SHERYL AFONSO e D’SOUZA
CLINICAL NUTRITIONIST (NORBERT’S FITNESS STUDIO) & ASST. PROFESSOR (POST GRADUATE DEGREE STUDIES, CARMEL COLLEGE)
Jaggery is a sweetener that most health experts suggest you use instead of the (proven) disease-linked refined sugar. Jaggery, when compared to 100% carbohydrate-table sugar, has minerals in it which helps it score on the “healthy food” index. In addition, it is processed without any chemicals or artificial ingredients rampantly utilized for sugar manufacture, thereby giving it an edge over sucrose (table sugar). The two varieties of jaggery commonly produced are Coconut Palm Jaggery and Cane Jaggery (from sugarcane), with the former slimly outscoring the latter nutritionally. The sap of the Date Palm can also be used to prepare jaggery, but is relatively expensive and less commonly available.
Traditionally, the syrup for jaggery manufacture is made by boiling raw sugarcane juice or palm sap in large vessels. While boiling the juice, a clarificant may be added (not necessarily used in small scale manufacturing units) to flocculate the colloids, i.e., an Organic Clarificant (vegetable oil) or an Inorganic Clarificant (lime) is added to the syrup so that all the suspended particles and impurities rise to the top of the juice in a froth; this is then skimmed off. The added lime also helps to decrease the acidity of the ‘mother syrup’. Finally, the juice is thickened and allowed to cool, after which it becomes a soft solid that is moulded into the desired shape.
In the manufacture of sugar, charcoal adsorption (to remove suspended particles), and sulphination or carbonation are essential steps to yield a “white” product. Sugar also lacks the inherent minerals present in jaggery due to the ‘refining’ process that the former undergoes. The use of iron vessels to make jaggery imparts a slight iron content to the final product, and hence you will commonly hear professionals advising you to choose jaggery over sugar in a bid to keep anemia at bay. Jaggery is also known to help activate the digestive enzymes and create a positive gut environment. The trace amounts of magnesium, calcium, potassium, and phosphorous present in jaggery also make it a preferred sweetener over sugar. Jaggery contains about 65-85% sucrose and about 10-12% invert sugar. The sucrose chains of jaggery are longer than that present in table sugar, and thereby energy release when jaggery is consumed is much slower than that encountered upon consumption of sugar. In summary, the nutrient value of jaggery is slightly higher than that of crystalline sugar because it contains all constituents which are normally separated in molasses in the manufacturing process of sugar.
A word of caution though …. The quality of jaggery is judged by its colour – brown means it is higher in impurities, and golden-yellow implies it is relatively pure. Due to this grading scale, coloured adulterants are sometimes added to jaggery to simulate the golden hue.