Indian Desserts and Sweets
People in India, especially East India, love eating sweets. Indian people enjoy sweets after their meal. From sweet and creamy rice pudding to cooling lassies that are sweet enough to double as dessert. There are just so many desserts and sweets to choose from. Some of the popular ones include Gulab Jamun and Jalebi.
Most of the desserts are prepared using milk, cardamom, nuts, such as pistachios, cashews, walnuts, and many other additives for flavor. All the different regions of India have their own specialties, which add uniqueness to the list of Indian desserts.
- Mithai is a Hindi word for sweets.
- Indian desserts are either dry or semi-hard and soaked in either milk or sugar syrup.
- No special cooking technique is required to make Indian desserts. Common cooking techniques for their desserts include frying and baking.
- Phirni, Gulkand Rabri, and Chana Dal are sweets most commonly eaten during Diwali. They are used as sacred offerings.
- Gulab Jamun is possibly the most popular dessert in India, made from a dough of flour and milk, fried and soaked in syrup.
Indian Desserts and Sweets
When you think of Indian food, desserts may not be the first thing that comes to your mind. There are lots of Indian sweets and desserts originating from all over the country.
Traditionally, Indian desserts are to be shared with family and friends when they come to visit or given as gifts. They love to eat dessert after every meal, whether it is breakfast, lunch, or dinner. Some of the more popular ones include Halwa and Rasgulla.
If you have a sweet tooth, traditional Indian desserts are guilty pleasures worth discovering. People in India make and share desserts to celebrate everything from Diwali, which is the Hindu festival of lights to personal milestones, like having a baby.
Flavors and features of Indian desserts and sweets
All Indian desserts have different textures and flavors. For texture, some will have a soft, smooth, and creamy texture, usually because they are made from dairy products. The other will have a crunchy texture, due to nuts and coconut added to it.
Most of the Indian desserts and sweets will be sweet. Some dishes can also sour in nature because of the presence of some tropical fruits such as mangoes, while others may be savory due to the usage of spices like saffron and cardamom in the cooking process.
Ingredients of desserts
All mithai, which is a Hindi word for sweets, is made with a combination of flour, sugar, nuts, legumes, and milk or khoya which is a semi-solid dairy product made by slowly boiling milk until it thickens, and then enhanced with cardamom, rose water, or saffron.
Most are either dry or semi-hard and soaked in either milk or sugar syrup. The ingredients used vary by region. In East India for example, most desserts are based on milk products.
Many are flavored with almonds and pistachios, spiced with cardamom, nutmeg, cloves, black pepper, and decorated with nuts, or with a gold or silver leaf.
The method required for making desserts
Indian desserts do not require a lot of complicated cooking techniques. They are made similar when creating desserts and sweets from other countries.
Many Indian desserts are fried and made with sugar, milk or condensed milk. Some sweets such as kheer are cooked, some like burfi are baked, varieties like Mysore Pak are roasted, some like jalebi is fried, and some like kulfi is frozen, while others involve a creative combination of preparation techniques.
Desserts at Indian festivals
No celebration in India is complete without a touch of sweets. From vegetarian dishes to non-vegetarian, India has a rich festive cuisine. Desserts are the highlight of every Indian festival because they add much more highlight to the festive spirit and enhance the cause of celebration.
Diwali is one of the main festivals celebrated by Indians. It has been celebrated all over the world for thousands of years. The festival is a time for family gatherings, delicious sweets, extravagant feasts and tons of gifts. Some of the sweets prepared on Diwali include Gulkand Rabri which is a rose-flavored milk pudding.
Popular Types of Indian Desserts
Indians have a penchant for sweets and desserts. Not only are they part of the staple fare, but they are also offered in places of worship.
When coming to India, these are some of the desserts and sweets that you must try.
Possibly the most popular dessert in India, Gulab Jamun is tantalizing to the taste buds and holds a special meaning to the cultural sweets of India. It is warm, sticky, irresistible, and sinfully delicious.
Gulab Jamuns are soft spongy balls that are made from a dough of flour and milk, fried and soaked in syrup. This is one of the most classic and popular desserts in India. Variants of this dish include Kala Jamun and Unni Appam.
Kulfi is a popular frozen dessert that is made with reduced milk, flavored with saffron, cardamom, pistachios, and almonds. It is served chilled, and is sinfully rich, dense and creamy, making it a delectable summer dessert to relish.
