The secret ingredient in Goan sweets

The humble local black coconut jaggery is one of the secret ingredients that gives so many Goan sweets that je ne sais quoi
Many popular Goan sweets are made using coconut jaggery
Many popular Goan sweets are made using coconut jaggeryGomantak Times

Goa has always been known for its cuisine, right from its fish-curry-rice to khatkhate (mixed vegetable curry) and many other dishes, which are unique to the state. However, what makes these dishes so flavourful are the local ingredients that are found in the local markets, and sold by local vendors.

A visit to Mapusa’s Friday market will make you realise the wealth of local ingredients on sale. One such distinct ingredient is coconut jaggery, which is made from coconut palm sap. This jaggery is quite distinct compared to the jaggery, which is made from sugarcane in terms of taste and appearance. However, it is easily identifiable through its unique pyramid shape and black colour.

Generous amounts of this ingredient are used in traditional Goan sweet dishes like dodol, patoli, alle belle and even sannas. It gives a distinct flavour to these dishes. It is also added to spicy curries to balance out the flavours of the spices.

Traditional coconut jaggery has a distinct flavour
Traditional coconut jaggery has a distinct flavourGomantak Times


However, making this jaggery is a tedious process as collection of palm sap is a laborious task, followed by the complicated process of making the jaggery.

In the book, Traditional Occupations of Goa by Pantaleao Fernandes, the chapter on coconut jaggery or maddache godd explains this process in detail.

It starts with the collection of the sap in an earthen pot called damonnem. Lime is applied to this pot with a palm frond, as when the sap is collected in the pot, it should not ferment. This collected sap is then poured into a container that is made from a pumpkin shell. It is then cooked for hours on firewood.

This process is complicated and involves many steps. The main aspect being the application of lime as it should not be too little or too much.

These days, sap is not easily available due to the shortage of toddy tappers and other reasons, as a result of which it is getting increasingly difficult to find authentic coconut jaggery.

Assavri Kulkarni, photographer and writer of the book, Markets of Goa, and the promoter of local cuisine through her YouTube videos, loves the flavour of this jaggery. She uses the powder form of this jaggery. She uses it mainly to sweeten her fov or poha, or to make chocolate pancakes for her daughter. “Adding this jaggery gives me the flavour of chocolate, without adding chocolate!” says Assavri.

She uses it to make gulkand, which is made from local rose petals. It imparts an earthy coconut flavour to it. She also uses this jaggery to sweeten cashew or coconut milk so that there is no need to add vanilla essence. She also makes laddoos and other sweets with it.

Many popular Goan sweets are made using coconut jaggery
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Assavri also shares some words of caution about the coconut jaggery which is cheaply available in the market these days. It is not as authentic as it used to be. Nowadays, getting coconut sap has become extremely difficult as the toddy tappers, who climb coconut trees twice or thrice a day to collect sap (which is used to make jaggery, coconut, feni and vinegar) are difficult to find. It is a dying profession as it involves a lot of hard work, skill and expertise, and the returns are miserably low.

“During my own ground research, I discovered that many a time, adulterants are added to the jaggery to increase its volume. Often, it is made in very unhygienic conditions. So, I now buy it from a reliable local brand and in powder form,” says Assavri.

That’s the sad reality about a local Goan ingredient which is part of many traditional sweets which are mainly made during the Christmas season in Goa. Making this form of jaggery in an authentic way is a dying art that needs to be nurtured as it is rooted in our culinary history and ecology.

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