Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Sugarcane Fields: Making Jaggery

During this past visit to India, we hired a cab to take us from Belgaum to Badami - to see the cave temples - and onwards. The route goes through some of the most rural and poorest parts of North Karnataka, with whole families helping in tilling the fields, sowing, weeding and harvesting. Sugarcane (kabbu) fields lined both sides of the country road. We passed this one with a small set-up to make jaggery (unrefined brown sugar, or gur) from the cane juice.

After a quick 'tour' of their operations, the head guy in the accompanying pic insisted I try some of their jaggery! Yes, very delicious indeed! The gur has the consistency of solid fudge with a fine texture. It has a distintive taste making it ideal for sweetening indian desserts, such as payasam. A pinch of gur is also used to round-off the spice in many dishes, including the gujarati daal and the konkani delicacy - kadgi chakko.

From my childhood summer vacations in Bhatkal, I remember day laborers, even those who just stopped by looking for work, were offered a pot of water and a chunk of gur. It was fitting then, that I accepted this humble, but rich offering from a hard working laborer.

In one part of the field, the sugarcane is pressed to extract the juice. At the back, notice the composting pile.

The cane juice is first allowed to settle any impurities and then boiled in this huge open air vat. It needs to be constantly stirred to prevent sugar crystallizing at the top or settling. As the water evaporates, it starts to thicken.

The molten jaggery is poured in these rectangular trays in the ground, and allowed to harden. Then the jaggery is cut into blocks and sold to wholesalers. Jaggery is also poured into bucket shaped moulds, you can see in the back right.

The dried cane pulp is used to fire the vats. As the lady hauls the load, the young one stuffs it in the fire under the vats.

I nibbled on the jaggery all the way to Badami. No additives, nothing! Because jaggery remains unrefined, it also retains many of the natural nutrients and soluble fiber. I find from personal experience that it does not give a "sugar high," leading me to speculate that it should be better sweetener for diabetics, than refined sugar.

Certainly beats chemical laden candy bars, sold by slick marketing types making money for MNCs; so their executives can cash in their options and jet to exotic locales.


At 2:35 PM, Blogger Abram said...

That is one massive vat!

I love jaggery, having first experienced its unique and irreplaceable taste during a visit to southern India in 1999/2000.

I am still learning about its uses, however, though sometimes I just take a little piece to eat on its own. I also really like it in black teas with milk (soy, in my case) and in split-pea stew.


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