The humble Ladoo is perhaps the best known Indian sweet dish around the world. Whether it be as holy offerings, or for a festival, or for a celebration, or just because you feel like it, it is the perfect bite-sized dessert for each occasion. The true magic of the Ladoo is in its many forms and shapes with each state in India specialising in their own special Ladoo recipe. Here are a few Ladoos from India that explain the dish’s popularity:
Boondi Ladoo is the most popular form of Ladoo found in India. Round golden spheres of deliciousness, no festival is complete without one of these adorning your plate. Made of Gram Flour which is first sieved and fried into individual balls (hence the name coming from the Hindi word ‘boond’ or drop), this Ladoo is the perfect mouthful of crunchiness and sweetness. It’s popularity is such that it has different sub-genres within itself such as the Motichoor Ladoo where the individual pieces of Gram flour are minute but combine to form a ball of deliciousness.
Methi Dana Ladoo is unique in its distinctive bitter yet sweet taste. Made with Methi Dana or Fenugreek seeds, this Ladoo produces a culinary experience that is so distinct that it is one that won’t be forgotten easily. Most commonly eaten in the winters, the nutrient rich Fenugreek seeds impart goodness such as antioxidants and enhanced digestive abilities.
Til ke Ladoo is another essential winter snack eaten across India. Made from Til or Sesame Seeds, they provide a punch of flavour and nutrition that is hard to match. Usually combined together with jaggery, these Ladoos are the perfect bite of sweet, savoury, toasty, nutty goodness.
Besan Ladoo is another dish with universal appeal across India. Like the Besan Burfi, it is made of Chickpea Flour and it’s unique, crumbly, texture contains within it the sweetness of jaggery and the crunch of assorted nuts added to it. It is a must-have in the state of West Bengal.
A glittering, silver-adorned mound of Burfi is a mainstay at any Mithai shop across India. It feels inconceivable to think of Eid or Diwali celebrations without the fudgy, diamond shaped, sweet occupying pride of place in any ceremonial sweet platter. The Burfi is probably best known in its cashew based Kaju Katli form but it is a truly versatile sweet dish which can take many forms. Here are a few types of Burfi’s from all four corners of India which show that Burfi can go beyond a Kaju Katli:
Coconut Burfi or Thengai Burfi is a popular sweet dish most commonly found in Kerala and other neighbouring states in South India. It beautifully melds together the fudginess of the dairy in the Burfi with the natural sweetness and crunch of coconut shavings. If you’re lucky to grab one made from fresh coconut, the natural fats of the fruit seep into the fudge to provide a flavoural texture that is unparalleled
Anjeer Burfi is the perfect sweet for those who want the deliciousness of the sweet without the added calories of sugar! It is a Burfi made of Anjeer or figs to which Dates are added as natural sweetener and finally combined together with nuts. This is a completely sugar-free dish and optionally, Khoya can be added to it to provide an extra punch of texture as well as protein. It is the perfect sweet dish to indulge on without feeling guilty about your fitness goals!
Besan Burfi is a sweet dish that is perfect for those that are averse to gluten. Made from Besan or Chickpea flour, it provides a silky texture to a delicacy that is consumed across India. It is also a dish noted for its simplicity, often utilising just three ingredients- Chickpea four, Clarified butter, and Sugar or Jaggery. Mostly eaten during the winters, it is a dish that is perfect for any age group.
The meal is over and the table has been cleared, and yet your stomach doesn’t feel full until it's been fed dessert. Sugar cravings after meals is something that all of us experience and yet agonise over because of the guilt of calorie consumption that comes with it. So why exactly do we crave that rush of sugar no matter what we’ve eaten?
The answer to this physical reaction might actually lie in our mental processes. Sugar produces a chemical in the brain called Serotonin which is the primary chemical which makes us feel good. Over time, the association of this warm feeling of happiness is something we associate with a sweet dish at the end of a meal and our neural pathways of behaviour get wired to associate the commencement of dessert with a feeling of satiety and happiness. Those on strict diets which seek to completely eliminate sugar often fall prey to fierce sugar cravings because of the body craving this quick release of Serotonin.
A sugar craving is also produced as a natural balance to a diet which has an excess of sodium. Meals that are heavy on salts and other sharp flavours produce a sensory overload on our palate, one which we then try to balance out with a taste that is diametrically opposite to the meal just consumed.
Sweet dishes, when taken in moderation, are not bad for you and a sugar craving, when not fed in excess, is natural. Also, a portioned helping of a dessert in the winters might actually be good for you. Moderation is the key here and we are fortunate in India to have some delicious, healthy desserts. Instead of breaking off a chunk of chocolate post a meal, perhaps nibble on a Chikki? A small helping of Murabba with your final portion of Roti also helps satisfy those urges. Indulgence doesn’t always need to feel sinful.
