Sweater weather is finally here! It’s time to not only stock your wardrobe up with sweaters and coats but also to fill your pantry with winter essentials. And our good old jaggery, or ‘gur’ as we call it, is something you can’t miss out on. In India, it is mainly used as an ingredient in sweet and savoury dishes as well as in herbal and ayurvedic medicines for its many health benefits. The benefits of jaggery go beyond the fact that it’s an iron-rich natural sweetener which is said to be better for you than refined sugar, and us Indians surely love our gur. In fact, more than 70% of the world’s jaggery comes from India, where people refer to it as ‘medicinal sugar’, according to India’s Ministry of Commerce and Industry.

Winter is the season of fresh jaggery, rich in many vital vitamins and minerals which helps boost immunity, keeps the body warm, treat cold and cough and control the temperature of the body. From gur malpura and gur ki roti to the humble gur (with peanut or sesame) chikki and gud halwa, there are a variety of dishes prepared across India during the winters, meant to keep your body warm from within while enjoying guilt-free desserts. In West Bengal, the coming of winter means the season of nolen gur, translated as ‘new jaggery’ which is used to make kheer, sandesh, and rasgulla.

What is jaggery?

Golden brown or dark brown in colour, jaggery is found in solid, liquid, and granular forms. It is essentially unprocessed sugar made primarily from raw, concentrated sugarcane juice that is boiled until it solidifies. It can also be made from date palm (like the nolen gur of West Bengal) or the sap of coconut. Jaggery is called ‘Bella’ in Kannada, ‘Sharkara’ in Malayalam, ‘Vellam’ in Tamil and ‘Gul’ in Marathi. It is also often referred to as a “non-centrifugal sugar,” given that it is not spun during processing to remove the nutritious molasses. Benefits of jaggery also extend to the fact that it doesn’t undergo any excessive treatment except the boiling of sugarcane syrup. This allows the retention of iron, mineral salts and fiber in it which are useful remedies for several ailments.

Health benefits of jaggery

Touted for being one of the best vegetarian sources of iron, a single serving of jaggery has nearly 10 per cent of your daily iron requirement which is critical for supporting healthy blood cells. It is also loaded with more vitamins and minerals than many natural sweeteners and has lower sucrose content than sugar.

In addition to 375 calories, benefits of 100 g jaggery are as follows:

  • sucrose: 65–85 g
  • fructose and glucose: 10–15 g
  • protein: 280 milligrams (mg), or 5.6% daily value (DV)
  • potassium: 1056mg, or 22.5% DV
  • magnesium: 70–90 mg, or approximately 19% DV
  • calcium: 40–100 mg, or approximately 5% DV
  • manganese: 0.2–0.5 mg, or approximately 15% DV
  • phosphorus: 20-90 mg, or approximately 5% DV
  • iron: 11 mg, or 61% DV
  • vitamin A: 3.8 mg, or 422% DV
  • vitamin C: 7.0 mg, or 7.8% DV
  • vitamin E: 111.30 mg, or 740% DV

These figures are for a 100 g or a 1/2 cup serving. Most people would eat much less sugar at one time, closer to 7g or 1 teaspoon.

One of the main benefits of jaggery is that it helps cool the body thus making it perfect for scorching summers. It is most widely used in beverages and food across India during the winter months given its following properties.

Properties of Jaggery

  • Jaggery is also an effective cleansing agent; it cleans lungs, stomach, intestines, esophagus and respiratory tracts. Those who face dust in their day to day life are highly recommended to take a daily dose of jaggery. This can keep them safe from asthma, cough and cold, congestion in the chest, etc. which flare up during the winters.
  • Gur is known to produce heat and give instant energy to a human body, hence making it ideal for winters. Simply mix it with warm water and drink it up, or even add it in your tea to reap its benefits. In many parts of India, there is a tradition of serving a glass of water with gur to welcome the guests.
  • Jaggery is loaded with antioxidants and minerals such as zinc and selenium, which help prevent free-radical damage and boost resistance against infections.

Other benefits of jaggery include:

  1. Boosts energy – Jaggery is made up for longer chains of sucrose than sugar, meaning it takes longer to digest and releases energy slowly and not instantaneously, providing healthy energy to your body for a longer time.
  2. Aids digestion – It is also common for jaggery to be eaten after a meal as it is believed to aid digestion and stimulate bowel movements, making it a good choice for preventing constipation. No wonder gur is also used in ayurvedic medicines, ayurvedic sura and ayurvedic health tonics.
  3. Controls blood pressure levels – Gur contains essential nutrients like potassium and sodium that help in maintaining a proper balance of acids in the body, thereby controlling blood pressure levels.
  4. Reduces the risk of anemia – People with low-iron in their diet or at risk of developing iron-deficiency anemia can reap the benefits of jaggery as it is packed full of minerals like iron and phosphorus, which aid in the production of hemoglobin in the body. While replacing refined sugar with jaggery will add more iron to your diet, don’t rely on a single serving of jaggery to meet your daily iron needs.
  5. Aids weight loss – White sugar is known to increase blood glucose levels as well as the risk of weight gain and obesity. So, substituting sugar for jaggery will help you control your weight better and also keep you feeling full for longer, which means no hourly cravings when you’re trying to lose weight.
  6. Helps relieve menstrual pain – Jaggery has long been used as a natural remedy to ease pain from menstrual cramps. It releases endorphins, a happy hormone, that also helps tackle PMS symptoms like mood swings, irritability, food cravings and more.
  7. Reduces joint pain – For people suffering from joint pain, the consumption of jaggery can provide immense pain relief as it is a good source of calcium and phosphorus which work together to eliminate any joint or bone problems.

Hero and Featured Images: Courtesy of Shutterstock

This story first appeared on Lifestyle Asia India