The jaggery manufacturing industry to date, operates like the wild, wild west. There seem to be very little standardization, quality control or transparency.
Which is such a shame. Jaggery is such a great product. It has 50 times the mineral content of refined sugar, it has a complex and layered taste compared to the flat taste of white sugar….
there are a few problems in this industry preventing it from moving forward like:
- Lack of government policy support
- Disorganized small scale industries
- Financial constraints that prevents the adoption of new technology
- Poor education of craftsmen involved in the processing
Given this backdrop, let’s see how we, as consumers, can make good purchasing decisions and bust some myths while we are at it!!
Myth #1: The ingredient labels in Jaggery are useful
Of all the labels I have studied, Jaggery labels have shown very little relevant information. Majority of the products say “Dried Sugar Cane Juice” or “Concentrated Sugar can Juice” and little else.
Why do I not trust that these are 100% just unrefined juice? Because during the manufacturing of jaggery, you have to add a clarifying agent and reduce the acidity (done to prevent invert sugars from forming) – sometimes they are natural ingredient like Bhindi or Deloa, and sometimes chemical ingredients like Lime, Alum, Hydros (Sodium Hydrosulphite), Sodium Carbonate, etc). But very few companies list them.
So, why are they not listed? It is very unlikely that the scum produced on top of the juice filtered away all traces (100%) of clarifying agents or the lime. I saw only a couple of companies mention Sulphite and some clarifying agents.
So, do we punish the very few companies that do report it? I think we should expect all manufacturers to list the clarifying agents they used in the manufacturing process.
Most companies that manufacture the jaggery are different from the companies that distributes or exports the product. So, I wonder if there is an information gap.
Here’s another example: Anand sells both light and brown jaggery – with the exact same ingredient listed “Sugar Cane Juice”. So what is the difference arising from?
Was there another genotype of sugarcane used that produced a lighter juice? Or was there any processing difference? No information is provided and the back labels are exactly identical except for the words “Jaggery Brown.”
Myth #2: Jaggery is healthy, white sugar is poison
The Hindu reported in 2017 that “Jaggery units in Karnataka, particularly in Mandya region, have been using different types of chemicals/additives, including calcium hydroxide, sodium hydrosulphite (hydrose), sodium formaldehyde sulfoxylate (safolite), ortho-phosphoric acid, seashells, baking soda, oil (castor/coconut), and orange-red powder (artificial food colouring).” Furthermore, sugar was added as a thickening agent!
So much for pure unrefined sugarcane juice, eh?
Back in 2003, the ‘Council of sugarcane research’ surveyed 600 villages in Uttar Pradesh (which contributes 42-44% of India’s sugarcane production) and found that: “Jaggery manufacturers use 10 to 15 times more chemicals than the prescribed limits. Chemicals such as sodium hydrosulphite, super phosphate, decolite, urea, soft stone powder and ammonium bicarbonate.”
Again, no controls in place to monitor what is being added!
Let us compare this unstructured jaggery industry with refined white sugar industry. The refined white sugar industry strips off all the nutrition from cane juice, which I 100% agree is terrible for health. But, it is manufactured in such a highly controlled process that you get crystalline sucrose molecules at the end of it and nothing else. At the very least, as a consumer I know what I am signing up for when I buy the product.
So, yes sugar is terrible for you, but it is manufactured in a controlled environment. Jaggery is better than sugar, but ONLY if it is manufactured under the highest quality.
How will you know which is a good quality jaggery? It is hard to tell. It is going to depend on consumer awareness and brands showcasing their product purity.
Myth #3: Dark color jaggery automatically is better, because “no chemicals added”
As mentioned above, jaggery manufacturers have contaminated jaggery with melted white sugar or have added chemicals to bleach the jaggery in order to produce ‘white jaggery’ and that is very bad. But that does NOT mean that the opposite – The darker the jaggery, the purer it is – is true.
The dark color of jaggery could actually indicate poor manufacturing process. In traditional manufacturing, jaggery is boiled and concentrated on open pans and experienced workers decide when to stop boiling and when to set the jaggery. The lack of standardization can often mean over-heating, or accidental over use of certain additives. Dark color of jaggery can happen when:
- Uncontrolled heating of enzymes and compounds in the cane juice produces dark colored complex compounds
- Excessive heating can cause the sugars in the jaggery to caramelize
- Excessive use of lime can raise pH of the jaggery causing browning and malliard reactions.
So, dark jaggery does not automatically mean great product.
People often prefer light jaggery, because the desserts will have a pleasing appearance as opposed to dark colors that overtake the dish appearance. Can you get light jaggery without worrying about added bleaching agents or other contaminants?
There is hope….
There are some really cool innovations in jaggery manufacturing happening such as “Low temperature Evaporator” and “Freeze Pre-concentration of sugar cane juice” that are looking at ways to reduce the amount of time jaggery is exposed to high temperatures. This will provide consumers with lighter color jaggery using more efficient production technology.
There are also certain genotypes of sugarcane varieties like CoJ 82, CoJ 88 and CoP 211, from which jaggery of light golden yellow color can be prepared naturally without adding any chemicals.
But if consumers refuse to buy them, because they associate light color jaggery with “chemicals”, then future manufacturing and agricultural innovations will not happen.
Myth #4: Jaggery powder is more processed, better to get traditional chunks
A lot of people seem to think that the traditional way of getting chunks, dissolving the liquid and straining it out will give your better quality jaggery than the powder form.
However, in order to get granular or powdered jaggery, you must sun dry the jaggery and reduce its moisture content to less than 2% which increases its shelf life to 2 years. Compare that to solid jaggery, that has a moisture content of 5-7% which reduces the shelf life to 1 year.
This, in addition to the fact that you have to whip out your knife, hatchet and whatever equipment you have to wrestle with the solid jaggery – not worth it!! Buy powdered jaggery instead and save yourself the trouble.
- We need more information on jaggery product labels
- We need more standardized jaggery manufacturing processes.
- Browner jaggery does not automatically mean purer jaggery
- Jaggery powder is a very useful product with low moisture content and increased shelf life.
I hope this review helped you understand the process of jaggery manufacturing better.
What criteria do you look for when buying jaggery? Do post your comments and thoughts below. I look forward to reading them.
Interested in more topics like this? Check out:
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- Does your favorite Indian pickle have preservatives?
- Which fried snack brand uses the worst oil?
- How to pick a good Indian Ice Cream for your family?
Some good reference on Jaggery manufacturing: