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The making of organic jaggery

The sweet smell of boiling sugarcane juice greets us as we approach a small thatched shed. The background music of the thrumming sugarcane crusher and the spiral of smoke going skywards from the roof augurs well as farmer Kannan and his wife Satya welcome us with freshly extracted sugarcane juice with as many refills as we want.

The making of organic jaggery

My mother who is from a sugarcane growing region in Kerala has regaled us with her childhood memories of the intoxicating sweetness of sugarcane juice and the large jaggery balls. And I can’t wait to see for myself how the jaggery is made.

The making of organic jaggery

Kannan and his team process the crop right at the farm. The thatched shed is the makeshift sugarcane processing unit that is shifted from one ready-to-harvest farm to another. A massive furnace is dug into the ground. The juice is poured into a large pan that can hold almost 400 to 500 litres and stirred continuously with the fire underneath being constantly adjusted. The fuel of choice is the dried sugarcane bagasse. The boiling sugarcane juice is cleaned using very small quantities of baking soda (and in some cases the juice of okra stems) to bring up all the dirt and impurities. It is then filtered and the dregs are used in the farm as manure to fertilise the fields.

The men skilfully and rhythmically stir the liquid, not allowing it to become lumpy or burnt. After about two hours of continuous stirring the thickened juice, now free of impurities is poured into another dry pan sitting on the mud floor. The dexterity with which two men tilt the hot pan and its contents without spilling even a drop of it, is amazing. In the next hour they turn over the thick liquid with large flat ladles that remind me of oars. This continues till the thick liquid begins to take on a powdery consistency. They add a tiny bit of of natural lime and a little organic coconut oil to it in order to get the right consistency.

The making of organic jaggery

Then with a clean long-handled wooden press they press down the jaggery powder section after section, moving around the vat. Their circular motion around the vat turning over the slowly solidifying liquid with geometric precision is like watching a synchronised swimming performance. An hour of this and the powdery raw cane sugar is deftly shifted to bags while the next batch of liquid now is ready for the same treatment.

This extremely skilled craftsmanship is dwindling and the number of people who can do this are also diminishing. Most conventional farmers sell their sugarcane to the large mills instead of processing it in-farm. But the traditional way is such a sustainable way. Nothing is wasted and no waste is generated. No long road trips with the heavy cane; the only trip is sending out the fully processed jaggery and raw cane sugar. It is thanks to committed organic sugarcane farmers and processors that we still find unrefined jaggery powder, containing the molasses, which is rich in iron. Such a contrast to cheap white sugar, that has no nutrients, that is processed in distant mills and is loaded with chemicals.

It takes so little to use this delicious naturally processed jaggery powder instead of white sugar. It also helps us, the farmers, the skilled processors and the environment.

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Printable version | Apr 16, 2021 11:36:03 AM |

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