This is the comprehensive guide to jaggery. Learn how this sweetener is used in Indian cooking and where to source it!
What is it?
Jaggery is unrefined sugar made from sugarcane juice. Jaggery is also known as gur (Hindi) or vellam (Tamil). It has a deep molasses-y taste and is a deep tan color. Since jaggery doesn't go through the centrifuge process that refined sugar goes through, it is made up of roughly ~50-60% sucrose, ~20% invert sugars, and ~20% liquid.
Jaggery powder vs. jaggery
Jaggery can be sold in different forms from powder to large jaggery blocks.
- Jaggery powder is easier to use because jaggery blocks need to be grated or broken into pieces.
- Jaggery powder clumps like brown sugar while jaggery blocks get hard. For both of these products, you can soften them up by adding a couple slices of bread to the container that they are stored in to help break up the ingredient.
- Jaggery powder melts immediately while jaggery blocks need to be melted slowly on low heat.
- Jaggery powder is easier to measure in volume while jaggery blocks are best measured in weight (grams).
- Jaggery powder is more refined than jaggery blocks. Jaggery powder has a bit more of the liquid removed and is therefore more processed than jaggery in its block form.
- Jaggery blocks have a more pronounced molasses-y flavor than the powder.
Where to buy it?
You can easily find jaggery at your local Indian store or online either in its powder or block form. I personally prefer to use the jaggery powder for ease of use whereas my mom prefers the blocks for their superior molasses-y flavor.
Substitutes for jaggery
When you are looking for a substitute, you are looking for a sweetener that has a deep molasses flavor that isn't too sweet. Here are my favorite substitutes for jaggery in order of decreasing preference:
- Palm Sugar/Piloncillo
- Moscavdao Sugar
- Molasses (only small quantities as it is strong in flavor)
- Dark Brown Sugar
- Maple Syrup
How to use jaggery in Indian cooking?
Jaggery was the sweetener of choice for the Indian population in the pre-colonial times before refined sugar became readily available. It has a deep molasses-y and caramel flavor and is less sweet than white cane sugar. It is used in Indian desserts and sweets for its complex and rich taste. You can also use it as a sweetener for drinks like masala chai or cardamom chai in place of refined sugar.
Recipes that use jaggery
Here are some recipes that use jaggery or would be delicious with it. The first two are peanut chikki and tamarind date chutney which have jaggery in the ingredients lists. The third is a chai spiced granola that tastes delicious with the jaggery powder substituted for coconut sugar!
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