Jaggery is fast becoming popular in the food industry as a popular substitute for refined sugar. Here is all you need to know about jaggery.
If you were to go to India and tour its outskirts and some parts of its urban centers, you will definitely see people eating jaggery. It’s not in India alone, but even in Africa, Latin America, and some parts of Europe. India is still the leading producer of jaggery, accounting for about 70% of jaggery. While sugar cane is the main raw material for making jaggery, palm date can also be used to make jaggery. Jaggery is widely known as ‘gur’ since that’s the name Indians use to refer to it. Japanese call it ‘kokuto’ while Malaysians call it ‘Guka Melaka.’ Use this article to learn about the processing stages of jaggery and other critical pieces of information about this popular sweetener.
The process of making jaggery
More often than not, jaggery is referred to as non-centrifugal sugar. The name suits it as it does not go through the spinning process in its stages. In making it, the traditional processes of sapping and distilling the juice from palm dates or sugarcane are followed. The process comes in three sub-stages as follows;
- Extraction- This is the first stage in the three-stage process. The sugarcane or palm is extracted and set ready. Sapping is the main activity.
- Clarification- immediately after extraction, clarification follows. This is whereby the extracted juice is put in a large container and left to settle. As this happens, the residues kind of settle at the bottom, allowing the juice to concentrate.
- Concentration- this is the final stage that produces jaggery. The juice is transferred to a large pan that’s heated. As the boiling process continues, the juice is constantly stirred and impurities skimmed off from the top. The thick resulting paste is then transferred to molds and containers that give it shape, often the glass-like shape that whole jaggeries have.
Jaggery comes in different shades that vary from golden brown to dark brown. The color variation is a grading factor for jaggeries, whereby the lighter variant is considered healthier with 70% sucrose and about less than 10% glucose and isolated fructose. Most Indians prefer the lighter shades to the darker shades of jaggery. While the block forms of jaggery are the most popular, you can always find the paste and the granulated forms.
Refined sugar versus jaggery
When refined sugar and jaggery are compared on a scale of health, more credit goes to jaggery as it is deemed healthier than refined sugar. While all the molasses is removed from refined sugar during the spinning process, jaggery has molasses intact, which means that it possesses some extra micronutrients lacking in refined sugar. Of course, the nutritional profile of various types of jaggery varies depending on whether it’s made from sugarcane or palms, and the shade of the jaggery.
A cup of jaggery that typically weighs100g has about 65-80g of sucrose and 10-15g of glucose and fructose. In the same cup, you will reap magnesium, calories, fat, iron, and manganese. Trace amounts of vitamin B and minerals such as zinc and copper may also be present in the jaggery. However, you would not consume 100g of jaggery at once but would take 20g or a spoonful at ago. SugaVida is a form of granulated jaggery made from palm and is marketed as a rich and healthy source of vitamin B.
Should you add jaggery to your diet?
Having described the nutritional profile of jaggery and shown the various minerals you may reap from it, you probably are wondering whether you should include it in your diet or use it to substitute refined sugar. The simple answer is no. This is because, although you get all these trace amounts of minerals from jaggery, the larger percentage of jaggery is made of sugar and so jaggery itself is sugar. Besides, getting these substantial benefits from jaggery requires that you take in more jaggery, which means pumping in more sugar to your system. This is not worth it, especially if you can get these nutrients from other healthier sources.
Uses of jaggery
Jaggery is as versatile as refined sugar, which is the way the sweetener has many uses. Many Indians break it up and add it with milk or other products and come up with traditional candies such as chakkara Pongal and jaggery cake. In sweetening tea and coffee, jaggery also comes in handy. Alcohol preparation in some cultures also features jaggery. The uses extend beyond the food industry and include the dying of textile and fabrics.
Potential health benefits of jaggery
Because of the wide claims that jaggery is ‘more nutritious than refined sugar, this sweetener is garnering acclaim. Many are its claimed health benefits, some of which are discussed below;
i. Improves digestive health
Proponents of jaggery claim that it can help with digestive problems. In India, for example, people eat jaggery after meals and claim that it may prevent constipation. Unfortunately, though, there are no scientific results that can back these claims. Actually, jaggery lacks fibers and water which would otherwise help with digestion and constipation. In addition, its nutritional profile promises no probability of it helping with constipation and digestive problems.
ii. Liver detoxification
Some people claim that jaggery can help the liver get rid of toxins faster and more effectively through detoxification. However, there are no studies that back this claim. In fact, there is no food or drink that science confirms can help the liver detox faster.
iii. Anemia management
Anemia is a deficiency disease caused by a lack of iron in the body. 20g of jaggery has about 2.2mg of iron, translating to 12% of the RDI. Thus, it might be useful for those with iron deficiency. However, the sugar in jaggery is not good for you, which is why it would be unwise to opt for jaggery as a good source of iron.
iv. Immune system boost
In India, jaggery forms part of many tonics as it is claimed to boost the immune system and help with the common cold and flu. However, there are no scientific studies to back these claims.
Jaggery is a sweetener produced from sugarcane or palm. The sweetener is made by extracting juice, clarifying it, and then concentrating it to form a thick paste which can then be molded into the desired shape. Although jaggery is claimed to be very nutritious, the amount of sugar it has is not good for you.
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