‘Mooh Meetha Karo’ or ‘Have some sweets’ is an inescapable demand when visiting most Indian houses whether it be a festivity or a celebration. Indeed, the epitome of a feast needs to be in the dessert or sweet dish which bookends the food. Think back to the last celebration you attended or religious place you visited which didn’t end with some form of sweet dish being offered to you. Incomprehensible isn’t it?
The role that Indian sweet dishes have come to play in households dates back to the very constituents of the earliest Indian desserts. If you ponder closely, most Indian sweet dishes that have universal appeal have some combination of dairy, clarified butter, and sugar at their core. This is because these ingredients were considered pure or ‘sattvic,’ a word that has come to signify the yogic diet that is pure, or ideal for everyone. Another added layer to this is the belief amongst Hinduism that dairy products obtained from cows are ‘pure’ due to their religious beliefs. It should be no surprise that one of the oldest Indian sweet dish recipes, mentioned in the Vedas, is something that would still be familiar to most Indians. It mentions the creation of a pudding through the slow boiling of milk, rice, and sugar which is still made in India today as Kheer.
Since India was one of the first places in the world to cultivate sugarcane and succeed in refining sugar, it became an important ingredient used in holy offerings or prasad. As sugar was something that was not freely available to everyone in ancient India, dishes made from it were considered elevated by the presence of sugar in them. The ceremonial use of a sugar laden delicacy given to God as offering or served to the devout in places of worship adds another layer of understanding to how it has come to play such a big part in our celebrations. Whether it be kadha prashad given out at Gurdwaras or the iconic Ladoo given out at Tirupati, the sweet dish formalises a bond between devotee and deity.
The arrival of the festival season in India signifies many things. One of those is the tradition of gifting sweets to those near and dear loved ones who enrich our lives. This process does however often produce a logistical issue. How do we best store the sweet treats we receive and ensure that there is no wastage due to improper storage?
First, it would be ideal if you can categorise the Mithais according to their ingredients. Anything which is made primarily of dairy, such as Burfis or Halwas, needs to be refrigerated and finished on priority! A common complaint most people have is that dairy-based sweets once refrigerated lose their characteristic freshness, this could be avoided by taking a few out before every meal so that they have time to come down to room temperature and for the solidified dairy fats to melt back. Sweets that are made of ingredients mostly consisting of jaggery, dry fruits, or nuts such as Chikki can be stored outside. But make sure that you store them in airtight containers to keep their freshness intact and protect from insects.
Second, coming to the storage itself, the best thing that you could do would be to shift all mithais into airtight containers and dispose off the cardboard boxes and butter paper they come wrapped in. These boxes are porous and let the sweets go stale quicker, and if kept in the refrigerator allow the distinct aroma of some sweets to dissipate. For those without these containers, storing sweets in the take-away packaging often given by restaurants for home delivery is also a good option.
Finally, make sure that if you store the sweets outside, they are in a place where the temperature does not experience significant swings and which does not receive direct sunlight. High temperatures are more conducive to bacterial growth and if you don’t have much space in the fridge, a cool larder situated away from the Sun would be a good option.
Before there was added sugar, there was jaggery. Popularly used in India even today, it finds mention in Ayurveda which signifies its use in India from olden times. It is made of concentrated sugarcane juice and has formed the bedrock of many Indian Mithais for ages. Aside from its historical use, it also has numerous health benefits which are absent from added sugar such as iron, multivitamins, and calcium. Its health benefits make it the perfect sweetener for many Indian desserts, here are few iconic jaggery-based desserts:
Gur Payesh is one of the oldest available recipes of Kheer available to us today. It was first made in Puri, Odisha with accounts of it made as far back as 2,000 years ago in temples over there! With the addition of chopped dates as garnish and the usage of jaggery as sweetener, this is a dish which has a rich, deep aftertaste and a single bite is enough to explain its enduring legacy.
Chikki is a brittle biscuit which has become a winter staple. Originally made in Lonavala in the late Nineteenth Century as a snack which would give labourers much needed energy to lay railway tracks, it is now widely eaten across India. Not only is it packed with nutrients much needed to beat the cold, it is also relatively low in calories. The peanuts give us protein, good fat, and energy needed to weather the winter and also vitamins and antioxidants.
Til Ladoo are the perfect Indian mithai for those of us who can’t stop at just one. Made by combining sesame seeds with jaggery as the sweetener, these nutrient packed balls of deliciousness are lower in calories than your traditional ladoo and will be great sources of nutrients in the colder months. Sesame is a seed packed with good nutrients such as protein, calcium, and iron.
Puranpoli is a sweet dish whose star is the filling of jaggery. Made of Bengal Gram flour, it is better than sweets made with Whole Wheat or Rice Flour. It’s filling of jaggery also makes sure it delivers a sweet treat while also having more nutrients than sugar.