Since the 18th century, Maharashtra has been well-known for its extensive jaggery production business, so much so that Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj came up with the ingenious idea to establish the first market yard of jaggery to fulfil all its requirements and services. Kolhapur district located in the western part of Maharashtra has been widely accepted to be the sugar capital of Maharashtra and produces jaggery that ranks first in quality and second after Muzaffarnagar in quantity in India.
The district of Kolhapur is blessed with wide and deep river basins that have abundant alluvial soil and minerals thus, making the land of Kolhapur fertile, unique and well suited for the cultivation of high-quality sugarcane. Sugarcane seeds are preserved by the famers using traditional methods and this is one of the other factors for the consistently sweet jaggery that is produced in this area. Jaggery making plants are generally small units run by villagers using the expertise passed down generations and as the process of making jaggery is highly labour intensive, offers employment opportunities to many living around the area.
The place where jaggery is made is called Gurahla. Jaggery making is a tedious business involving many steps. First, export quality sugarcane brought from the fields is crushed using a power-driven crusher. The extracted sugarcane juice is directly stored in a large concrete storage tank. The remaining wood pulp is scattered around for drying to be used later as fuelwood. The juice is transferred into a large iron vessel to be heated on a furnace using a motor driven machine.
The contents are heated for more than an hour and all the wood particles are cleared by skimming the froth. The juice gets significantly reduced by the boiling process and begins to thicken up and turns golden in colour. It is stirred continuously using a long spatula and checked constantly to determine its thickness. If it forms many threads, then it is deemed ready. It is then poured into a shallow flat-bottomed tank to cool and solidify. The jaggery becomes a soft solid upon cooling and is pressed into the desired shape to be sold in the market. The quality of the jaggery is judged by its colour – brown means high in impurities and golden yellow means relatively pure.
Kolhapur jaggery or gur as it more popularly known is processed using the age-old techniques making it completely organic with no chemicals, is deliciously sweet (80 percent sugarcane juice and 20 percent sugar) and has longer shelf life as compared to jaggery produced in other parts of the country.
The sugarcane produced in this fertile belt of Kolhapur is high in sugar and juice and the colour body proportion is less compared to others areas. The coloured impurity is easily removed while preparing jaggery. Traditional jaggery blenders are used to blend it to a light red brown colour when required. This attractive white and golden colour, distinctive sweetness and aroma are the characteristics of the world-famous Kolhapur jaggery which was granted the Geographical Indication Tag (GI) in 2014.
There are three main forms of Kolhapur gur namely solid (comes in various shapes based on the weight), powder (often used for all meals) and liquid called as kakavi. Jaggery is a great source of iron, calcium, carotene and is packed with vitamins like A, B and C. It has immense medicinal properties and often used to cure fatigue, control blood pressure, ease menstrual difficulties, clear the lungs, as a blood purifier and to treat dry cough, indigestion and constipation to name a few.
Kolhapur jaggery is exported in large quantities to Europe, Middle-East and parts of South-East Asia. But, like all small-scale cottage industries, jaggery making business also has its fair share of troubles – the dependence on climatic factors to produce export quality sugarcane, getting premium prices for sugarcane and jaggery, operational costs, traditional methods of processing, getting labourers to help in the process and the lack of value-added products that can be marketed in the organic health section.
The need of the hour is immediate development of different types of value-added products from this organic jaggery which can be made commercially available in attractive packaging that will sustain its future and rake in more income for the plant owners.
Written by Lakshmi Subramanian
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