What is Jaggery and What Benefits Does it Have?
Jaggery is a sweetener that's becoming popular as a "healthy" replacement for sugar.
What's more, this sweetener has been given a serious health halo.
It's often referred to as a "superfood sweetener."
Jaggery is an unrefined sugar product made in Asia and Africa.
It's sometimes referred to as a "non-centrifugal sugar," because it's not spun during processing to remove the nutritious molasses.
Similar non-centrifugal sugar products exist all over Asia, Latin America and the Caribbean, although they all have different names ().
These products include:
- Gur: India.
- Panela: Colombia.
- Piloncillo: Mexico.
- Tapa dulce: Costa Rica.
- Namtan tanode: Thailand.
- Gula Melaka: Malaysia.
- Kokuto: Japan.
About 70% of the world's jaggery production takes place in India, where it is commonly called "gur."
It's most often made with sugar cane. However, jaggery made from date palm is also common in several countries ().
Bottom Line: Jaggery is a type of unrefined sugar made from sugar cane or palm. Much of the world's production takes place in India.
Jaggery is made using traditional methods of pressing and distilling palm or cane juice. This is a 3-step process ():
- Extraction: The canes or palms are pressed to extract the sweet juice or sap.
- Clarification: The juice is allowed to stand in large containers so that any sediment settles to the bottom. It is then strained to produce a clear liquid.
- Concentration: The juice is placed in a very large, flat-bottomed pan and boiled.
During this process, the jaggery is stirred and the impurities are skimmed off the top until only a yellow, dough-like paste remains.
This "dough" is then transferred to molds or containers where it cools into jaggery, which looks something like this:The color can range from light golden to dark brown. This is important, since the color and texture are used to grade the jaggery.
Interestingly, Indians value lighter shades more than darker ones.
This lighter, "good quality" jaggery generally contains more than 70% sucrose. It also contains less than 10% isolated glucose and fructose, with 5% as minerals ().
It is most often sold as a solid block of sugar, but it's also produced in liquid and granulated forms.
Bottom Line: Jaggery is made by evaporating the water from sugar cane juice or palm sap. It is sold as a block, liquid or granules.
Jaggery contains more nutrients than refined sugar because of its molasses content.
Molasses is a nutritious by-product of the sugar making process, which is usually removed when making refined sugar.
Including the molasses adds a small amount of micronutrients to the final product.
The exact nutrition profile of this sweetener can vary, depending on the type of plant used to make it (cane or palm).
According to one source, 100 grams (half a cup) of jaggery may contain ():
- Calories: 383.
- Sucrose: 65–85 grams.
- Fructose and glucose: 10–15 grams.
- Protein: 0.4 grams.
- Fat: 0.1 grams.
- Iron: 11 mg, or 61% of the RDI.
- Magnesium: 70-90 mg, or about 20% of the RDI.
- Potassium: 1050 mg, or 30% of the RDI.
- Manganese: 0.2–0.5 mg, or 10–20% of the RDI.
However, keep in mind that this is a 100-gram (3.5-oz) serving, which is much higher than you would generally eat at once. You'd probably consume closer to a tablespoon (20 grams) or teaspoon (7 grams).
Jaggery may also contain small amounts of B vitamins and minerals, including calcium, zinc, phosphorus and copper ().
One commercially available product, SugaVida, is a granulated palm jaggery that is claimed to be a good source of naturally occurring B vitamins.
However, It's Still Mostly Sugar
Compared to refined sugar, jaggery appears nutritious. Refined white sugar contains only "empty calories" — that is, calories without any vitamins or minerals ().
Gram by gram, jaggery is more nutritious than sugar. However, there is a big "but" when it comes to describing it as nutritious.
It's essentially still sugar, and any extra nutrients you get come with a lot of calories.
You would also need to eat a lot of jaggery to get a meaningful amount of these nutrients, which you can get in much greater amounts from other sources.
So, while it may be slightly "healthier" to replace refined sugar with a sweetener that has more vitamins and minerals, it's not really advisable to add jaggery to your diet.
Bottom Line: Jaggery may have a better nutrition profile than sugar, but it's still high in calories and is best consumed in moderation.
Like sugar, jaggery is versatile. It can be grated or broken up, and then used as a replacement for refined sugar in any food or drink.
These include jaggery cake and chakkara pongal, a dessert made from rice and milk.
It is also used to make traditional alcoholic drinks, such as palm wine, and for non-food purposes like dying fabric.
Bottom Line: Jaggery can replace refined white sugar in foods and drinks. It's also used in palm wine production and as part of natural fabric dyes.
One reason jaggery is gaining popularity is the belief that it is more nutritious than refined white sugar. It is also claimed to have various health benefits.
Some common health claims include improved digestive health, anemia prevention, liver detoxification and improved immune function.Here is a critical look at the most common health claims, separating the facts from the fiction.
Improved Digestive Health
In India, it's common for jaggery to be eaten after a meal.
Some people claim it helps with digestion and can stimulate bowel movements, making it a good choice for preventing constipation.
Jaggery is a source of sucrose, but it contains almost no fiber or water — two dietary factors known to help with regular bowel movements ().
No available research confirms this claim. Given the nutrition profile, it seems unlikely that jaggery would help with digestion or prevent constipation.
Some studies suggest the iron in non-centrifugal sugars is more easily used by the body than iron from other plant sources ().
Jaggery contains around 11 mg of iron per 100 grams, or about 61% of the RDI ().
This sounds impressive, but it's unlikely that you would eat 100 grams of jaggery in one sitting. A tablespoon or teaspoon represents a more realistic portion.
A tablespoon (20 grams) contains 2.2 mg of iron, or about 12% of the RDI. A teaspoon (7 grams) contains 0.77 mg of iron, or about 4% of the RDI.
For people with low iron intake, jaggery could contribute a small amount of iron — especially when replacing white sugar.
However, you will get much greater amounts of iron from this list of 11 iron-rich foods.
What's more, added sugar is bad for your health. Therefore, it's unreasonable to suggest that you should add jaggery to your diet because it contains iron.
Many foods are claimed to help your liver get rid of toxins. However, your body is capable of removing these toxins on its own.
No current evidence supports the claim that any food or drink can make this "detox" process easier or more efficient (, , ).
Improved Immune Function
In India, jaggery is often added to tonics used to treat a variety of ailments.
People believe that the minerals and antioxidants in jaggery can support the immune system and help people recover from illnesses like the common cold and the flu.
Some evidence suggests that oral zinc and vitamin C supplements may reduce the length and severity of a cold, but neither is found in high amounts in jaggery ().
Overall, the evidence supporting this claim is lacking. However, jaggery's high calorie content may help boost energy levels for those struggling to eat when sick.
Bottom Line: Jaggery is said to help support immune, liver and digestive health, as well as help prevent anemia. However, there is no good evidence available to support these claims.
Excessive sugar intake is a contributing factor in many of the world's most common chronic diseases.
In fact, evidence has linked excess sugar consumption with an increased risk of obesity, heart disease and type 2 diabetes (, , , ).
Despite its slightly different nutrition profile, jaggery is still sugar. Therefore, eating too much of it is not a good idea.
Bottom Line: Eating too much sugar from any source can increase your risk of obesity, heart disease and type 2 diabetes.
If you're replacing white sugar with jaggery, then you'll get a few extra nutrients with your calories. In this way, it is a healthier choice.
However, it's worth remembering that very little evidence supports the health claims made about this sweetener.
At the end of the day, jaggery is still very similar to table sugar and should be used in the same way — sparingly.