This ingredient is like a secret weapon – it adds sweetness (but not too much), caramelized overtones and even a bit of nuttiness in my opinion. If you have never tasted jaggery, or gur in Hindi, it’s addictively delicious, and for the seasoned cook, will readily become a substitute for sugar in desserts or even for adding measured sweetness to savoury dishes.
Jaggery is unrefined, naturally processed sugar cane, date palm or even coconut palm sap. The sap is boiled down and formed into blocks, and the color varies from golden to a deeper brown. With less processing comes less depletion of vitamins and minerals, and jaggery is even used in Ayurvedic medicine to treat a host of health issues.
When I was in Goa, jaggery was used, not only because of its incredible taste, but because it’s much cheaper than refined sugar. A form of this unrefined, economical sugar is found in cuisines around the world from South Asian to East Asian to West Indian and Latin American. Chancaca, piloncillo, and rapadura are common Latin American names for it, where it is found in a similar block form, but I’ve even seen it here in Dean and Deluca broken up and labeled palm sugar.
What I love about jaggery is really its truly unique flavor – some crazy combination of molasses, brown sugar and butterscotch…but just not that sweet. It also has a low melting and high burning temperature, so it works well in everything from sauces to dry rubs. Its block form requires chopping it up or, better, crushing it with your fingers to use it (part of the joy of cooking…).
Online purveyors carry it and even Amazon, but you can find it at most ethnic grocers under one of the numerous names it goes by. As I mentioned, it varies in color – go for the darker version for the most complex and rich taste.