

Types of jaggery

Quality of jaggery is dependent on numerous elements such as selection of sugarcane, agricultural norms adhered to, manures used, phase of fruitage, method of juice extraction and more. Chef Mitesh Rangras, Menu and Restaurant Consultant, divulges, “Sugarcane jaggery is the most popular. Other than that there are jaggery made from date palm and toddy palm as well. The basic method being natural, where the sap is collected painstakingly, cooked and cooled.”

Health benefits

Call it by any name – gur in Hindi, gul in Marathi, bellam in Telugu, vellam in Tamil, or sharkara in Malayalam – rustic, unassuming jaggery is macrobiotic whole sugar. Processed in an organic way and free of chemicals, it is full of natural goodness of minerals and vitamins with a substantial amount of magnesium, potassium and iron. It not only clears throat and lung infections but is also effective in tackling cough, upset stomach and constipation. Though it’s a healthier option for non-diabetics, those suffering from diabetes need to watch the glycemic index of foods. As sugar and jaggery have the same source, sugarcane, it’s not a good idea for them.

According to Executive Chef Sheriyar Rustom Dotivala, The Resort Mumbai, “Sugar and jaggery are the two most commonly used sweeteners in every Indian household. Both of them are produced using sugarcane juice, but are processed differently. They have different flavours and textures but can substitute each other in various dishes. Sugar does not have a flavour of its own and hence is considered ideal as a sweetener. However, many nutritionists these days recommend substituting sugar with jaggery to its health benefits.”

Seasonal effects

Snehal More, Dietician, Bhatia Hospital Mumbai, explains the effects of jaggery intake in different seasons, “In winter jaggery is included in sweets like sesame laddu and chikki as it provides a high amount of calorie, at the same time protects the vital body organs by insulating them and maintains warmth of the body.” Sweets made out of jaggery are relished as Chakkarai Pongal in Andhra and Tamilnadu, Gud wale chawal in Punjab, Puran Poli in Maharashtra, Pitha in Bengal, Payasam in Kerala, says Mitesh Rangras, adding, “Date palm jaggery even has a warming effect and it’s consumed in winter. It activates digestive enzymes in our body and helps in digestion. That’s why Ayurveda recommends people to eat jaggery after dinner. Palmyra sap is harvested mainly in summer for jaggery as it is used to make a drink that has a great cooling effect.” Tamilians prepare a simple beverage out of jaggery and dried ginger powder called panagam which aids digestion.

Beware of adulteration

The tint of jaggery plays an important role while consuming it. The hue should ideally be dark brown but if the colour is yellow it depicts chemical treatment. The presence of crystals indicates that sugar has been used to increase the texture and sweetness. Bitterness in jaggery is proof that caramelisation has taken place during the process. Snehal More elaborates on detecting its adulteration, “Many times sodium bicarbonate (soda), ZFS (zinc formaldehyde sulphoxylate - to give a whitening effect), sodium hydrophosphide are harmful chemicals used to improve the colour of jaggery as people believe that light colour means purity. Even chalk and white sand are used in the making process of jaggery so it can give a white effect which can cause intestinal disorders leading to severe health injury.”

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