Last Updated on May 20, 2015 by Chef Mireille
Jaggery was one of the ingredients in yesterday’s Fish Curry recipe. Jaggery is the sweetener of choice in much of India, especially in South India.
Most jaggery is usually made from sugar cane sap, but there are regional varieties that are sometimes made from the sap from date palm trees, sago palms or coconut palms.
The sap is boiled at high temperatures and when this concentrated syrup solidifies, it is cut into cones or blocks. Jaggery retains the natural mineral salts, unlike refined sugar and is regarded as a more healthful sweetener. It is widely used in Ayurvedic medicine, especially in treating throat ailments.
For culinary use, the jaggery is then grated and added to savory dishes or combined with other ingredients to make sweets. The sweetness of jaggery is often used in combination with tamarind, which is widely used in South Indian cuisine, to soften the tartness of the tamarind. Whenever a sour agent is used in savory foods, jaggery is used to provide the sweet element and chile provides the heat which leads to the complex flavors of South Indian cuisine. Due to the largely vegetarian community of this region, the additions of all these elements – sour, sweet, hot – make even the blandest of vegetables flavorful. I never miss the meat when I eat South Indian vegetarian cuisine a la Kerala and similar regions.
Jaggery is readily available in most Indian markets in the US. Specifically, in New York, it can be purchased at Patel Brothers In Jackson Heights (Queens) or Kalustyans on Lexington Avenue and 28th Street (Manhattan).