South Asian sweets
A sample of South Asian sweets
Sugarcane has been grown in the Indian subcontinent for thousands of years, and the art of refining sugar was invented there 8000 years ago in 6000 BCE Indus Valley Civilisation. The English word sugar comes from a Sanskrit word sharkara for the refined sugar, while the word candy comes from Sanskrit word khaanda for the unrefined sugar– one of the simplest raw forms of sweet. Over its long history, cuisines of the Indian subcontinent developed a diversified array of sweets. Some claim there is no other region of the world where sweets are so varied, so numerous, or so invested with meaning as the Indian subcontinent.
In the diverse languages of the Indian subcontinent, sweets are called by numerous names, one common name being Mithai (मिठाई). They include sugar, and a vast array of ingredients such as different flours, milk, milk solids, fermented foods, root vegetables, raw and roasted seeds, seasonal fruits, fruit pastes and dry fruits. Some sweets such as kheer are cooked, some like burfi are baked, varieties like Mysore pak are roasted, some like jalebi are fried, others like kulfi are frozen, while still others involve a creative combination of preparation techniques. The composition and recipes of the sweets and other ingredients vary by region. Mithai are sometimes served with a meal, and often included as a form of greeting, celebration, religious offering, gift giving, parties, and hospitality in the Indian subcontinent. On South Asian festivals – such as Holi, Diwali, Eid, or Raksha Bhandan – sweets are homemade or purchased, then shared. Many social gatherings, wedding ceremonies and religious festivals often include a social celebration of food, and the flavors of sweets are an essential element of such a celebration.
- 1 History
- 2 Varieties (in alphabetical order)
- 2.1 Barfani toda
- 2.2 Cham-cham
- 2.3 Chhena Murki
- 2.4 Chhena Poda
- 2.5 Chikki
- 2.6 Gajrela
- 2.7 Gulab jamun
- 2.8 Jalebi or imarti
- 2.9 Khaja
- 2.10 Kulfi
- 2.11 Kheer, Phirni or Payas
- 2.12 Laddu
- 2.13 Malpoa
- 2.14 Narkel/Narkol Naru
- 2.15 Parwal Ki Mithai
- 2.16 Pathishapta
- 2.17 Rasgulla
- 2.18 Ras Malai
- 2.19 Sandesh
- 2.20 Sel Roti
- 2.21 Shrikhand
- 2.22 Other sweets
- 3 See also
- 4 References
Ancient Sanskrit literature from India mention feasts and offerings of mithas (sweet). One of the more complete surviving texts, with extensive description of sweets and how to prepare them is the Mānasollāsa (Sanskrit: मानसोल्लास; meaning in Sanskrit, the delight of an idea, or delight of mind and senses). This ancient encyclopedia on food, music and other Indian arts is also known as the Abhilaṣitārtha Cintāmaṇi (the magical stone that fulfils desires). Mānasollāsa was composed about 1130 CE, by the Hindu King Somesvara III. The document describes  meals that include a rice pudding which are called payasam (Sanskrit: पायसं) are in modern Pakistani and Indian languages is called kheer. The document mentions seven kinds of rice.
Mānasollāsa also describes recipes for golamu as a donut from wheat flour and scented with cardamom, gharikas as a fried cake from black gram flour and sugar syrup, chhana as a fresh cheese and rice flour fritter soaked in sugar syrup that the document suggests should be prepared from strained curdled milk mixed with buttermilk, and many others. Mānasollāsa mentions numerous milk-derived sweets, along with describing the 11th century art of producing milk solids, condensed milk and methods for souring milk to produce sweets.
The origin of sweets in Indian subcontinent has been traced to at least 500 BCE, where records suggest both raw sugar (gur, vellam, jaggery) as well as refined sugar (sarkara) were being produced. By 300 BCE, kingdom officials in India were including five kinds of sugar in official documents. By the Gupta dynasty era (300–500 CE), sugar was being made not only from sugar cane, but other plant sources such as palm. Sugar-based foods were also included in temple offerings, as bhoga for the deities, which after the prayers became Prasād for devotees, the poor or visitors to the temple.
Varieties (in alphabetical order)
Barfi is a sweet, made from milk solids (khoya) or condensed milk and other ingredients like ground cashews or pistachios. Some barfi use various flours such as besan (gram flour). Barfi may be flavored with pastes or pieces of fruits such as mango, banana, berries, coconut. They may include aromatic spices such as cardamom and rose water to enhance the sensual impact while they are consumed.
Sometimes a thin inert silver or gold layer of edible foil is placed on top face of burfi for an attractive presentation. Gold and silver are approved food foils in the European Union, as E175 and E174 additives respectively. The independent European food-safety certification agency, TÜV Rheinland, has deemed gold leaf safe for consumption. Gold and silver leaf are certified kosher. These inert metal foils are neither considered toxic to human beings nor the broader ecosystem.
