Ingredient of the month 14: Gour (jaggery)

Kolhapuri gour from Maharastra is generally reckoned to be the best quality. As you can see from the label, there is a small amount of sulphur dioxide in this brand.

Gour usually comes in blocks shaped like an inverted bucket. This one is 5.5kg. As it is crumbly, you can cut off pieces whenever you need them.

The kind of jaggery I am talking about here is made from sugar cane rather than palm sugar, so I'm referring to it as gour to avoid confusion. As well as adding a rich and fudgy texture to cakes and an authentic texture and flavour to Indian sweets such as laddu, gour is also used in Ayurvedic medicine and has an impressive nutritional profile. True, it will lead to the same blood sugar spikes and lows as refined sugar, but unlike refined sugar it is anything but an anti-nutrient. (Antinutrient foods not only contain no nutrients that the body finds useful, they also rob the body of nutrients. White sugar and golden syrup are good examples of this; amongst other things they steal essential minerals such as magnesium from the body and generally mess everything up. That's why you'll find these kinds of sugar at an absolute minimum in my recipes, if at all.)

Gour is mostly known as a South and South East Asian food, but it is also made in the Caribbean, Africa and Latin America, where it is known as rapadura. Essentially, gour is raw sugar cane juice which has been boiled to 200C in a large wok-like pan.

Gour contains the minerals magnesium, potassium, calcium, phosphorous, iron and copper. It is rich in vitamins B1, B2 and C. The potassium content helps maintain acid balance in the body by reducing the accumulation of acids and acetones. (So it's potentially anti-carcinogenic, perhaps? It is believed by some that cancers occur more readily in overly acidic bodies.)
Medicinal uses:
In Ayurvedic medicine, gour is used to treat respiratory infections and aid digestion. It is classed as kapha dosha, or Earth and Water, Mode of Goodness and mucous- forming and is therefore used in the diet to correct vata dosha (Air, dryness, Mode of Ignorance) imbalance. (Click here to read about the Three Modes.)

Gour comes in blocks, and it's usually easiest to grate some off the block when you need it. To stop its lumpiness affecting your baking, you can melt it by gently heating it before adding to your dough or batter. It lends a fudgy quality to cakes and bakes and my husband uses it to make chikki with nuts and seeds. I also like to add a tiny piece to tomato sauces just to get tone down the acidity and add a bit of richness. In parts of North India such as rural Rajasathan and Uttar Pradesh, breakfast in the villages consists of a cup of fresh chach (buttermilk) with a chapatti in which is wrapped a small lump of gour- and very sustaining it is, too...
Have a look here, here and here for some recipe ideas involving gour. Or why not try swapping the sugar and syrup in your favourite flapjack recipe for melted gour? It gives the perfect chewy consistency and holds the oats together beautifully.


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