Gulab jamun is a milk-solids-based dessert, popular in countries of South Asia such as India, Sri Lanka, Nepal, Pakistan and Bangladesh. It is also common in Mauritius and the Caribbean countries of Trinidad and Tobago, Guyana, Suriname and Jamaica. 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 milk solids, known as khoya in India and Pakistan, 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 sugary syrup flavored with green cardamom and rose water, 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 rose water-scented syrup. "Jamun" or "jaman" is the Hindi-Urdu word for Syzygium jambolanum, an Indian fruit with a similar size and shape. The 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 rose water syrup being a common connection between the two.
Gulab jamun is a dessert often eaten at festivals or major celebrations such as marriages, the Muslim celebrations of Eid ul-Fitr and Eid al-Adha, and the Hindu festival of 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 (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 color, which is then called kala jam or "black jam". The sugar syrup may be replaced with (slightly) diluted maple syrup for a gulab jamun with a Canadian flavor.
Homemade Gulab Jamun is usually made up of powdered milk, a pinch of all-purpose flour (optional), baking powder and clarified butter (ghee); kneaded to form a dough, moulded into balls, deep fried and dropped into simmering sugar syrup.
Pantua is similar to gulab jamun, and could be called a Bengali variant of that dish.