My earliest memory of winter in Delhi, and perhaps my favourite, dates back to when I was maybe four years old. My mom had asked me to call my brother to the dinner table where laid a plate of Makki ki Roti, gur and a generous dollop of ghee. I remember thinking I would take just one small bite. Needless to say, I never made it to my brother’s room… And a few minutes later, he found me polishing off his dinner, and not at all sorry for doing so. Who could blame me? The flavour of gur is just so heavenly. Another of my favourites is my nani’s timeless Gur ki Roti loaded with ghee and saunf. To this day, the rustic earthy scent rewinds the clock and takes me back to my playful childhood days.
Jaggery i.e. “Gur” in Hindi is also known as ‘Bellam’ in Telugu, ‘Vellam’ in Tamil, ‘Sharkara’ in Malayalam, ‘Bella’ in Kannada, and ‘Gul’ in Marathi. It is basically unrefined sugar which is obtained from raw, concentrated sugarcane juice. Although gur can be made from other sources, namely from date palm (nolen gur) and the sap of coconut, the one made from sugarcane juice is the most commonly used. It is prepared by boiling sugar cane juice till it solidifies and then put into blocks.
As I type (and my mouth drools), I can’t help but wonder why my grandparents used to eat jaggery post lunch and dinner every winter. Dr. Manoj K. Ahuja, Sukhda Hospital, says “It is best consumed during the winter months because winter is the season of fresh jaggery. Since it is rich in many vital vitamins and minerals, jaggery boosts immunity, keeps the body warm, helps treat cold and cough and controls the temperature of the body. Thisnatural sweetener has been a great go-to ingredient in India since time immemorial.”
Here are 15 jaggery benefits everyone should know –
1. Prevents constipation: Jaggery activates the digestive enzymes in the body, stimulates bowel movements and thus helps prevent and relieve constipation.
2. Detoxes the liver: Jaggery helps cleanse the liver by flushing out harmful toxins from the body. So if you want to effectively detox your body, bite into a piece of jaggery.
3. Treats flu-like symptoms: Fight symptoms of a cold and cough with the help of gur. All you need to do is mix it with warm water and drink up, or even add it in your tea instead ofsugar to reap the benefits.
4. Blood purifier: One of the most well-known benefits of jaggery is its ability to purify the blood. When consumed on a regular basis and in limited quantities, it cleanses the blood, leaving your body healthy.
5. Boosts immunity: Jaggery is loaded with antioxidants and minerals such as zinc and selenium, which in turn help prevent free-radical damage and also boost resistance against infections. Jaggery also helps increase the total count of haemoglobin in the blood.
6. Cleanses the body: Jaggery is one of the best natural cleansing agents for the body, hence it is advised to eat jaggery to remove unwanted particles from the body. It efficiently cleans the respiratory tract, lungs, intestines, stomach and food pipe. Eating jaggery is highly recommended for people working in heavily polluted areas such as factories or coal mines.
7. Eases menstrual pain: Jaggery, due to its richness in many essential nutrients, is an effective natural treatment for menstrual problems, especially providing relief from cramps. In case you experience sudden mood swings just before your period, you should eat a small piece of jaggery daily to combat symptoms of PMS since it leads the release of endorphins. These endorphins relax your body, thereby preventing premenstrual syndrome (PMS).
8. Prevents anaemia: Jaggery is rich in iron and folate which help prevent anaemia by ensuring that a normal level of red blood cells is maintained. This is especially beneficial for pregnant women.
9. Boosts intestinal health: Jaggery also boosts intestinal strength due to its high magnesium content. With every 10 gram of jaggery, you get 16 mg of magnesium, which is 4 percent of the daily requirement of this mineral.
10. Cools the stomach: Jaggery helps in maintaining normal body temperature which helps in keeping your stomach cool. Experts recommend drinking Gur Sharbat (jaggery soaked in ice cold water) during the summer months to cool off.
11. Controls blood pressure: Jaggery contains potassium and sodium, which play an important role in the maintenance of acid levels in the body. It makes sure that a normal level of blood pressure is properly maintained.
12. Prevents respiratory problems: By consuming jaggery regularly, you can prevent many respiratory problems such as asthma, bronchitis, etc. Experts recommend eating this natural sweetener with sesame seeds for wonderful benefits for the respiratory system.
13. Relieves joint pain: “If you suffer from aches and pains in your joints, eating jaggery can provide you with much-needed relief”, says Dr. Manoj K. Ahuja, Sukhda Hospital. You can eat it with a piece of ginger to alleviate joint pain, or even drink a glass of milk with jaggery every day to help strengthen the bones, thus preventing joint and bone problems such as arthritis.
14. Weight loss: “Jaggery is surprisingly effective as an aid for weight loss. This is because jaggery is a rich source of potassium, which is a mineral that helps in the balance of electrolytes as well as building muscles and boosting metabolism. Potassium also helps in the reduction of water retention, which helps in managing your weight”, says Delhi-based Nutritionist Anshul Jaibharat. These factors play an important role in effective weight loss, so if you’re looking to lose some unwanted pounds, include this food in your diet.
15. Good source of energy: While sugar is a simple carbohydrate that gets absorbed in the bloodstream instantly and gives instant energy, jaggery is a complex carbohydrate that gives energy to the body gradually and for a longer time. This means that the levels of blood sugar do not get raised immediately. It also helps prevent fatigue and weakness of the body.
Note: It is, however, suggested to consume jaggery in moderation, as it is slightly higher in calories, containing up to 4 kcal/gram.
Now that you know how good jaggery is for you, don’t feel guilty when you can’t stop munching on Gur Pare at home, or while digging into Nolen Gurer (date palm jaggery)Sandesh at Girish Chandra Dey and Nakur Chandra Nandy in Kolkata. And surprisingly, this winter specialty is now available throughout the year since restaurants and sweet shopsare using smart preserving techniques to feed the fan frenzy.
Sudip Mullick from Balaram Mullick & Radharaman Mullick shares his secret, “We preservenolen gur in its solidified form or as patali gur at minus 25 degrees. This process takes place in March and the gur usually lasts till November.” So if you haven’t tried Bhojohori Manna’s scrumptious Nolen Gur Ice Cream in the scorching summer, you’re missing out! And how could we forget Gopala’s Gur Rasgulla in Delhi? This jaggery jewel is unlike anything you’ve ever tasted.
We’re also in love with Chef Joymalya Banerjee’s contemporary Nolen Gurer Madeleines at Bohemian, as well as his Prawn and Crabmeat Dumplings stewed in Spicy Nolen Gurer reduction. Chef Sabyasachi Gorai of Lavaash by Saby serves a scoop of refreshing Nolen Gur Ice Cream topped off with a jaggery glaze with an Orange Pound Cake and it is pure genius. Yes, there is some serious experimentation going on in kitchens across India, with chefs rustling up sheer magic with gur.