Sweets of India

Indian cuisine is known throughout the entire World as a sweet cuisine and this tag doesn’t come along without some extremely solid arguments. How else would you call a country’s cuisine if almost half its dishes are either sweets or desserts? Actually, Indian sweets have not only made Indian food famous throughout history, but they have been acquired and accommodated to European and North American dishes, finding great success in fancy “Baltic” restaurants through-out England, France, the United States or Spain.

Ancient Sanskrit literature from India mention feasts and offerings of mithas (sweet). One of the more complete surviving document, with extensive description of sweets and how to prepare them is the Sanskrit document, Mānasollāsa (Sanskrit: मानसोल्लास; literally, 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 AD, by the Hindu King Somesvara III. In this document, meals are described to include a rice pudding it calls payasam (Sanskrit: पायसं), which is another word for 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 BC where records suggests both raw sugar (gur, vellam, jaggery) as well as refined sugar (sarkara) was being produced. By 300 BC, kingdom officials in India were including five kinds of sugar in official documents. By the Gupta dynasty era (300-500 AD), 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.