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Jaggery

Introduction
Jaggery or gur refers to the unrefined sugars used widely in the South Asian and South East Asian regions. Per se, it refers to the sugarcane sugar but is also used to refer to the products derived from both sugarcane and the date palm. It is a relatively pure and wholesome sugar, possessing high amounts of nutrients. Traditional Indian medicine or Ayurveda considers jaggery to be the most useful food in the treatment of various lung and throat infections. It is considered a better choice than refined sugars as it is a rich source of iron and other required minerals salts and is, therefore, highly recommended as part of a healthy lifestyle.

Jaggery is a popular part of the cuisines of the Indian subcontinent and is used in the various

sweet dish preparations. According to the Indian culture, it is to be eaten in the raw form before any important occasion or any new project or venture is undertaken. The sap of the date palm is regarded as the ideal source for producing the best type of sugar and it is, therefore, highly valued. As sugarcane is not grown in as widespread an area as the northern part of the country, jaggery is produced from the sago and the coconut palms in the southernmost parts of the subcontinent. The centrality of the jaggery can be attested to by the fact that the two largest jaggery markets in the world are located in the districts of  Uttar Pradesh and Andhra Pradesh in India.

 

Uses of Jaggery
Jaggery is widely used in the Indian cooking including those of the South Indian and Gujarati cuisines, The various South Indian foods like rasam, dal and sambar are also prepared with the addition of jaggery. In addition to its consumption in the raw form, it is  used in the traditional dishes where it lends a touch of  sweetness to the sourness and  spiciness of the preparations. Further, it is used in the preparation of alcoholic beverages and to make items like candy, toffees, jaggery cakes and other similar sweet preparations. Its regular usage is advocated in the daily diet as it is a healthy and unrefined form of sugar. Interestingly, jaggery is used for the coating of insides of a tandoor oven to enable better flavor of dishes.

 
In south east Asia, jaggery is prepared from the toddy palm syrup. In Burmese cuisine, jaggery is a highly relished delicacy and is prepared with coconut shredding, plum purees or sesame depending on the area. It is regarded as  delicacy and is referred to locally as Burmese chocolate. It is a preferred addition in the Burmese cuisine as it enhances the flavors and the colors of the dishes.
 
Process of Preparation
Sugarcane is the most preferred source of jaggery. Date palms, coconut palms and the sago plant are other sources of jaggery or gur. It is made by a process, whereby the syrup is prepared by boiling the raw sugarcane juice in a large pan till the evaporation of the liquid part. It undergoes clarification process where natural vegetable clarificants are used and till it results in the form of the final solid sugar syrup. No chemical processes are involved in the preparation of jaggery and the preparation relies heavily on a hygienic process. Mostly traditional methods are relied on to produce jaggery. Sugar is prepared from the sap of the date palms and the sago and coconut plants are the newer sources for it. In South America, products resembling jaggery are also in use.
 

Health Benefits
Jaggery is ascribed with various medicinal properties and other health benefits. A pure and wholesome food, it shares the variety of essential amino acids, minerals and vitamins of the sugarcane juice and this is why it is considered a healthier option. It is also high on calcium which is required for maintenance of bone strength and is a healthy and delicious snack. Being rich in iron, it prevents diseases like anemia and also contains essential nutrients like magnesium and potassium. Magnesium is vital for the proper functioning of the nervous systems and the potassium regulates the blood pressure and the heart functions.

While manufacturing processes in sugar utilizes chemicals such as sulphur dioxide, lime and

other bleaching agents, jaggery is prepared in a natural way and is a relatively unrefined sugar. It purifies the blood, prevents rheumatism and bile disorders and is highly nutritious in value. Jaggery is also useful in combating problems like cough and stomach ailments like indigestion, acidity and constipation. Recent scientific research has reaffirmed the benefits of jaggery for the sensitive organs of the human body like the lungs. Consumption of jaggery is useful for those who are exposed to pollution on a regular basis like industrial workers. It has been lauded for its ability to help the human body to fight off the ill effects of pollution.