One of my earliest childhood memories is of my daadi [paternal grandmother] eating shaved gurr or jaggery with a piping hot roti. While still a pantry staple in many households, gurr is often overlooked these days in favour of its cousin: refined sugar. This is a pity.
Made from sugarcane juice or palm sap, jaggery, unlike sugar, provides a more subtle sweetness — a subdued caramel flavour instead of an in-your-face sweetness, as anyone who has ever had besan ka halwa [gram flour dessert] or gurr paaprri [jaggery squares] can tell you. Every bite is more textured and layered. It also contains nutrients, and is lighter on the wallet.
While the jury is still out on jaggery’s health benefits (it is sugar after all), it’s used in Ayurvedic medicine, considered to help in good digestion, in boosting the immune system, and in reducing anaemia.
Gurr is made in other parts of the world too — it’s called piloncillo in Mexico, tapa dulce in Costa Rica, kokuto in Japan — so the dishes and drinks that feature jaggery reflect its cosmopolitan reach.
In many parts of South America and the Caribbean, gurr is used to make, among other things, aguapanela, a drink, served hot or cold, made from melting jaggery in water. It’s particularly popular in Columbia, especially among rural labourers.
Sweet and crunchy, gurr paaprri is the perfect wintry snack
Piloncillo (which means pylon in English) has been used in Mexican cuisine for around 500 years. The gurr is featured in a number of dishes such as piloncillo syrup poured over buñuelos, a deep-fried dough fritter. It’s added to Mexican hot chocolate, champurrado, and used to make sweet-fried masa cakes (a patty made from corn, cheese and piloncillo).
Kokuto is added to Japanese savoury dishes such as miso-marinated fish, sukiyaki (beef stew) or chicken teriyaki to add a subtle sweet kick. Jaggery is also used to make sugar syrup called kuromitsu which is used in many Japanese desserts.
Locally, in Pakistan, gurr is the starring ingredient in many desserts such as sooji ka halwa [semolina dessert] besan ke ladoo [gram flour sweetmeat] and besan ka halwa. In winters generally, people opt for shaved or roughly broken jaggery to add to tea, as well as green tea.
Mix in some tamarind sauce and gurr for a sticky sweet-and-sour concoction or replace sugar with gurr in your tea, coffee or dessert for a different kick of sweetness. And know that, when you do, you’re continuing a tradition that can be traced back centuries.
A popular wintry snack in the Gujrati and Memon communities, gurr paaprri is essentially a dessert square made from wheat flour, jaggery and ghee. While this recipe includes pistachios and almonds, feel free to add other nuts such as cashews or peanuts for a twist on the traditional.
Fennel seeds and cardamom balance out the sweetness of the gurr and gond kathira [edible gum] adds a crunchy oomph. Gurr paaprri can be stored in an air-tight container at room temperature for up to a month or two. This recipe makes about 40-50 squares.
1 kg wheat flour
1 kg ghee
1.25 kg gurr
250g gond (edible gum)
1 tablespoon fennel seeds
1 tablespoon cardamom powder
|1/2 to 1 cup poppy seeds, shredded coconut or chopped nuts (optional)
In a pot, melt 2-3 tablespoons ghee and then add the edible gum. Keep stirring occasionally until the tiny bits expand and puff up.
Stir and blend the puffed-up bits.
Melt the remaining ghee in a large pot.
Add and roast fennel seeds and cardamom.
Add the wheat flour a little at a time, stirring it occasionally, and roast it till it has browned.
Break the gurr into medium-sized chunks. Put in a separate pan and melt the chunks. Once completely melted, take off heat and pour into the flour-nuts-ghee mixture.
Add some more ghee if the mixture is not pasty enough. Keep stirring till the gurr dissolves in the mixture.
Finely chop the pistachios and almonds. Add them to the pot and stir.
Add the blended gum and mix in.
Pour in a flat, shallow dish and let it cool.
Sprinkle poppy seeds or shredded coconut or nuts or all three on top, if desired.
Once cooled, cut into half-inch squares. Serve with tea.
Originally published in Dawn, EOS, February 13th, 2022