Monday, July 22, 2024

Jaggery: Rediscovering the Sweetness of Our Roots

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In a world where refined sugar rules every Indian household, Jaggery or “Gud” is fast becoming the recommendation of most health experts or nutritionists. “Gud” as a modern beacon of health, is deeply steeped in Indian traditions.

Types of jaggery, it's uses and health benefits | The Times of India
PC Times of India

“Gud” is a natural sweetener made by boiling sugarcane juice or palm sap until it solidifies into a block. It is a natural, unrefined sweetener that has been used for centuries in traditional Indian cuisine and Ayurvedic medicine.

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Recently netizens went to war with their keyboards and smartphones over the origin of Jaggery. The popular western narrative showcases the civilization of India by the seafaring Europeans. Lately, some believers of this narrative included jaggery to the list of inventions that Europeans introduced to India. However, the “Jagrut-Bharatiya” population effectively came back with quotes, pictures of ancient texts, and recipes in Sanskrit where “Gud” was mentioned.

Vasco da Gama Arriving at Calicut, India (Illustration) - World History Encyclopedia
PC World History Encyclopedia

The “discovery” of jaggery is similar to the discovery of India by the Portuguese. The Portuguese “discovered” India in 1498 when Vasco da Gama came ashore on the Malabar coast. However, please note that India had already discovered the world by then. India contributed close to 35% to the global GDP in ancient times. By the 15th century, Indian spices, cloth, steel, and handicrafts were already popular with Arab traders. In reality, the much touted “Discovery of India” is a twist of the actual truth. The Portuguese were not out to discover a region whose existence they were already aware of. Instead Vasco da Gama was on the way to “Discover the sea-route to India”.

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Similarly, the Portuguese connection to “Gud” lies in the word “Jaggery”. The word jaggery comes from the Portuguese word “Jagara” or “Xagara”. This word draws its roots from the Malayalam word “Cakkara”. This Malayalam word is derived from the Sanskrit word “Sarkara” defining sugar. The etymology of Jaggery clearly shows that the Portuguese have only given the world the word “Jaggery”. However, they did not invent jaggery or “Gud”. 

Jaggery in Ancient Indian Scripture

The proof of the Indic civilization’s use of “Gud ” lies in its ancient texts, some of which date back to 2000 B.C.E. The use of “Gud” in cuisine and medicine by the ancient Indians conclusively proves that “Gud” existed in India before the Portuguese set foot on its oil. Here is a list of some ancient Indian texts that include “Jaggery” or “Gud” in recipes, rituals, or medicine.

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The Charaka-Samhita, considered as one of the oldest ayurveda texts, expounds the richness of nutritional value of “Gud”.  Modern science dates this document to 1 C.E. The Samhita defines “Gud” as a useful “aushadhi” or medicine, “anupana” or nutritive drink consumed with or after food, “ahara” or food substance, and “sandhan dravya” or a  fermentation agent in food. Furthermore, the text defines the guna of “Gud” as Krimi-Majja-shyonit-Meda-Mamsavardhak, Annapanavidhiadhyaya in Sutrasthana.


Sushruta-Samhita is an ancient text on surgery and medicine that mentions jaggery as an ingredient in several medicinal preparations. The samhita uses “Gud” as an ingredient of Chyawanprash, an amalgamation of many ingredients that boost immunity and promote overall health. The ancient text places great importance on “Gud” to cure many ailments.


The Skanda Purana refers to the use of jaggery to make and alter to place the deity. It also urges the worshippers to serve water and “Gud” to the deity as offerings. The test exults the purity of “Gud” and approves of it for all auspicious tasks. There are several references in the text to the sweetness of “Gud” in shlokas.


The Padma Purana refers to the use of jaggery as a gift. It mentions “guda-dhenu” or cow made of jaggery and “gudacala” or mountain of jaggery in the worship of Sun. The Shilpa-shastra states the use of water, “Gud”, and lime to make bricks to make beams.

Matangalila and Hastyayurveda, promote the use of jaggery instead of salt to uplift the spirit of domesticated animals.

Indic Civilization and Jaggery

“Gud” has been a part of Indian culture for thousands of years. Ayurveda considers “Gud” to have medicinal properties for many millennia. Indians use jaggery in several home-remedies to treat a variety of ailments; including coughs, colds, and digestive problems.

18 Jaggery sweet delicacies from different parts of India | Times of India
PC Times of India

Despite its use as a nutritional supplement, “Gud” plays a significant role in traditional Indian desserts and snacks. For example, the “Puran-poli” or a roti made with a “gud” filling is a traditional Maharashtrian dish for auspicious occasions. Most households in India will have Gud-ki-Chikki, Til-ke-laddu, or Lai-patti in the winters. Kerala celebrates Onam with Unniyappam, a special snake made with “Gud” and bananas. Tamil Nadu and Kerala celebrate festivals with Payasam made with “Gud”. Bengal is known for its narkel-laddu and rasagulla made with “Gud”.

Modern Science’s take on Jaggery or “Gud”

Modern scientists state that a teaspoon of “Gud” contains calcium, phosphorus, magnesium, potassium, and iron. “Gud” also has trace amounts of zinc, copper, thiamine, riboflavin, and niacin.

“Gud” is universally believed to boost immunity, aid in weight loss, and improve digestion. The biggest advantage of jaggery over refined sugar is its low glycemic index. Thus, jaggery does not cause a sudden spike in blood sugar levels like white sugar.

“Gud” as a Way of Life

What is Jaggery? Types of Jaggery and its Benefits
PC Rural Treasures

The use of jaggery ranges from daan to prasaad; from home to temple; from puja to cuisine. “Gud” is not just a sweetener, but is also a symbol of the rich cultural heritage of India. It has been an important part of Indian culture and cuisine for centuries, and its importance can be observed in various ancient texts and scriptures. By rediscovering the sweetness of our roots in “Gud”, Indians can improve their health and also preserve the traditions of India for generations to come.




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