by Swatee Jog
Considered for long as the poor cousin of the lustrous sugar, jaggery is now taking its position in the limelight, thanks to all its health benefits. Doctors today dissuade people from consuming the five white eatables – rice, sugar, maida, salt and milk, or to at least limit their usage to bare minimum. However, the humble jaggery has managed to remain in the good books of all the sweet- aficionados. Belagavi is a major hub of jaggery production, thanks to its affinity to the Sugarcane producing belt surrounding it. Although there is a significant drop in the number of units producing Jaggery, it is still a treat to watch the ones that are left.
Villages and towns in the Eastern and Western parts of Belagavi – Balekundri, Mutga, Modaga, Sulebhavi and Kallehol, Ambewadi are areas where we can still find the Jaggery Making Units. Especially the Eastern villages house a substantial number of such units. The raw material is the sugarcane, which is found in plenty in these areas. The process of manufacturing jaggery is quite tedious. The sugarcane is procured in bulk from farmers. The units that we approached were not manned by any owner but managed by labourers. A primitive crushing machine is used to crush the cane and the juice is collected in a pit or tank. It is then poured into a massive pan with a diameter of around 7 – 8 feet, commonly called Kahili in Marathi. The fuel used to heat the juice is the dried bagasse along with some wood. The pans can collect juices of upto 1500 litres at once. It is boiled for almost 2.5 hours, up to 200 degrees, by when the juice starts caramelizing. Slurry accumulated above the juice is frequently removed by hand and collected in a tin container. Soda and powdered vegetable oil is added to the boiling mixture. Once the juice starts thickening, it is poured into a big tin tray and after a little cooling, it is poured into small buckets. The peculiar shape of these buckets lends the jaggery mound its shape. It takes around an hour for the jaggery to completely cool and solidify. The season lasts for 4 months, starting around Mid November upto March.
800 litres of juice when boiled for 2.5 hours produces 16 mounds of jaggery of 10 kgs each. The retail price of jaggery at these units is Rs. 33 ( for yellow jaggery) to Rs. 35 ( for deep brown jaggery), which means that 800 litres of juice produces 160 kgs or roughly Rs. 5600 worth of end products. An average of around 5 laboureres were seen at each unit which had an electric connection for the crushing machine.
The only problem with this jaggery is the hygiene. None of the workers wore any protective gear. The tin moulds were lying open with some flies merrily gorging on the fresh jaggery. The crushed juice was collected in containers in the open without much sieving. No surprise then that much of the jaggery available here contains shreds of bagasse and traces of dust and wood ash.
But the consolation is the amazing taste of the jaggery as also the juice that one can just pick from source! The jaggery thus produced is used in a variety of sweets including Tilgul, payasam, gul-poli, puran-poli, laddus as also in many dishes including Sambar, Rasam which have a marble-sized piece added. The jaggery may not have the looks of sugar, but it is much sweeter and healthier than the other.
About the Author: Swatee Jog works as a Placement Officer and also teaches at Bharatesh Global Business School, and her articles have been published in Mint, HT and DNA and she has also authored two books which are being published, one on management and one science book for kids.