History of Iconic Indian Sweets

by Sanjeev Kapoor

A dinner or lunch is incomplete without a sweet ending. And while there are many interesting options to choose from, nothing strikes the comfort and love a traditional Indian sweet can. From Gulab Jamun to Rasagulla, Jalebi or the juicy Agra ka Petha, Indian sweets have a separate fan-following. And the origin stories of these sweets are as interesting as they’re delicious.

Gulab Jamun

The mighty Gulab Jamuns need no introduction. We love these dough balls drowned in sugar syrup. And while it has made quite a mark in the Indian cuisine, its origin lies in Persia. The dish was inspired from the Arabic dessert- Luqmat al-qaadhi that means ‘The Judge’s Bite’. It came to India through the Mughals, who named it Gulab Jamun in persian meaning- gul (flower), ab (water), and jamun as in the fruit Black Plum.

Rasgulla

While the entire nation relates Rasgullas or Roshogullas to the bengalis, the dish doesn’t really originate from Bengal. In fact its roots lie in the Hindu mythology, from the beautiful lands of Odisha. According to folklore, when Lord Jagannath was leaving for the Rath Yatra, he chose not to take his wife, Goddess Lakshmi on the journey. Because of this, she was sad and disappointed, so in order to make her happy, Lord Jagannath offered her Rasgullas. Since then, it has turned into a tradition to offer Rasgulla to Goddess Lakshmi on the ninth day of Rath Yatra. Only then the three deities (Jagannath, Balaram, and Subhadra) are permitted to enter the temple.

Jalebi

Another delicious sugar-soaked delicacy, the crunchy and scrumptious jalebis are something you cannot stop at just one. Whether you consume it as it is or dunk it in a warm glass of milk, the dish has made a mark as an iconic Indian sweet. However, this too shares its origins from somewhere else. According to the cookbook Kitab-al-Tabeekh by Muhammad bin Hasan al-Baghdadi, the dish shares its origins from Persia where it was called Zalabia. According to the recipe, a yeast dough was fried and then dipped in a syrup of honey and rose water. However today it has gotten evolved in its preparation, flavour and its accompaniments as here it is preferred accompanied with milk or Rabdi.

Agra Petha

Agra is known popularly for two things- The iconic Taj Mahal, and the delicious pethas. And what’s interesting is that both of these have their origins connected, making petha almost as old as the Taj Mahal. It is said that while the Taj Mahal was being made, Emperor Shah Jahan ordered its royal kitchen to make a sweet that’s as white as the Taj Mahal. The answer was this delicious sweetmeat made with the mighty white pumpkin. Moreover, according to tales it was served to the 21,000 workers who were working on Taj Mahal to provide them with extra energy.

Mysore Pak

Nothing can beat the richness and simplicity of Mysore Pak. A delicious and simple sweet made with just three ingredients- gram flour, sugar and ghee results in something so delicious that it is hard to eat just one.Its origins are from the Royal kitchen of Mysore. Legend has it, that Kakasura Madappa, the head chef in the Royal Kingdom of Mysore was the creator of this delicious delicacy. According to the folklore, King Krishna Raja Wadeyar was ready eat his lunch, however, there was a space empty in his Thali. Seeing this, Madappa promptly prepared a sweet dish using gram flour, ghee, and sugar and set it aside to cool down.

As the meal was finished, the King was looking for something sweet, Madappa then served him the cooled sweet he made. As the King consumed it, it instantly melted in his mouth. Fascinated with its taste, the King asked for its name. Madappa, being nervous at that time, named it ‘Mysore Paka’, where ‘paka’ means a sweet preparation in Kannada. Soon, it was regarded as a royal sweet and as they say, the rest is history.

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MasterChef Sanjeev Kapoor

Chef Sanjeev Kapoor is the most celebrated face of Indian cuisine. He is Chef extraordinaire, runs a successful TV Channel FoodFood, hosted Khana Khazana cookery show on television for more than 17 years, author of 150+ best selling cookbooks, restaurateur and winner of several culinary awards. He is living his dream of making Indian cuisine the number one in the world and empowering women through power of cooking to become self sufficient. His recipe portal www.sanjeevkapoor.com is a complete cookery manual with a compendium of more than 10,000 tried & tested recipes, videos, articles, tips & trivia and a wealth of information on the art and craft of cooking in both English and Hindi.