Previous  Next  Home

Sweet deal (on jaggery or gur), Claude Alvares

You may wish to know why you should use gur instead of white sugar, so let me settle that question first.

In contrast to white sugar, gur is food—nourishing food. A piece of gur comprises, besides calories in the form of sucrose, several other nutrients, like protein, minerals, calcium, phosphorus, iron, carotene, thiamine, riboflavin and niacin.

Gur is recognizably Indian (though I have picked up gur blocks in the Malaccas and Sri Lanka too). White sugar is an industrial product, available anywhere in the world. Besides 99% carbohydrates, it has nothing else. In this sense, white sugar and maida form a pair. They are both industrial monsters. Why?

Simply because industrial processing of either wheat (to form refined maida) or sugarcane (to produce white sugar crystals) involves extraction of all their precious nutrients.

In wheat, we remove all the oils and vitamins to produce refined maida. In sugar, we extract all the nutrients to produce white crystals.

The issue is the ‘extraction’ rate. In India, we have been taught over centuries to keep the extraction rate low, so that we preserve the nutrients which are more precious than even the main item.


Let’s say you want to get your family back to gur, what’s the scene like?

Most gur is still produced by village-level technology, in large, flat pans. The sugarcane juice is simply heated in these pans till it loses its water and becomes a syrup.

The problems for consumers start here. The juice needs to be cleaned, so large-scale production of gur can mean huge quantities of sodium hydrosulphite. Many people want their gur looking ‘white’. So bleaching agents including oxalic acid, superphosphate and detergents are used.

Oxalic acid is corrosive to tissue. When ingested, oxalic acid removes calcium from the blood in the form of calcium oxalate, which then obstructs the kidney tubules, causing kidney damage.

There is another major problem with gur manufacture: it’s shelf life. Since gur is hygroscopic (sucks moisture from the air), it can get spoiled due to the action of bacteria and normal enzyme activity.

To arrest that, traders and processors may use benzene to kill the enzyme action. Benzene is used in a lot of things, but never in food, as it is a known carcinogen. So how do we get out of this sweet mess?


So you go to the open market and want to buy gur. What should you avoid? Keep away from the whitened gurs like the plague.
Good gur is always golden yellow, never sickly white. Or simply go for organically manufactured gur which is now available from many sources.

Organic gur has to meet two tests. First, it must come from sugarcane grown without pesticides and chemicals.

Conventional sugarcane farming does gross damage to the soil and underground aquifers. Sugar mills have destroyed endless water resources and lands with their effluents. Organically grown sugarcane is kind to Mother Earth.


Claude Alvares is associated with the organic farming and safe food movement in India for the past two decades. He is editor of the Organic Farming Source Book and is director of the central secretariat of the Organic Farming Association of India. This article was originally published by PINK--Healthy Living magazine, a supplement of India Today, in 2008.

Previous  Next  Home

How you can participate...


Enter your email ID and get updates...