The Sweetener of Gods

11/11/2016 Leave a comment

No matter how many great and wonderful things there are in life, the best thing ever is bread and jaggery – Sukumar Ray, writer and poet

Do you think candy is American? Think again. Originally called khand, candy actually originated in the Indian subcontinent. It seems as though ‘Indian’ palates have had a long history of sweetness. Sugarcane was the first thing that our favourite sage, Gautama Buddha, ate after he attained enlightenment. Legend says that two travellers offered him sugarcane after he had been starving for many days and he in turn, made them his first disciples.

Jaggery, or gur as it is known in Hindi, was invented in India and has been an important part of the Indian diet ever since. In the absence of refined sugar, jaggery was a delicacy that was cherished and valued very highly. India produces many types of jaggery, extracted from sugarcane and different kinds of palms, and made in various styles. Jaggery is even used in some ice cream. The Bengal government sells jaggery syrup in tubes that people eat with bread and chapatis.

Today, jaggery faces many challenges. The urban centric population has adopted refined sugar as a sign of modernity. It sees jaggery as something its parents used to eat. Jaggery is not ‘cool’ anymore. But it used to be. Premchand, one of the greatest writers in the Hindi language, loved jaggery. Narendranath Mitra wrote a short story, Ras , about a man who made and sold jaggery. One of Amitabh Bacchan’s first films, Saudagar , was based on that short story. The quote at the beginning is from the father of Satyajit Ray, Sukumar Ray , a renowned and much loved poet in Bengal. If you want to learn more about the food that inspires such strong emotions, listen to the new episode of The Real Food Podcast by Vikram Doctor.

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