A staunch follower of the unwritten manifesto of South Asian moms and grandmothers all over the place, my mom thinks there are few illnesses she will be able to’t deal with at residence with meals. One ingredient specifically options recurrently in her treatment arsenal. And in contrast to most of the peculiar poultices she applies and acrid concoctions she brews, this one is a straightforward tablet – or lump – to swallow.
It’s our indigenous treasure chest of vitamins
The primary time I tasted jaggery, I dubiously watched the slowly liquifying lump of molten-gold cane sugar ooze into flaky crevices of a layered paratha. It had been “prescribed” to me by my mom in Pakistan’s Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province as a result of I had a bone-chilling chilly. In opposition to the rugged panorama of imposing mountains fencing the Karakoram Highway, I puzzled how one thing that appeared so decadent could be considered healthy. However quickly after I bit into the advanced sweetness, I felt a rush of vitality and heat. As I’d quickly discover out, this was greater than an indigenous medicinal meals or a tasty dessert. It was the concentrated essence of millennia-old custom.
Jaggery (referred to as gud in Pakistan) is an unrefined sugar that’s made by evaporating freshly pressed sugarcane juice (and, in some areas, Palmyrah palm, coconut-palm or date-palm sap extracted by way of tapping strategies) and cooling the thickened liquid in moulds. Its many monikers throughout South Asia and shut parallels past, similar to panela in Colombia and far of the Caribbean, kokuto in Japan and rapadura in Brazil – simply to call a couple of – attest to its ubiquity.
The Meals and Agriculture Group of the United Nations recognises these dehydrated sugar cane juices (and their merchandise) for his or her non-centrifugated nature, that means glucose, fructose and mineral residue are maintained as a substitute of being misplaced in in depth refinement or spinning. Whereas the refining course of for white sugar removes “impurities”, it additionally strips the sugar of micronutrients. In the meantime, jaggery’s unrefined nature means hint minerals and molasses residue are retained even after the evaporation course of, with molasses giving jaggery each its tinge (which ranges in hue from sandstone to chocolate brown) and a few reputed well being advantages, similar to small quantities of calcium and magnesium.
However jaggery’s ubiquity within the subcontinent might have arisen out of necessity.
“Jaggery might have emerged as a approach to protect the sugarcane harvest,” stated Professor Dr Hakim Abdul Hannan, director of analysis and growth at Hamdard College in Karachi, Pakistan, “So historic man might have a contact of sweetness all 12 months spherical.”
Believed to have been launched to the Indian subcontinent round 6000BC by way of the Malayan Peninsula and Burma, sugarcane, “gives the most affordable type of energy-giving meals with the bottom unit of land space per unit of vitality produced,” notes A C Barnes in his guide Agriculture of the sugar-cane. India, which cultivates tons of of sorts of sugarcane, produces greater than 70% of the world’s jaggery. And the intertwined pre-partition historical past of India, Pakistan and Bangladesh accounts for its widespread manufacturing and consumption all through the area.
Its flavour is the hallmark of each candy and savoury South Asian dishes, with meals scientist Harold McGee explaining how cane sugar’s “distinct, winey aroma contributes to the flavour of Indian, Thai, Burmese and different South Asian and African cuisines,” in his guide On Food And Cooking: The Science And Lore Of The Kitchen.
In Pakistan, jute baggage overflowing with jaggery in each its granular and rock-like type are frequent in wholesale markets of metropolitan cities, similar to Jodia Bazaar in Karachi. The candy nuggets are perceived as morsels of wondrous goodness from nature that convey sweetness, connection and heat. At residence, jaggery is introduced out when a yearning for sweets strikes, sucked on nearly as a lozenge or cough drop, supplied to friends as an accompaniment to tea, and even used to reward youngsters with – a subcontinental equal to the cookie jar.
Its depth of flavour – a multi-faceted richness troublesome to duplicate with the only be aware of sweetness in white sugar – makes it a quintessential staple in conventional recipes. Travellers will discover it within the indulgent halwa and mithai (Indian sweets) that grace the cabinets of many sweetmeat outlets, together with til laddoo (sesame seeds roasted and mixed with a thickened jaggery liquid, usually with coconut and peanuts and rolled in balls) or elaborate halwa varieties similar to gud makhandi halwa and a few variants of the well-known Multani sohan halwa.
Rural reminiscences of childhood, particularly within the Pakistani province of Punjab, are incomplete with out jaggery rice, a luxurious candy rice dish usually garnished with coconut and almonds. And jaggery chai is ubiquitous at truck stops as quickly as you enter Pakistan’s colder northern provinces, similar to Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, the place I first tried it – a lot in order that one is hard-pressed to seek out the white sugar various as jaggery lends a novel earthy and fortifying fragrant nuttiness to the tea.
