Is jaggery better with your coffee or tea?

It’s been two months now since my husband and I started using jaggery (bella in Kannada) in our tea and coffee. This traditional sweetener, known by different terms in different languages, from gud in many parts of North India to chakkara or sarkkara in Malayalam and vellam in Tamil, lends a subtle and deeply flavourful taste to everyday beverages. Coffee sweetened with bella for instance, has a lovely aroma and tastes wonderful, especially in this chilly weather!

Many friends of ours have also made the switch. Of course, some of them only use organic powdered jaggery (available in speciality stores and online grocery stores), but regular ‘ball’ or ‘cube’ jaggery from your neighbourhood home-needs stores works just as well, at least for me.

But all this talk of bella has had me wondering why there is such renewed interest in it. Friends tell me they have made the switch in an effort to cut processed, refined white sugar from their lives; that while there may be no immediate or visible benefits, many of them believe that on a long term basis, bella is definitely better for health.

Pic: Harichandan Arakali

So is jaggery healthier? When I put that question to Bengaluru-based nutritionist Sheela Krishnaswamy, this is what she had to say: “Jaggery is less processed and less refined than sugar.” And can jaggery aid weight loss? Not true, stresses Ms Krishnaswamy. “No single food can lead to weight loss. It’s the overall change in lifestyle that adds to or reduces body weight. Besides, jaggery contains similar amount of calories as sugar, although it tastes less sweet,” she points out.

Further, while diabetics can consume jaggery, the “total calorie and carbohydrate count (in their diet) must be well-controlled. And this has to be assessed and monitored by a qualified dietitian and not decided by the diabetic on his or her own,” Ms Krishnaswamy adds. 

Why ‘bella’ is better

We all know that sugar adds empty calories to your diet, so what does jaggery really contain that makes it better? There are many websites that have articles comparing jaggery and sugar, but I would like to know facts, like, for instance, the composition of bella or what it is made of.

Here is a note from the Sugarcane Breeding Institute (SBI) (www.sugarcane.res.in), an institute under the Indian Council of Agricultural Research, on the composition of cane jaggery. According to SBI, jaggery is made up of the following:

  • 60-85% sucrose
  • 5-15% glucose and fructose
  • 0.4% of protein
  • 0.1 g of fat
  • 0.6 to 1.0 g of minerals (8 mg of calcium, 4 mg of phosphorus, and 11.4 mg of iron)
  • Traces of vitamins and amino acids
  • 100 g of jaggery gives 383 kcal of energy

And what does white crystal sugar contain? “Only sucrose to the tune of 99.5% without any minerals,” says SBI. “In Ayurveda, jaggery is considered the best base material for the preparation of medicines,” the note from SBI adds. So there you have it, here is the difference between sugar and bella.

Value for money?

And how has the experience been for us, after the big switch, so to speak? Well, having tea/coffee with jaggery seems to be aiding our digestion. My husband and I both feel a lot less bloated, lighter and fitter. Therefore, we are happier.

For me, one concern about jaggery is that it is costlier than sugar. While regular refined sugar costs between Rs 45 and Rs 55 a kg, organic bella can cost Rs 110-Rs 120 a kg. Ordinary jaggery though is comparable with sugar at about Rs 55-Rs 65 a kg. Besides, since bella is not as sweet as sugar, you end up using more of it each time, per cup. Which, in turn, means, a kilo gets over in no time. And that means monthly budgets can get a little stretched with this switch.

But then, think of it this way – if I go to a café anywhere in Bengaluru, I invariably spend at least Rs 100 for a decent coffee. On the other hand, by using bella at home, I get to savour a healthier and definitely headier, cup of coffee. The only problem now is that I love my cuppa too much – I’m having way more coffee than I used to!

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10 Comments

  1. Dear Divya Madam,

    Thanks for worthy information on my favorite bella, which should be any day better than white sugar, since you have mentioned Malnad variety of bella therefore if possible can you provide the source of purchase the same in Bangalore.

    If any data is available with you can you throw some light on Brown sugar which is fast becoming an alternative to white sugar.

    Thanks and regards,

    MADAN

  2. Am glad you liked the article, Balaji. I have not experienced what you’re saying but I now only use organic powdered jaggery as I find that hassle-free (to use) and it definitely tastes cleaner than ordinary spherical/square shaped lumps of bella. But some other readers have recommended Malnad jaggery and other varieties. Do check out all options to see what works best for you.

  3. First thanks for this article. I recently tried using Jaggery for coffee, and when we boiled the milk along with jaggery, we found that the milk splits (sort of spoiled). My mother then advised to add it after the milk is taken out from the stove, and it worked. But my problem is that I need to filter out the impurities from Jaggery, which means I have to boil it with water, then remove the impurities, then add the jaggery water to the boiled milk, which seems to be a time consuming activity. So, I am considering going for organic Jaggery powder, instead. Any similar experiences ??

  4. Hi Divya – You can get Organic (Desi) Jaggery powdered from Patanjali stores which costs 60 Rs per Kilo. They take out moisture out of Jaggery and do a fine powder. Am using this from long time feeling happier and healthier. Remember powedering jaggery into fine powder like sugar doesnt lose any of its properties except moisture.

  5. Am glad you are a bella lover too, Nidhi. I have not yet tried out the Malnad variety that Lakshmi mentioned but will definitely do so because even my little one likes some bella with his milk nowadays. 🙂

  6. I too would give a thumbs up for jaggery in place of sugar!!
    And I too had heard of the jaggery which Lakshmi had told. But now due to http://qusec.in/ which Lakshmi told, I got to where I can get it..
    Thanks ..

  7. Thank you, Lakshmi. I will definitely try to get some Malnad jaggery, it must be cleaner and therefore, healthier. In fact, the jaggery in my home town (Calicut or Kozhikode in Kerala) is also different from what we buy here in Bangalore.

  8. Bella jeevakke volledu anta hale kaaldindaanu heltaane bandidaare!! In Malnad region of Karnataka, after people work in farms, they drink water with jaggery!! This is to ward them off from tiredness.. Malnad jaggery will be different from what we get in Bangalore. If at all you have not tried it then you shouldn’t miss it. You may get it in http://qusec.in/grocery/jaggery, try it if you have not tasted it!! And the blog is very informative. Thanks.

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