Sugarcane Fields: Making Jaggery

Photo of Farmer in rural india offering Jaggery or Gur by Arun Shanbhag
Farmer offering Jaggery or Gur in Karnataka

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.
Pictures of the making of jaggery or fur by Arun Shanbhag

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.

Picture of Sugarcane making by Arun Shanbhag
Sugarcane juice is boiled in large open vats

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.

pictures of how jaggery or gur is made
Melted jaggery is poured in this trays and allowed to harden

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.

Pictures of How jaggery is made by Arun Shanbhag
Dried waste from sugarcane is burnt as fuel

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.

Pics of Cows on the way to Badami by Arun Shanbhag
Cows on the way to Badami

Pics of Cows on the way to Badami by Arun Shanbhag
Cows on the way to Badami

More jaggery and uses:

On Rural India

37 thoughts on “Sugarcane Fields: Making Jaggery

Add yours

  1. D/Arun
    Greetings-for Sankaranti & 2012
    Excellent post-
    I had missed this earlier -Sugar Cane & Jaggery -Most informative & educational post .Thank you I have taken & studied /posted pics of sugar cane fields in Chennai outskirts -but never seen the Jaggery-GUR making Process” as It is-mostly in remote locations of India.
    Also am in shipping-Have seen Bulk MOLASSES shipments -sold to UK Continent -surveyed this-loaded the cargo-visited Factory in London of United Molasses-
    but this post on the ground reality of growing Sugarcane-to Juice to Jaggery is really an eye opener-Sad part the Sugar cane farmer lives in poverty… My heart goes to the Kisan -God protects -TR

    1. Thank you Capt for your greetings and kind words on this post.
      Wishing you and your family a wonderful Sankranti too.

      Visiting these remote villages to see poor farmers working hard is so heart filling. Yes, they are indeed poor, but rich in heart. Wish our policies would do a better job of ensuring that the poor benefit from the economic growth as well.

      Best Wishes

    1. Thank you Preena.
      There are so many things we take for granted and finally we got to see this little road-side enterprise. Amazing no? and to see that these poor folks make a living from it.

      Love to hear more details about your Gujarat trip. Have your blogged about it?


      1. aHa! I remember during our visit to grand parents in Bhatkal, she would find these round balls of very dark jaggery for us. It looked like a scrapping and tasted deliciously different.
        Would you know what this is called?

        Thank you for sharing this here.

  2. Hope this journey has given you the chance of taste the delicious Jaggery. And I think you enjoyed a lot. so many days I don’t know exactly how jaggery is been prepared thanks for sharing this information.

    Now I know how the jaggery is being prepared.

  3. Mr Sharma

    Thank you for sharing your thoughts.

    when you say, “same quantity of sucrose” will you please provide a reference. Also, is this for the “same volume” of jaggery and sugar? Please clarify. that is, for say 10 gms of jaggery and 10 gms of sugar?

    Rather than aspartame or saccharin with possible health risks, would it not be better for diabetics to adapt to not using any additives. Further there is some evidence that artificial sweetners can make you crave for more sweeter things. not a good thing for diabetics.

  4. :…it should be better sweetener for diabetics, than refined sugar.”

    Though wholesome and tasty, jaggery has about the same quantity of sucrose as “refined” (i.e. bleached) sugar. It is not much better for diabetics who should stick with Aspartame or even Saccharin. (Saccharin has some unfortunate bad reputation; but is actually very safe in the quantities we use)

  5. Oh I really appreciate this post. Thanks for the link to it. I will be in Karnataka in Jan, but only briefly. Most of my time this trip in Kerala.

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