Use of Jaggery As A Sweetener in India

Sweetener Fit for Gods

With the festival season is full swing, we are all making and feeding/eating a lot of goodies. Some are traditional and others modern versions of the traditional. Whatever, we make the offerings to the deities in tuck in to the yummy treats.

Modak, sweet pongal, til gud, revdi, payasam, chikki…..There is one common ingredient linking all these delicious offerings. Yes – jaggery!

If you think about it, most traditional offerings are made not of sugar, but of jaggery. Take for instance the most important offering of all during Ganesh Chaturthi – modak. The filling is traditionally made of coconut and jaggery flavoured with cardamom, though today it has made its avatar in a hundred forms including dry fruits and chocolate filled ones. Likewise the feel-good tilgud which is shared on Sankranti. The payasam made by Keralites is truly fit for the gods. Of similar divine taste is the sweet pongal made with rice, moong dal and jaggery on the Tamil harvest festival of Pongal. The sweet appam, made with rice flour, coconut and jaggery is a must for Janamashtami in the south. The list goes on.

In the north, jaggery or bhura shakkar, was used for sweets before refined sugar made its appearance. Revdi, gajak, (made with sesame and jaggery) halwas and peanut toffees (chikkis and pattis) are commonly eaten during winter.  We also use honey and palm jaggery (Khajur Gud). Have you eaten the delicious sandesh and misthi doi sweetened ever so lightly with palm jaggery? If you are drooling by now, maybe you could raid the kitchen and find yourself a large piece of jaggery to suck on!

It is supposed to be good for digestion especially after a heavy meal. During the war years in the early 1960s, sugar was so rationed that my family drank tea and coffee with jaggery. It had a different flavour, but was quite good, actually. And mother routinely substituted it for sugar in many sweets.

Funnily, jaggery is considered the poor counterpart of sugar, whereas, it should be winning hands down with its wealth of nutrients and iron content.

If you happen to go on the national highway from Delhi to Chandigarh during the winter months, you can see these small shacks where homemade contraptions are used to make jaggery and you can buy it in the form of small cakes often flavoured with dry ginger, saunf (fennel) and cardamom. It is nothing short of a delicious sweet by itself and very good to combat the cold.

If sugar is bypassed for festival offerings, salt is given up during fasts.

I remember mother eating completely salt free uncooked food on certain days of the year. Others go on a salt-free fast every Thursday. What a great idea as too much salt causes and aggravates a host of health issues. What’s more, neither salt nor sugar are necessary for our health. We do require salt in our diets, but not more than 3-5 gms per day, which we get in ample measure from the vegetables and fruits that we eat. But in addition to salt in our foods, we overload with pickles, papad, crisps, sauces and ketchup and namkeens. Not for nothing are sugar and salt called white poisons by practitioners of naturopathy.

Go ahead. This festive season try substituting jaggery for sugar. It is a sweetener fit for the Gods, believe me! And if you have eaten one helping too many of the festive spread, maybe you could go on a salt-free fast the next day.

The author is your regular neighborhood granny. Loves cooking, feeding her friends and family, telling tales and reading children’s books among others — on her Kindle. She is comfortable with people her age, older than her and of course all youngsters right down to infants. And oh, she is in tune with the times too. She has seen the telegram transform into Twitter and telephone into WhatsApp. You could call her Gadget Granny Seeta, if you like. She loves saying that the tip of her tongue is in the fingers on her keyboard! 

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