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One ingredient in particular features regularly in her remedy arsenal. And unlike many of the peculiar poultices she applies and acrid concoctions she brews, this one is an easy pill — or lump — to swallow. The first time I tasted jaggery, I dubiously watched the slowly liquifying lump of molten-gold cane sugar ooze into flaky crevices of a layered paratha.

Against the rugged landscape of imposing mountains fencing the Karakoram HighwayI wondered how something that looked so decadent could be considered healthy. But soon after I bit into the complex sweetness, I felt a rush of energy and warmth. As I would soon find out, this was more than an indigenous medicinal food or a delectable dessert.

It was the concentrated essence of millennia-old tradition. Its many monikers across South Asia and close parallels beyond, such as panela in Colombia and much of the Caribbean, kokuto in Japan and rapadura in Brazil — just to name a few — attest to its ubiquity. The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations recognises these dehydrated sugar cane juices and their products for their non-centrifugated nature, meaning glucose, fructose and mineral residue are maintained instead of being lost in extensive refinement or Asian sweetie looking for something new.

While the refining process for white sugar removes "impurities", it also strips the sugar of micronutrients. Believed to have been introduced to the Indian subcontinent around BC via the Malayan Peninsula and Burma, sugarcane, "provides the cheapest form of energy-giving food with the lowest unit of land area per unit of energy produced," notes A C Barnes in his book Agriculture of the sugar-cane. And the intertwined pre-partition history of India, Pakistan and Bangladesh s for its widespread production and consumption throughout the region.

Jaggery is beloved across South Asia, where it is used both as a sweetener and a medicinal food Credit: Saqib Rafique. In Pakistan, jute bags overflowing with jaggery in both its granular and rock-like form are common in wholesale markets of metropolitan cities, such as Jodia Bazaar in Karachi. The sweet nuggets are perceived as morsels of wondrous goodness from nature that bring sweetness, connection and warmth.

At home, jaggery is brought out when a craving for sweets strikes, sucked on almost as a lozenge or cough drop, offered to guests as an accompaniment to tea, or even used to reward children with — a subcontinental equivalent to the cookie jar. Its depth of flavour — a multi-faceted richness difficult to replicate with the single note of sweetness in white sugar — makes it a quintessential staple in traditional recipes. Travellers will find it in the indulgent halwa and mithai Indian sweets that grace the shelves of many sweetmeat shops, including til laddoo sesame seeds roasted and combined with a thickened jaggery liquid, often with coconut and peanuts and rolled in balls or elaborate halwa varieties such as gud makhandi halwa and some variants of the famous Multani sohan halwa.

Rural memories of childhood, especially in the Pakistani province of Punjab, are incomplete without jaggery rice, a sumptuous sweet rice dish often garnished with coconut and almonds. And jaggery chai is ubiquitous at truck stops as soon as you enter Pakistan's colder northern provinces, such as Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, where I first tried it — so much so that one is hard-pressed to find the white sugar alternative as jaggery lends a unique earthy and fortifying aromatic nuttiness to the tea.

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Decades later, Tabarak profiled jaggery's vibrant production cottage industry in Charsadda, a town in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. For Tabarak, like many others, jaggery holds immense sentimental value.

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Its popularity in Pakistan makes it a ritualistic part of life at all ages. Women in rural Pakistan use it to ease premenstrual cramps or expedite labour, and infants and children are often given jaggery by their parents to prevent anaemia. Many Pakistani elders end their meals with a lump of jaggery to aid digestion and turn to it for relief from t pain and inflammation, advising their children to do the same.

The traditional sweetener's widespread use for wellness across the subcontinent is rooted in its millennia-old history as a medicinal sugar. Gud, especially purana gud aged jaggery; generally one to three years old is considered most potent appears in historical medical scripture like the Sushrata Samhita, a Sanskrit treatise on medicine and surgery, with references citing its benefits in purifying blood, alleviating bile disorders and preventing rheumatic disease.

Jaggery is also included in traditional Persian medicinal beliefs of "humour-producing" foods, meaning foods that are conducive to the production of phlegm, yellow bile, black bile and blood. Jaggery is believed to aid in the production of blood, believed to be the healthiest and most desirable of the four humours.

Furthermore, its use in balancing vata doshaone of the three energies believed in Ayurveda to compose each human body in a unique ratio, le to its prominence in Asian sweetie looking for something new healing preparations. It [the spike] will inevitably come. To benefit from the micronutrients referenced in studiesshe explained, one would need to consume a great deal of jaggery — much higher than the recommended intake.

Nadeem regularly counsels patients who paint nostalgic pictures of their virile elders and attribute much of their longevity and health to functional foods such as ghee and jaggery. However, the cultural importance and meaning of jaggery in Pakistan cannot be overlooked. Here, it's more than an ingredient; it's a mindset of taking from the land and using food to combat illness, ward off colds or provide a quick energy boost — a philosophy internalised by many to this day and passed down through the generations.

Jaggery: South Asia's sweet, sentimental cure-all. Share using. By Aysha Imtiaz 31st March Jaggery is more than an indigenous medicinal food or a delectable dessert; it's the concentrated essence of millennia-old tradition. The cultural importance and meaning of jaggery in Pakistan cannot be overlooked.

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