Karupatti Vellam (aka Pana Vellam in Tamil) (Palm Jaggery) (Palm Gur) – the world’s best and finest natural sweetener
Note: This is not the ‘Brown Sugar’ you may find in Departmental Stores. Brown sugar is also essentially cane sugar, only raw with a hint of caramel.
Palm Jaggery is used in lieu of Sugar in southern districts of Ramanathapuram and Kanyakumari of Tamil Nad, as a tradition. This is Jaggery from Palm trees that grow in abundance in south India. Karuppatti/Palm jaggery is not from sugarcane like the regular white sugar we use in our coffee/tea/sweets or even the regular organic jaggery we derive from sugarcane.
Once upon a time in India, before the British arrived, most Indians especially Hindus used only the Karuppatti (Palm) jaggery or regular jaggery from sugarcane produced by organic process, never the poisonous and caloried white sugar. With the commercial interest high in sugar from sugarcane that was processed mechanically in tonnes, we slowly switched over to white sugar in our morning coffee and toffee and mithais moving away from jaggery/palm jaggery. One more thing, the finely refined white sugar was also easy to use. I got a taste for the palm jaggery as a pre-teen at a neighbour’s place which is an interesting story. My granny continued to make sweets at home mostly using cane jaggery as much as possible. However the laddus and halwas and other sweets were loaded with plain sugar only. The sweets that were using jaggery as base/binding agent/sweetener were fast disappearing. But it is heartening to know that, the jaggery or gur based natural sweets are once again back at least in south India in a big way, as health awareness kicks in.
My flashback about palm jaggery is interesting.
I had my first exposure to karuppatti or palm jaggery when I was a 7 or 8 year old kid. One of our neighbours used to be a ‘Naadaar’ family from the southernmost parts of the state – from Ramanathapuram district. Business-minded, they got all their workers from their hometown/native villages for least wages in the stainless steel & copper utensil shop they owned. (As a matter of fact, they still own this family business and stay put in the same old now-remodeled house). For this ‘Nadar’ community, respect and honour are the most cherished values. Today Nadars are very successful entrepreneurs not only in Tamil Nad but have spread their wings around the world. They are into everything you can think of: steelware/kitchenware (primarily), silk garments/textiles/electronics/restaurant business. Of course Shiv Nadar of HCL, who can forget.
What is charming about them is, this one community never lets go of their precious ancient customs and traditions. Karupatti was one such a dear thing to them.
In my neighbour/friend’s house, there would be this huge copper pot perpetually warming up on the coals. (The family did use LPG fuel in the kitchen but when it came to workers who were limited to the ‘thaazhvaaram’ (outer courtyard) of their house, it was simmering coals. A series of copper tumblers would lie in a plate besides the pot. The pot held the ‘karupatti vellam’ coffee – fresh coffee brewed (mine is a coffee growing state as well as tea so we get it all extremely fresh than other importing nations) with milk sweetened with ‘Karupatti Vellam’ or the Palm Jaggery.
Whenever we kids went to their place to play, we were offered drinks but I always opted for this karupatti vella coffee. It could be sometimes over-sweet but it tasted so different from what we brewed at home. So very refreshingly different.
In the evenings likewise, there would sit a pot of ‘karupatti vella tea’ in the coals in their small yard.
Coffee and Tea were in unlimited supply. The workers could have their fill as much as they wanted. And we friends too.
Even today if and whenever I visit them (when I go to Mylapore) I ask them for ‘karupatti vella coffee’ and they exclaim, ‘you remember, you haven’t changed!’ The truth is, neither have they!
Some health benefits of Palm Jaggery/Karuppatti/Palm gur:
- rich in minerals like iron
- energy booster
- relieves constipation
- heals migraine
- good for digestion
- relieves common ailments such as dry cough and cold
- active cleanser of intestines
- helps in weightloss as it scores low on calorie county
- suitable for all seasons winter or sommer
- ideal and in fact best and natural sugar substitute for diabetics
Sugar substitutes such as the Aspartame and Saccharine available countertop in the market are nothing but synthetic chemicals with adverse side effects. Direct sugar is a lot better as you know at least what you are dealing with.
So what should be our order of preference when it comes to choosing the sweetener for our cup of chai.