Jaggery is a sweetener that’s becoming popular as a “healthy” replacement for sugar. More so, it is used regularly in day to day recipes across most Indian households. If you’re an Indian, your grandparents or ancestors have at some point insisted that you have some and that it’s good for your health. It is also seldom referred as a “superfood sweetener”.
So what exactly is jaggery?
Jaggery is an unrefined sugar product made most commonly in Asia and Africa. It is sometimes referred to as a “non-centrifugal sugar,” because it is not spun during processing to remove the nutritious molasses. It is a concentrated product of Cane juice or Date or Palm sap, without separation of the molasses and crystals, and can vary from golden brown to dark brown in colour
Similar non-centrifugal sugar products exist all over Asia, Latin America and the Caribbean, although they all have different names. These products include :
- Gur: India.
- Panela: Colombia.
- Piloncillo: Mexico.
- Tapa dulce: Costa Rica.
- Namtan tanode: Thailand.
- Gula Melaka: Malaysia.
- Kokuto: Japan.
More than 2/3rd of the world’s jaggery production takes place in India, where it is commonly called “gur” (and pronounced “gud“). It is most often made with sugar cane. However, jaggery made from date palm is also common in several countries. To know more about jaggery and how it is made you can visit the respective link attached.
How is it used?
Like sugar, jaggery can be used in multiple ways. It can be grated or broken up, and then used as a replacement for refined sugar in any food or drink. In India, it is often used in the preparation of certain vegetables which require a hint of sweetness or in various Indian desserts.
Off late, it is also quite popular amongst bakers to use them it as a healthy alternate to sugar. You’ll find it as an ingredient in some of the recipes we’ve got on our website. There are a growing number of beverage drinkers who prefer adding jaggery to their tea or coffee in order to avoid using refined sugar.
Jaggery although sweet, does have a distinct flavour compared to refined sugar and simultaneously, isn’t as sweet either (because of other nutrients). It is also used to make traditional alcoholic drinks, such as palm wine, and for non-food purposes like dying fabric.
The next important question is “Is it better than sugar/ Is it healthy?”
Jaggery contains more nutrients than refined sugar because of its molasses content. Molasses is a nutritious by-product of the sugar making process, which is usually removed when making refined sugar. Including the molasses adds a small amount of micronutrients to the final product. The exact nutrition profile of this sweetener can vary, depending on the type of plant used to make it (cane or palm).This is a screenshot taken from My Fitness Pal which talks about the nutritional value and caloric content of jaggery.
However, keep in mind that this is a 100-gram serving, which is much higher than you would generally eat at once. You’d probably consume closer to a tablespoon (20 grams) or teaspoon (7 grams). Jaggery may also contain small amounts of B vitamins and minerals, including calcium, zinc, phosphorus and copper.
Also, in terms of taste jaggery is not usually as sweet as refined sugar, which could lead to a person using it in excess (in calorie terms) as compared to refined sugar, which is all the more counter-productive.
HOWEVER, It is not all bad and it does have some benefits.
There are some health benefits to jaggery too.
It is high in iron, which helps with anaemia prevention. It also helps regulate bowel movement and avoid constipation, helps build immunity, controls blood pressure, detoxifies the liver, etc. To read about it in detail, click here.
BUT…. It is still mostly sugar.
Compared to refined sugar, jaggery appears nutritious. Refined white sugar contains only “empty calories” — that is, calories without any vitamins or minerals. When compared side by side, molecule to molecule, jaggery is more nutritious than sugar. However, there is a big “but” when it comes to describing it as nutritious.
It is essentially still sugar with some added nutrients that come with A LOT of calories. You would also need to eat A LOT of jaggery to get a meaningful amount of these nutrients, which you can get in much greater amounts from other sources.
So, while it may be slightly “healthier” to replace refined sugar with a sweetener that has more vitamins and minerals, it is not the most ideal option to add jaggery to your diet.
Is Jaggery better than sugar? Yes it is. Jaggery may have a better nutrition profile than sugar and is a *healthier* alternative. But it still is 85% sugar and high in calories and is best consumed (if it must be) in moderation. However, for a person who intends on reducing weight, curbing your desserts or sweet intake may still be the best, healthiest and most sustainable option in the long term.