Cham Chams are prepared from flattened paneer (a form of curdled milk solids, cheese) sweetened in syrup.
Chhena murki, or chenna murki, is a sweet made from an Indian version of cottage cheese, milk and sugar in many states such as Odisha. Milk and sugar are boiled to a thick consistency. Round, cubes, cuboid or other shapes of cottage cheese are soaked in the milky condensate It basically started from coastal areas in the district of Bhadrak and nowadays it is available in all parts of Odisha. Other flavors and aromatic spices are typically added. It is also known by Bangladeshi and Guyanese people as pera.
Chhena Poda is a cheese dessert from the state of Odisha in eastern India. 'Chhena poda' literally means 'burnt cheese' in Odia. It is made of well-kneaded homemade cottage cheese or chhena, sugar, cashew nuts and raisins, and is baked for several hours until it browns. The best quality of Chhena Poda is found in the localities of Nayagarh District in Odisha.This sweet is best taste when it is consumed within two days of preparation
Chikki is a ready-to-eat solid, brittle sweet generally made from casting a mix of dry nuts and hot jaggery syrup. Peanuts and jaggery mix are most common. Other than almonds, cashews, walnuts, sesame and other seeds, varieties of chikki are also prepared from puffed or roasted Bengal gram, puffed rice, beaten rice, puffed seasonal grains, and regional produce such as Khobara (desiccated coconut). Like many Indian sweets, Chikki is typically a high protein delicacy.
Gajrela, also called Gajar halwa, is a seasonal pudding-like sweet made from carrot. It is popular in Punjab regions of India, agricultural belt of North India, now common in many parts of South Asia. It is made by slowly cooking carrot with ghee, concentrated and caramelized milk, mawa (khoya) and sugar; often served with a garnish of aromatic spices, almonds, cashews or pistachios. The recipes vary by region, and Gajrela may be cooked without ghee, then include cheese or other milk solids for sophisticated mix of flavors. It is common in Indian restaurants and is a seasonal street and cafe food during post-monsoon through spring festive celebrations.
Jalebi or imarti
Jalebi is made by deep-frying a fermented batter of wheat flour with yoghurt, in a circular (coil-like) shape and then soaking it in sugar syrup. Imarti is a variant of Jalebi, with a different flour mixture and has tighter coils. Typically Jalebi is brown or yellow, while Imarti is reddish in colour. Often taken with milk, tea, yogurt or Lassi. In classical Sanskrit literature, jalebis have been referred to as kundalika or jalavallika.
Khaja is a sweet of India. Refined wheat flour, sugar, and oils are the chief ingredients of khaja.
It is believed that, even 2000 years ago, Khajas were prepared in the southern side of the Gangetic Plains of Bihar. These areas which are home to khaja, once comprised the central part of Maurya and Gupta empires. Presently, Khajas are prepared and sold in the city of Patna, Gaya and several other places across the state of Bihar. Khajas of the Silao and Rajgir are known for their puffiness.
Khajas have traveled to some other parts of India and Pakistan, including Andhra Pradesh and Odisha. Khaja of Kakinada, a coastal town of Andhra Pradesh is very much famous in South India and Orissa. This Khaja is dry from outside and full of sugar syrup from inside and is juicy. Khaja of Puri is also very famous. At first, the batter is of wheat flour, mawa and oil. It is then deep fried until crisp. Then a sugar syrup is made which is known as "pak". The crisp croissants are then soaked in the sugar syrup until they absorb the sugar syrup.
Kulfis are traditional South Asian ice-cream, where flavored milk is first condensed and caramelized by slow cooking in presence of a small quantity of rice or seasonal grain flour; once condensed, dry nut pastes and aromatic spices are added, the mix frozen in small earthen or metal cans. This creates one of the densest known form of frozen sweets; it is typically served between −10 to −15 C when they are easier to spoon and eat. It comes in a variety of flavours such as mango, kesar, pistachios, badam (almond), coconut and plain. It is also a street side urban as well as rural India summer time snack and festive sweet, where food hawkers carry around frozen mounds of kulfi in a big earthen pot and play a particular horn music to attract customers. These vendors are known as "kulfiwalla" (one who sells kulfi).
Kheer, Phirni or Payas
Kheer is a pudding, usually made from milk, sugar and one of these ingredients – vermicelli, rice, Bulgar wheat, semolina, tapioca, dried dates, and shredded white gourd. It is also known as "Payas". While Phirni is a popular variant of kheer.
As sweet rice pudding, payas has been a cultural dish throughout the history of India and Pakistan, being usually found at ceremonies, feasts and celebrations. In many parts of India, ancient traditions maintain that a wedding is not fully blessed if payas (or payasam as known in South India) is not served at the feast during traditional ceremonies like marriage, childbirth, annaprasan (first solid feed to child), and other occasions. Other than sweet yoghurt, some families include kheer in the last meal, as hospitality and auspicious food, before a family member or guest departs on a long journey away from the home.
