The benefits of jaggery include its ability to cleanse your body, act as a digestive agent, sweeten your food in a healthy manner, and provide good amounts of minerals. Before we go into the details of the benefits of jaggery, let me tell you that all good things do not come in nice, good-looking packages. This is true for foods as well, particularly when we talk about jaggery.
Most of you might not find its look very interesting or attractive as a food item, because the dark yellow color and its amorphous and sometimes gooey look is more than enough to keep some of you away. Of course, there are probably some daring dieters who say that jaggery’s color and appearance is far more appealing and interesting than that monotonous, white, crystalline sugar. After all, color is all around us, and one of the best parts of the visual experience of life! Live a little!
Jaggery often sticks to your hands and lips while eating, which can also be a nuisance. In Myanmar, the native country of jaggery, people don’t notice this, since they have been eating jaggery since childhood and it is a mouth watering sight for most of them. Furthermore, if you hear about the way it is manufactured and stored and the standards of hygiene there, you might never think of eating it, but it is far-far better than those frozen meats and so called hygienically packed food items with chemical preservatives in them that are stored for weeks or months before reaching the consumer. In fact, in some cases, the jaggery blocks may contain some particles of sand or ash that flies in from the oven, but I don’t think they are unhygienic in any way. We eat a multitude of dust and pollutants every day while we breathe and talk. Still doubtful? Well, let’s alleviate the rest of that doubt with the spectacular health benefits of jaggery.
Health Benefits of Jaggery
Sweetening Agent: There are plenty of natural and artificial sweetening agents available on the market, with good old white sugar right at the top. However, almost all of them are just plain sweeteners. How nice would it be if such magnificent sweeteners could add some extra burst of taste as well? The answer to that question can be found by eating jaggery. The first benefit of jaggery is that it is a colorful, taste explosion when consumed, and secondly, it is a sweetener. You can experience the difference yourself. Taste plain sugar and jaggery one after another, and it will be very clear to you. That was only the sugar cane jaggery, a single flavor. Now you should taste the Date Palm Jaggery, Palmyra Jaggery, or one of the other flavors available.
Energy Food: We know that carbohydrates, consumed in our food, give us energy upon oxidation. The simpler the carbohydrate, the sooner the energy released. On one hand, this simplicity comes as a blessing for athletes and people suffering from serious fatigue because they need instantaneous energy and can find quick relief. Therefore, sugar and glucose is the proper carbohydrate for them, because they are very simple and are absorbed in the blood stream almost instantaneously to fill them with a sudden burst of energy.
But on the other hand, studies show and doctors advise that this sudden rise in sugar or energy level can be a major threat to the integrity of internal organs, particularly in the case of diabetics. In the long run, this may even give rise to diabetes, since the fluctuating sugar levels may affect the pancreas, to the point where the pancreas may lose its capacity to release large amounts of insulin at once to counter the quick increase in the body’s sugar level. This sudden uplift may cause severe damage to kidneys and eyes, can raise blood pressure, and create a number of other problems in the related organ systems. Jaggery is a more complex form of carbohydrate than plain sugar. When you eat jaggery, it is digested and absorbed gradually and releases energy over an extended period of time. This can provide the eater with warmth and energy for a more extended period without harming their internal organs.
Digestive Agent: This may sound strange, but in India, it is recommended to take a few grams of jaggery after a heavy meal or after eating meat because it facilitates digestion. Jaggery activates the digestive enzymes and itself changes to acetic acid in the stomach, thereby speeding up digestion and making the process go very smooth, reducing strain on the intestines and digestive tract.
Cleansing Agent: You may not normally connect sweeteners and sugars with “cleansing the body”, but that is actually one of the well-proven benefits of jaggery. Jaggery effectively cleans the respiratory tracts, lungs, food pipe, stomach and intestines. It pulls out dust and unwanted particles from the body, while also giving relief from constipation, perhaps due to presence of fiber in it. Reducing constipation and stimulating the movement of the bowels further cleanses the body of the toxins which jaggery just cleaned out and prepared for excretion.
Source of Minerals: Unlike sugar, jaggery is rich in minerals, mainly iron with traces of other mineral salts. While most of the iron in jaggery comes through its processing in iron vessels, the other minerals come directly from the sugar cane juice, since the juice does not undergo refinement or bleaching of any kind. Therefore, jaggery is a very good source of minerals for the body.
Other Benefits and Uses of Jaggery
Jaggery seasoning: Jaggery (sugar cane variety) is often used as a lining for the inner walls of earthen ovens and is meant for seasoning the materials cooked inside.
Jaggery as a Building Material: Even a few decades ago, jaggery was in use (and still is in use in some places) as a building material, particularly in those places where cement was not readily available. It was mixed with lime, sand and clay and used as cement for joining bricks. Jaggery, which is predominantly sucrose, upon reacting with calcium carbonate in lime and silica in clay, forms strong bonds and became very hard on drying. Some examples of such buildings can still be seen in West Bengal and in other parts of India if they are still standing.
Jaggery in Toothpaste: Low-quality jaggery, mixed with the dust of tobacco, is used as tooth paste in many parts of India. It is so widely used that government earns a handsome revenue out of it. It is very popular and very addictive at the same time. Some people, who appear to have nothing to do, can be seen rubbing this stuff on their teeth the whole day and night, very lazily. It is a common sight in villages. Suffice to say, this is not a healthy or good way to treat dental health, or to pass your free time. It is not recommended, as tobacco can be carcinogenic.
Jaggery for Cattle Feed: Jaggery of low-quality is often mixed with cattle-feed to add taste and make the cattle eat more. It also sweetens the milk of the cattle.
Jaggery Used as Hunting Bait: There are instances where jaggery has been used as bait for hunting wild animals. It is dumped in the open so wild animals will be attracted by its smell to taste it and fall prey to the hunters. Since jaggery contains salt, besides being sweet and having a strong aroma, animals like to lick it.
Religious usage: Among Hindus, it is customary to take a bite of jaggery after attending a funeral, along with Margo leaves, crushed black pepper and to touch fire and iron, as it is said to purify. In some places, in certain religious ceremonies and rituals, small idols of jaggery, rice paste and turmeric are prepared and offered to local gods and goddesses.
Jaggery as Fish Bait: Jaggery is also used as fish bait. Jaggery, mixed with a number of ingredients including ant eggs, ghee, edible oils, cardamom powder, nutmeg powder, mace, poppy seeds and a variety of other things, forms an excellent bait mixture. Fishes cannot resist its smell and are pulled to the gaming spot where the hooks are waiting!
In shoty, that is the story of jaggery. It seems so simple, yet so mysterious! There are innumerable fables and folk tales in which jaggery can be found.
In some cases, jaggery is less likely to give you a bad reaction to acidity when compared to normal white sugar. There is no good explanation for this, but this is frequently seen. Even doctors suggest switching to jaggery for sweetening purposes when someone is having an unexplainable acidic reaction.
Basically, it’s not too late! You should switch to jaggery today. Add it to your meals for a few days and feel the difference for yourself!
i. My own experiences with jaggery as I have been using it since my childhood.
ii. Websites for information regarding jaggery made in Myanmar.
iii. Textbooks in schools.
iv. Various reports on jaggery published in Newspapers, health magazines and other media from time to time.