In Pakistan, the repertoire of candy treats ready with jaggery can also be inextricable from festive or auspicious events, usually distributed at weddings or bought on pushcarts as beloved by youngsters because the West’s ice-cream vehicles. “Rising up, I used to attend for the theilay-wala (pushcart vendor) promoting chikki (peanut or sesame infused jaggery brittle) and rush out as quickly as I heard the acquainted jingle,” stated Zia Tabarak, who runs the YouTube channel StreetFoodPK.
Many years later, Tabarak profiled jaggery’s vibrant production cottage industry in Charsadda, a city in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. The artisans’ course of is each rustic and revolutionary as a result of they use bagasse (the fibrous pulp which stays after the sugarcanes stalks are pulverised for his or her juice) for gas, making it a zero-waste initiative. For Tabarak, like many others, jaggery holds immense sentimental worth. “Lastly attending to see how ‘nature’s lollipop’ is made was like a fairy-tale,” he stated.
Its recognition in Pakistan makes it a ritualistic a part of life in any respect ages. Girls in rural Pakistan use it to ease premenstrual cramps or expedite labour, and infants and kids are sometimes given jaggery by their mother and father to forestall anaemia. Many Pakistani elders finish their meals with a lump of jaggery to help digestion and switch to it for reduction from joint ache and irritation, advising their youngsters to do the identical.
The cultural significance and that means of jaggery in Pakistan can’t be missed
The normal sweetener’s widespread use for wellness throughout the subcontinent is rooted in its millennia-old historical past as a medicinal sugar. Gud, particularly purana gud (aged jaggery; typically one to 3 years previous is taken into account most potent) seems in historic medical scripture just like the Sushrata Samhita, a Sanskrit treatise on drugs and surgical procedure, with references citing its advantages in purifying blood, assuaging bile problems and stopping rheumatic illness.
Jaggery can also be included in conventional Persian medicinal beliefs of “humour-producing” meals, that means meals which can be conducive to the manufacturing of phlegm, yellow bile, black bile and blood. Jaggery is believed to help within the manufacturing of blood, believed to be the healthiest and most fascinating of the 4 humours.
Moreover, its use in balancing vata dosha, one of many three energies believed in Ayurveda to compose every human physique in a novel ratio, results in its prominence in holistic therapeutic preparations. It’s usually used as a base to make different decoctions extra palatable and, curiously, can also be included in Ayurvedic panchakarma remedy, generally known as one of the crucial excessive cleanses on Earth because of the rigorous strategy to detoxing each orifice and consuming a largely restricted food regimen of khichdi (a rice and lentil dish) and ghee (clarified butter) with the occasional incorporation of jaggery.
“It’s our indigenous treasure chest of vitamins like calcium, phosphorus, iron and magnesium,” stated Dr Muhammad Naveed, a homeopathic physician and japanese drugs practitioner in Karachi, who prescribes it to “construct immunity, detoxify the liver, alleviate constipation, as an expectorant for phlegm and even a lactating help for nursing moms when floor with cumin”.
However in accordance with Dr Sarah Nadeem within the Division of Medication, Part of Endocrinology and Director CITRIC (Centre for Scientific Greatest Practices) on the Aga Khan College in Karachi, the health halo-effect and diabetics’ refusal to acknowledge jaggery as sugar – regardless of how unrefined – is probably harmful.
“A diabetic’s physique doesn’t care if it’s white sugar or jaggery,” she stated, advising in opposition to viewing it as a liquid panacea. “Since jaggery’s slightly extra advanced [than white sugar], the insulin spike might come a bit later, however it’s nonetheless a calorically dense carbohydrate. It [the spike] will inevitably come.”
To learn from the micronutrients referenced in studies, she defined, one would wish to eat an excessive amount of jaggery – a lot greater than the really helpful consumption. “The iron that’s referenced is probably going leached from the pans jaggery is ready and saved in,” she stated. Nadeem recurrently counsels sufferers who paint nostalgic photos of their virile elders and attribute a lot of their longevity and well being to practical meals similar to ghee and jaggery.
Nevertheless, the cultural significance and that means of jaggery in Pakistan can’t be missed. Right here, it is greater than an ingredient; it is a mindset of taking from the land and utilizing meals to fight sickness, beat back colds or present a fast vitality increase – a philosophy internalised by many to this present day and handed down by means of the generations. My daughter’s first sweetener was jaggery, and I do know that if she ever has a chilly, I’ll resort to a gud-slathered paratha to perk her up – as my mom did for me and her mom did for her.
“It represents a lifestyle and dwelling as near nature as potential,” Hanaan stated.
For those who appreciated this story, sign up for the weekly bbc.com features newsletter referred to as “The Important Listing”. A handpicked choice of tales from BBC Future, Tradition, Worklife and Journey, delivered to your inbox each Friday.