Laddu (sometimes transliterated as laddoo or laadu) is made of varieties of flour, grains, pulses, semolina, regional or seasonal fruits, dry fruits, and other ingredients cooked with sugar, then shaped into bite-size or larger spheres. Laddu is mentioned in ancient Sanskrit documents as temple offerings, and is referred to as Ladduka. They are popular all over India, easy to prepare, and come in dozens of varieties. Laddu is often made to celebrate festivals, religious ceremonies, or household events such as weddings.
One example of laddu is Motichoor Ka Ladoo. It is a sweet food in states like Bihar, made from roasted gram flour flakes which are sweetened, mixed with almonds, rolled into a batter which is then cast into mini balls and fried in ghee. Every mini ball called 'boondi' has enough sugar that melts like a fresh sweet. The mini balls are then combined with aromatic spices and then formed into bite-size spheres, which are called Motichoor Ka Ladoo. When bit, the mini balls distribute over the tongue for a burst of flavors throughout the mouth. Other examples include Tirupati Laddu so popular that over a million Laddu are distributed every week from a single temple of Lord Venkateswara.
Malpoa is homemade sweets of India. It is a form of pancake (made of wheat or rice flour) deep fried and sugar syrup.
Narikel Naru is a laddu shaped sweet from Bengal . They are ball-shaped and made from khoa/condensed milk and coconut, a traditional food during Kojagori Lakshmi Puja, Poush Parbon (Makar Sankranti) and several other occasions.
Parwal Ki Mithai
Parwal Ki Mithai is a dry sweet made of the vegetable parwal, a kind of gourd. The shell of parwal is filled with milk solids, then cooked. It is rather popular in Bihar, but also found in Uttar Pradesh and West Bengal.
Pathishapta is a Bengali dessert. The final dish is a rolled pancake that is stuffed with a filling often made of coconut, milk, cream, and jaggery from the date palm. These desserts are consumed in Thailand as well.
Rasgulla is a popular sweet in South Asia. They come in many forms, such as Kamalabhog (Orange Rasgulla), Rajbhog which is stuffed with dry fruits and khoa inside, Kadamba often served with kheer, Rasamundi, Raskadamba, and others. Some are white, others cream, brown, gold or orange colored. They are called Rasbari in Nepal. This dish is made by boiling small dumplings of chhenna and semolina mixture in sugar syrup. Once cooked, these are stored in the syrup making them spongy. Increasing the semolina content reduces the sponginess and hardens them, creating variety of textures. Some Rasgulla are stuffed inside with treats, such as dry fruits, raisins, candied peel and other delicacies to create a series of flavors experienced as they are consumed. Some versions, called danedhar, are removed from syrup and sugar coated into shapes of fruits and other creative designs. These are festive foods found year-round, in many parts of India.
Ras malai or rosh malai is a dessert eaten in Pakistan, India and Bangladesh. The name ras malai comes from two words in Urdu/Hindi: ras, meaning "juice", and malai, meaning "cream". It has been described as "a rich cheesecake without a crust. Ras malai consists of sugary white, cream or yellow-coloured (or flattened) balls of paneer soaked in malai (clotted cream) flavoured with cardamom.
Sandesh is a sweet made from fine cheese made from cow's milk kneaded with fine ground sugar or molasses. This is a sweet from West Bengal and Odisha. Revered for its delicate making, and appreciated by the connoiseur, this represents sweet making at its finest. Sandesh comes in two varieties, "Norom Pak" (the softer version) and "Koda Pak" (the harder version). The softer version although more gentle and considered better, is fragile. The harder version is robust and often easier for storage. Molasses made from dates can be used to make a special variation of Sandesh called "Noleen Gurher Sandesh" (a Sandesh made from "Noleen Gurh" or molases from dates) or simply "Noleen Sandesh".
Sel roti is a Nepali home-made circular-shaped bread or rice donut, prepared during Tihar, a widely celebrated Hindu festival in Nepal. It is made of rice flour with adding customized flavors. A semi liquid rice flour dough is usually prepared by adding milk, water, sugar, butter, cardamom, cloves and other flavors of personal choice.
Shrikhand is a creamy dessert made out of strained yogurt, from which water is drained off completely. Dry fruits, mango puree, saffron or cardamom and sugar are added to the thick yoghurt to get the desired flavour and taste. It is served chilled. It is a West Indian traditional dish.
Other traditional Indian sweets and desserts famous throughout the history of Indian food include:
- Mysore pak (a dessert made out of ghee, sugar and chick pea flour),
- Halwa (or Halva in modern English spelling); made out of flour, butter and sugar
- Dharwad pedha
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