What is Jaggery?

Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen

Jaggery or gur is a specific type of sugar popular in India. It is normally manufactured from either sugar cane or date palms, but recent trends in its manufacture have resulted in jaggery made from the sap of coconut and sago palms. While jaggery is useful in cooking, it is also an ancient part of Ayurvedic medicine and has spiritual significance in India too.

Jaggery can be made from sugar cane.
Jaggery can be made from sugar cane.

This type of sugar is considered unrefined and is produced by boiling raw sugar cane or palm juice in iron pans. It is then formed into blocks. Because it does not go through additional processing, it does retain some of the natural vitamins and minerals of the ingredients used, though boiling the juice does deplete some of these. Many people do consider jaggery healthier than more refined sugar since it is less stripped of natural nutrients.

Dates, which are used to make jaggery.
Dates, which are used to make jaggery.

In traditional Indian medicine, called Ayurveda, this sugar has several purposes. It may be prescribed for use for people with sore throats. It has some use in the treatment of bronchial or lung infections, and in fact in research has shown to possibly offset some of the lung damage caused by silicosis, a disease of the lungs that occurs when people are exposed for a long time to silica powder.

In cooking jaggery can sweeten some of the savory dishes of Indian. A pinch or two might be added to dishes like curry or sambar. Sambar is a lentil and vegetable stew popular in Indian and Sri Lanka. The sugar may be eaten in small slices alone as a dessert, or it may be combined with spices to make a variety of Indian desserts and candies.

Some Indians feel that jaggery is good luck. They may perform a traditional ceremony of eating a few bits of it prior to engaging in any new enterprise. Given its importance and popularity it's no surprise that a food that is both sweet and considered healthy could play a part in the commencement of new ventures.

In taste this unrefined sugar has been compared to brown sugar, and to other forms of raw sugar. Sometimes, inferior versions contain sand particles, which some find particularly distasteful. In appearance, you will almost always find jaggery in large round loaves that can be light to dark brown depending upon the base ingredient. Though considered healthier, it is still sugar, and is high in simple carbohydrates. You may have to look hard to find this sugar in the US; try Indian grocery stores for your best chance of locating it. Brown sugar can be substituted for jaggery in most recipes calling for it.

Jaggery is used in traditional Indian medicine for sore throats.
Jaggery is used in traditional Indian medicine for sore throats.
Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen

Tricia has a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and has been a frequent wiseGEEK contributor for many years. She is especially passionate about reading and writing, although her other interests include medicine, art, film, history, politics, ethics, and religion. Tricia lives in Northern California and is currently working on her first novel.

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Discussion Comments


Sago palms are not real palms, but rather cycads. They are poisonous to humans. I don't think that Sago palms are actually used to make Jaggery. I wouldn't recommend it.


Jaggery is unrefined sugar from the sugar cane plant. The result of boiling the cane.

I live in Key West FL, and can't find ingredients for Indian food here and we don't have an Indian restaurant. However, being only 90 miles from Cuba, we have every type of Spanish food ingredients imaginable, which I am grateful for and love. Because of that, we also have tamarind, an Indian food ingredient as well. Ah, the tropics!

In the baking section there are little brown *pucks* of Panela, wrapped in cellophane. Panela is just like Jaggery, being the unrefined sugarcane after boiling. I have used it for Jaggery in Indian dishes and believe it is the same product. You can just shave it off with a potato peeler or slice off thin pieces with a knife. It's inexpensive and easy to find where Spanish food is common.


Of course, most people don't know about it. The government and doctors would go broke if too many people knew of this. They actually want you to get sick so they can make money.


I found some in the Whole Foods market close to my house in the States. It's made by a company called Rapunzel and it's called unbleached, unrefined cane sugar. Hope that helps!


I recently purchased some jaggery at an Indian grocery and am still trying to figure out how to use it. It has a very different taste. Sort of sweet but sort of salty also. Definitely different than anything I've ever tasted. Looking forward now to trying it in some baked goods and in regular dishes.


I'd be interested in using jaggery, not for health benefits (it's still not exactly healthy) but for variety in flavor and texture. I wish more stores sold it. It's made from the same plant as white sugar, so it shouldn't cost much more than white sugar. I encourage you all to go to any stores and ask them if they sell it. Even if they don't, it might encourage them to start selling it.


Found Jaggery displayed in the Sydney Museum where it was one of the earliest trade products brought in for the new settlement of Sydney in the 1800s. Sample was purchased recently so is still available today.


This sounds like a fascinating kind of sugar. Who would have thought that there was a kind of sugar that could be good for you? And I love using natural foods and plants that have medical benefits. I do wonder how it helps with a sore throat. I can't imagine anything sweet making a sore throat feel better.

I'm also interested in how it tastes. If you can eat slices of it all by itself, it must be a bit different than regular sugar. I can't imagine eating a few sugar cubes as a treat!


With all of the new and different kinds of sweeteners that have come about in recent years, I'm surprised that I've never heard of jaggery and that it's use hasn't become more widespread. It makes me wonder, is jaggery better than sugar? It sound like it could be.

I would think that since there are health benefits to it, it would become a popular sweetener in the U.S. I just might have to visit an Indian market to see if I can find some. I'm very interested in trying it.


"Jaggery" actually has the same etymological root as "sugar," having evolved to sound different. The original term evolved from the original European word into "sugar" in the English language, and into "sarkara" in Sanskrit. This term got transmitted in a sort of verbal telephone tag, passing from Sanskrit, to Malayalam, to Portuguese, and finally to English, where it took on its ultimate form of "jaggery." Ultimately, it originally just meant "sugar."

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