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How Are Raw Sugars Made?

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Q. How is jaggery made — in detail?

A. OK, we're pretty sure from your email that you're the one in India (where jaggery comes from), and we're the ones in Maine (where sugar cane has never been coaxed from the soil). But Alan Davidson, an Englishman and author of The Oxford Companion to Food (Canada, UK), bridges the gap and gives us both an explanation of how jaggery, gur, the Mexican piloncillo, and other raw sugars are produced.

The following "primitive and ancient process is still used," Davidson says. "The crop is burnt to remove the leaves, and then cut down close to the ground since the bottoms of the stems are richest in sugar. The stems are shredded and crushed in simple ox-driven machinery to press out the juice, which is then concentrated by being boiled in shallow pans. Lime is added to make the proteins in the juice coagulate and collect on their surface other impurities. These form a dirty scum which is skimmed off. Further boiling removes so much water that the sugar begins to crystallize. As it does so it is scooped out and set to drain. The solid crystals are moist, dark brown sugar tasting strongly of molasses"

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