Gulab jamun is a milk-solids based dessert, similar to a dumpling. It is popular in countries of South Asia such as India, Sri Lanka, Nepal, Pakistan and Bangladesh, also in the Caribbean countries of Trinidad, Guyana, Suriname and Jamaica and in Mauritius. In Nepal, it is widely known as Lal-Mohan, served with or without yogurt. It is made mainly from milk solids, traditionally from freshly curdled milk. In India, milk solids are prepared by heating milk over a low flame for a long time until most of the water content has evaporated. These milks solids, known as khoya in Pakistan and India, are kneaded into a dough, sometimes with a pinch of flour, and then shaped into small balls and deep fried at a low temperature of about 148 °C. The balls are then soaked in a light sugar syrup flavored with green cardamom and rosewater, kewra or saffron. These days, gulab jamun mix is also commercially available. Gulab jamun is often served at weddings and birthday parties.
Gulab jamun was first prepared in medieval India, derived from a fritter that Persian-speaking invaders brought to India. The word "gulab" is derived from the Persian words gol (flower) and āb (water), referring to the rosewater-scented syrup. "Jamun" or "jaman" is Hindi-Urdu word for Syzygium jambolanum, an Indian fruit with a similar size and shape. An Arab dessert Luqmat Al Qadi is similar to gulab jamun, although it uses a completely different batter. According to the culinary historian Michael Krondl, both Luqmat Al Qadi and Gulab Jamun may have derived from a Persian dish, with rosewater syrup being a common connection between the two.
Gulab jamun is a dessert often eaten at festivals or major celebrations such as marriages, Muslim celebrations of Eid ul-Fitr and Eid al-Adha and Diwali (the Indian festival of light) . There are various types of gulab jamun and every variety has a distinct taste and appearance.
Gulab jamun gets its brownish red color because of the sugar content in the milk powder or khoya. In other types of gulab jamun, sugar is added in the batter, and after frying, the sugar caramelization gives it its dark, almost black colour, which is then called kala jam, "black jam". The sugar syrup may be replaced with (slightly) diluted maple syrup for a gulab jamun with a Canadian flavour. Homemade Gulab Jamun is usually made up of powdered milk, a pinch of all-purpose flour (optional), baking powder and clarified butter; kneaded to form a dough, moulded into balls, deep fried and dropped into simmering sugar syrup.