Kay Sandhu Written by Kay Sandhu

Indian sugar applications in traditional Diwali recipes

With Diwali taking place last week, we once again return to our global sugar applications series, this time focusing on sugar uses from the festival of lights in India. India is the second-largest producer and the largest consumer of sugar on the planet. But how exactly does it use its sugar? We explore below.

Gulab jamun

Image of gulab jamun cut in half on plate

Sugar develops texture and colour in gulab jamun.

Diwali is a festival associated with syrupy sweet treats, and these sticky dumplings are among the most popular. Gulab jamun originally hails from Persia and was introduced to India during the medieval period. Its name reflects its origin – ‘Gulab’ comes from the Persian words ‘gol’ (flower) and ‘āb’ (water) and refers to the rosewater-scented syrup the dessert is steeped in. Meanwhile, ‘jamun’ is Hindu for a black plum or blackberry, a fruit of comparable size to each dumpling.

Traditionally, gulab jamun is made using milk solids (khoya) mixed with flour to form a dough and portioned into balls that are then deep-fried. The hot dumplings are placed into warm sugar syrup to give them a glossy coating. Modern home recipes often use milk powder in place of khoya as it speeds up the preparation process.

There are also different varieties of gulab jamun, and sugar plays an important role in its changing appearance. For example, if khoya is used, the sugar it contains develops the dumplings’ characteristic red-brown colour. If milk powder is used and sugar added to the dough, it caramelises when fried, giving the gulab jamun a dark brown-to-black colour. In some recipes, the dumplings may even be steeped in maple syrup diluted with a little water.

Moong dal halwa

Image of moong dal halwa in pot

Moong dal halwa is full of colour, with sugar turning the dessert from savoury to sweet. 

Another staple of the Diwali table is moong dal halwa. This warming dessert, which can trace its roots back to Rajasthan, is in fact made from split yellow (moong dal) lentils – ‘halwa’ is the Arabic word for sweetmeat. As you may have guessed, sugar is the key ingredient that turns the otherwise savoury moong dal into a delectable dessert.

First, white granulated cane sugar and water are heated to a syrup and infused with cardamom and saffron. This is added to melted butter and moong dal mix to sweeten, scent, and preserve it. As with gulab jamun, there are different varieties of halwa, including carrot halwa and orange-flavoured semolina halwa.

As India is the second-largest producer of sugar cane in the world, many of its recipes depend on white granulated cane sugar, though often in different ways. Learn more about these uses here in last week’s Ragus blog on cane sugar.

Mishti doi

Close-up image of dozens of mishti doi on a plate with chef standing behind.

Central to this festival of lights favourite, mishti doi, is sugar. 

Mishti doi means ‘sweet curd’ in Bengali, its place of origin. In this dessert, sugar is dissolved in hot milk as part of the fermentation process along with curd culture to produce yoghurt. Some sugar is also cooked separately with water until it has caramelised, and it is this caramelisation that gives the milk-curd mixture its cappuccino-coloured appearance. In mishti doi, sugar is used for flavour, colour and texture enhancement.

This popular sweet curd dessert can easily be made at home. To speed up the process, palm jaggery or jaggery are sometimes used in place of caramelised sugar. Jaggery is made from sugar cane juice, is less refined than white granulated sugar and is used routinely in Indian cookery.

Imli chutney

Overhead image of imli chutney

Sugar acts as a shelf-life extender in imli chutney.

In the UK, no cheeseboard is really complete without a pot of chutney. But chutney – whether bought in a shop or made at home – is a classic Indian condiment that comes in many forms and has many uses.

Imli means ‘tamarind’ in Hindi, and this tangy chutney is a regular accompaniment to samosas and kachoris, or chaat snacks like dahi vada (fritters). As with many chutneys, sugar is used as a natural preservative to extend its shelf-life and to balance out the sourness of the tamarind, giving the condiment its sweet and sour flavour. Jaggery is often used in imli chutney, and this means it can be stored for months in the fridge. If jaggery powder is used, the powder is dissolved in water and helps to give a smooth texture to the chutney.

Sugar key to many traditional Diwali recipes

And so where would Diwali be without sugar to enhance the taste, colour and flavour of ingredients, and preserve these much-loved foods for longer? This blog has highlighted the transformative power of sugar and how it is central to some of India’s most celebrated Diwali recipes.

Ragus engages with different festivals, traditions and cultures from across the globe and understands the roles sugar performs in its various applications. Contact a member of our customer services team on +44 (0)1753 215424 or enquiries@ragus.co.uk to learn more about how our range of pure sugar products can benefit your application. For more sugar news and Ragus updates, follow Ragus on LinkedIn.