Raw cane sugar in my hot chocolate: How the traditional sweetener is gaining popularity

Raw cane sugar is the lesser-known, traditional sweetener that gets lost amid the spotlight shone on jaggery. But it still holds its own in traditional kitchens, and café menus

“Sugar? White or naatu sakkarai?” In the good old days before lockdown, a friend and I were mulling over this question a waiter posed to us at a café in Coimbatore. What difference can it make, we wondered, as we added a spoonful of the powdery brown sweetener to our coffee. A lot, actually.

Naatu sakkarai in Tamil Nadu, khandsari in Maharashtra, Bihar and Uttar Pradesh, chekkara bellam in Telangana and Andhra Pradesh, and karimp pancasara in Kerala, all refer to ‘country sugar’ — it has an earthy fragrance, and a sweetness that leaves behind a lot of raw, sugarcane-y flavour. In composition, it is similar to jaggery, but holds a place of its own in traditional kitchens and recipes.

Jaggery is prepared by making huge balls out of the thick brown concoction that results from simmering sugar cane juice, while it is still hot, according to Sreedevi Lakshmi Kutty, the co-founder of Bio Basics, an organic products enterprise based in Coimbatore. “For raw cane sugar, the huge vessel with the thickened sugarcane juice is taken off the heat, and is stirred rhythmically for an hour with huge ladles that resemble oars,” she explains, adding that the process happens at an enclosure next to the sugarcane fields. “This then turns powdery, and the resultant is raw cane sugar or powdered jaggery as it is popularly known.”

Sreedevi says that raw cane sugar can be incorporated into a lot of desserts, whether they are traditional or innovative. “But we must remember to buy from an organic farmer who does not use any chemicals to process it,” she adds. It can be added to hot beverages, porridges, or even plain milk.

In our household, we make rava and semiya kesari with naatu sakkarai, and the dish looks rich and dark; who said that kesari ought to be orange in colour?

Then, there is the traditional Chettinad kavuni arisi or black rice puttu, in which a required quantity of the rice is crushed by running it in a mixer, soaked overnight, and cooked for 20 to 25 minutes in the pressure cooker the next morning. It is served hot with a generous sprinkling of coconut shreds and raw cane sugar.

Here are a few more recipes you can try:

Ragi hot chocolate


2 tbsp sprouted ragi flour, 3 cups water, 1 tbsp drinking chocolate, 2 tbsp raw cane sugar


Mix the ragi flour with water and stir to break any lumps. Add the chocolate mix, raw cane sugar and simmer over medium flame for four to five minutes. Keep stirring so that it attains a creamy consistency. Serve as is or with milk of your choice.

Recipe by Sreedevi Lakshmi Kutty, Bio Basics

Beetroot sabudana kheer


3/4 cup sabudana (tapioca pearls), 1/2 cup hot water, Country sugar/powdered jaggery to taste, 300 gms beetroot, steamed, 2 cups almond milk (or any milk of your choice), 1/2 cup cashew bits, 1/2 tsp ground cardamom (add more or less to your liking), a generous pinch of saffron 2 tsp rose water (optional), 1/4 cup pomegranate arils (optional), 1 tbsp crushed pistachios


Rinse the sabudana well and soak in two cups of water for an hour. Dissolve the country sugar in half cup of hot water, strain and set the syrup aside. Peel and grate the cooked beetroot, then blend along with the almond milk and cashews until completely smooth. Transfer the mixture to a non-stick pan and cook over medium heat until it comes to a gentle boil. Lower the heat, mix in jaggery syrup, cardamom, saffron and rose water. Simmer for a couple of minutes, then turn off the heat and set aside. Drain the sabudana and transfer it to a saucepan. Add three cups of filtered water and boil until the pearls turn soft and transparent. Take off the heat. Drain and add the cooked sabudana to the beetroot kheer. Add the rose water and mix well. Chill the kheer for a few hours. Before serving, stir in the pomegranate arils, and garnish with crushed pistachios.

One bowl chocolate banana nut muffins

One bowl chocolate banana nut muffins

One bowl chocolate banana nut muffins   | Photo Credit: Reethika Singh

Wet ingredients:

3 large, very ripe bananas, mashed, 1/3 cup olive oil, 2 tbsp plain yoghurt, 2 tsp apple cider vinegar, 1/2 cup country sugar, 1 tsp pure vanilla extract, pinch of salt

Dry Ingredients

1 cup whole wheat flour, 1/4 cup blanched almond flour, 3 tbsp cocoa powder, 1 1/2 tsp baking powder, 1/2 tsp baking soda, 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon, 1/4 tsp grated nutmeg


Preheat your oven to 180°C. Line a (12-cavity) muffin tray with paper liners. In a large mixing bowl, combine the mashed bananas, olive oil, yoghurt, apple cider vinegar, vanilla extract, country sugar and salt. Whisk the ingredients until the sugar dissolves fully. Sift the dry ingredients into the wet ingredients and use a rubber spatula to combine them well. Stir in the nuts and chocolate chips and ladle the batter into the muffin liners until two-thirds full. Bake the muffins for 20-25 minutes (rotating the tray midway through baking) or until a skewer inserted into the middle of the muffins comes clean. Remove from the oven and transfer the muffins on to a wire rack to cool completely. The muffins will be very soft when they are warm, but will firm up upon cooling. Store the muffins in an airtight container for two to three days.

Recipe by Reethika Singh, food blogger and photographer, @cupcakeree

(With inputs from Aparna Narrain)

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Printable version | Jul 11, 2020 8:57:52 AM |

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