On a recent visit to India, we took a cab from Belgaum to Badami to see the exquisitely carved cave temples. 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. See post on peanut farm. 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 overseer (foreman) in the accompanying pic insisted I try some of their jaggery. Delicious. Gur has the consistency of solid fudge with a coarser texture. It has a distinctive earthy taste and is used in indian desserts, such as payasam. A pinch of gur rounds-off the spice in many indian dishes, such as 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 decades later I reciprocated and 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. Fresh pressed sugarcane juice is a delicacy in Mumbai as well. At the back, notice the composting / drying pile.
The cane juice is first allowed to settle impurities and then boiled in this huge open air vat. It is frequently 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 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 or other chemicals. 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 me a “sugar high,” leading me to speculate that it should be better sweetener for diabetics, than refined sugar. Here in Boston, I now use grated jaggery in my coffee instead of 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.
Leaving you with a few images of cows sauntering along the back streets.
More jaggery and uses:
- Video: Making Ganna Ras – Sugarcane Juice
- Transporting Sugarcane by Bullock Carts
- Recipe: Surnoli – Watermelon Rice Pancakes
- Recipe: Duddali – Arrowroot Pudding
- Recipe: Goad Appams – A Konkani Delicacy
- Puran Poli Perfect
- Video: Making Puran Polis
On Rural India