Bengal’s winter delicacy Nolen Gur: Why it might disappear soon Jaggery traders worry that their profession is being threatened

07, Feb 2023 | Mohammed Ripon Sheikh

Winters in Bengal, means nippy afternoons and chilly nights, colourful flowers, fresh seasonal vegetables in rural fields and date jaggery.  Traditionally, a bringer of favourable news, winter harvest and Bengali delicacies like Pithe-Puli, winters are unthinkable without Nolen Gur or date jaggery in most regions of Bengal, urban or rural. Hence, date molasses production is rampant in many districts like Nadia, Purulia, Birbhum, Burdwan, Murshidabad, The Date palm juice collectors work day and night, from early morning to sundown, collection the juice, heating it for hours and making molasses, making palm trees a valuable natural resource of Bengal. Moreover, every part of palm trees including leaves, stems, fruits are used in some form or the other.

Palm leaves are used to make canopies, fences and timber house poles, sometimes handcraft fans, baskets, mats and various toys. Dried branches or leaves of palm trees are used as fuel. The sugar content in the jaggery makes it delicious, and is often said to be much more nutritious than sugarcane jaggery. Date juice contains 15 to 20 percent sugar. From which delicious jaggery of superior quality is made. Date jaggery is sweeter and more nutritious than sugarcane jaggery. It contains more protein, fat and minerals than sugarcane. Date juice is a popular drink in the rural areas during winter. It is also used in the production of sweets like Rasgullas, Sondesh and Mishti Doi. It also is said to be full of health benefits like helping during indigestion, fatigue or a decline in haemoglobin. 

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To understand the process of sap collection, I spoke to Jewel Sheikh, a palm molasses trader of Birbhum. He explains,”Younger trees produce large quantities of juice. Choosing trees that look healthy and strong will yield more sap, or date juice. Sap collection also depends a lot on the skill of the sap collectors and the time and place of harvesting. Around October of every year, right after cleaning and trimming the tree,   it is necessary to periodically cut the tree every day, so that the sap begins to flow naturally. Some trees start oozing sap within three to four days after cutting. Then we use a ‘U’ shaped narrow bamboo stick that should be inserted half an inch into the plant where the sap starts to flow. The sap drips through the U-shaped stick and collects in the hanging bones of the tree. But, once one tree is cut, the sap should be collected for three to four days and the tree should be dried for the next two to three days.” An adult date tree yields 4-5 litres of sap per day. 

Speaking about how traders of date molasses have become growingly financially independent, another trader from Birbhum, Munna Sheikh says, “many people of our region have become self-reliant by selling date tree juice and molasses. The demand is very high, especially during winters – but also all year round. So we store enough molasses to enable production throughout the year.  Date juice and date molasses produced by us go to different districts of Bengal. Currently, the price of a litre of date palm juice is approximately 40 rupees and the price of 1 kg of date molasses is 120 rupees. My brother and I have been associated with this business for more than 10 years. But, there is a rapid rate of deforestation which may risk our business in the future.” According to reports, several landowners have been refusing to let the date palms on their land be cut down, even when they make a profit from the yield. Many landless labourers, especially those that belong to marginalised communities of Bengal, do not own the trees themselves and pay a hefty sum to the landowners to collect the sap. 

Organisations like the Development Research Communication and Services Centre (DRCSC), have been working with small farmers in West Bengal to promote sustainable agriculture since 2012 and trains villages to make candies, palmyra syrup, sugar, barfi (Indian sweets) and other items, besides solid and liquid jaggery, to supplement their incomes. But according to me, without a Governmental effort to conserve the trees, support local traders and monitor the stages of the supply chain, the delights of this one of the favourite food items in Bengal may be lost, sooner than later. 

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Meet CJP Grassroot Fellow Mohammed Ripon Sheikh

This young man, who has graduated with a B.Sc degree from Burdwan University, loves trivia. Sheikh’s passion to research and seek “unknown information about World History” has earned him many medals and trophies at various University and state-level Quiz championships, and youth festivals. Sheikh is a born orator and a natural community leader. He has the potential to represent his community, state and country at a global level one day. His immediate goal, however, is to find a job so he can support his parents.


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