Kulfi is the traditional Indian ice-cream minus the whipping. They come in many different flavors and are served with Jalebis and special toppings like thinned noodles, honey syrup, and dried fruits.
Jalebi is deep-fried, spiral, funnel-cake like confections made from either wheat or lentil flour. They are then soaked in a warm sugar syrup that is usually flavored with cardamom and saffron.
Jabeli is the unhealthiest but tastiest of the cultural sweets. They are best eaten hot and fresh, with an accompaniment of a cool and creamy rabdi which is a sweet, condensed-milk-based dish.
While traditionally a street food, the combination of textures at play make jalebis such an irresistibly balanced dessert
Halwa is a classic Indian dessert, most prevalent in the form of gajar ka halwa or carrot halwa. They are made by simmering the ingredients such as fruits, grated vegetables, or flour, with milk, sugar, and ghee. They are usually gelatinous in nature.
While some are nut butter-based, using ingredients such as pistachios, tahini, sunflower seeds, the flour-based version is made by simmering cornflour mixture in sugar syrup with rose water, is more common in India.
Rasgulla is made of spheres of chenna which is a light, spongy milk preparation similar to fresh mozzarella that is soaked in sugared rose water. They are like soft little rain clouds that erupt with every bite.
Rasgulla is synonymous with the city of Kolkata, and a much-loved symbol of Bengali identity. A nicely made rasgulla will melt in your mouth and leave you wanting for more.
Kheer and Phirni
Kheer and phirni are types of traditional Indian rice milk puddings. Smooth and creamy, these are usually flavored with saffron and cardamom, and topped with nuts and dried fruit.
While whole rice is used in kheer, phirni is made with ground rice, giving it a smoother and creamier texture. Kheer is also served both chilled and warm while Phirni is served as a cool dessert.
Another milk-based Indian dessert, rabri is a must-have for travelers during their stay in India. They are made with sweetened and thickened milk. This dish is very fattening, especially when it has layers of cream in it.
Spices, typically cardamom and saffron, and nuts are added to it. This delicious dessert can be eaten alongside other signature favorites like Jalebi and Gulab Jamun, and a treat fit for a king.
Kaju Barfi is a diamond-shaped milk based dessert prepared from cashew nuts with an edible silver foil as its decoration. Other available flavors include kesar or saffron, chocolate, carrot, pista, coconut, and peanut.
Barfi is a renowned Indian fudge dessert that gets its name from the Persian word meaning "snow". This dish is smooth and delicious that will give you an utter delight.
Phirni is a sweet pudding popular in North India and mostly eaten during Diwali and other festivals. It is prepared using ground rice and is eaten chilled.
Phirtni is garnished with ingredients such as cashew, raisins, strands of saffron, and rose petals which gives it a distinct appearance and aroma.
Phirni has a really sweet and mouthwatering taste and enjoyed after a meal.
Laddoo is sphere-shaped sweet and associated with sacred ceremonies. Often sprinkled with pistachios or almonds and spiced with cardamom. The texture varies from soft and moist, or firm and crumbly, or even like a granola bar, depending on what they are made of.
Laddoo is more commonly prepared from gram or chickpea flour, ground coconut, or semolina. Milk, sugar, ghee, and dried fruits are some other ingredients used in cooking this dish.
Peda is a round, semi-soft, grainy condensed milk or milk powder dessert. They are often associated with the holy cities of Varanasi and Mathura.
They are commonly distributed in temples as a Prasad or a religious offering of food. The most commonly available flavors of peda are saffron and pistachio.
It is essentially the Indian brownie that is yellow in color and topped with pistachios and nuts. Kesar Peda, a saffron-based variant of the dish, is the most popular version of peda eaten in India.
Mysore pak is South India’s most iconic sweet. This is due to the simplicity of its ingredients. Made only with ghee which is clarified butter, chickpea flour, and sugar, this dish gives a rich and buttery caramel taste.
Aside from being a great dessert to try while in India, Mysore Pak also makes a great souvenir for your friends and family back home.
Indian Sweets Recipes
Indian sweets are delicious when devoured, but it is not always readily available in your region. If you want to make your favorite Indian sweets at home, here are some simple recipes you can follow.
Gulab Jamun made with milk powder gives a soft, spongy texture, is flavorful and delicious compared to the Gulab Jamun made using the store bought a mix.
First, you would need to prepare the sugar syrup. In a saucepan, add sugar, water, crushed cardamom, saffron, and lemon juice. Boil together until the sugar syrup becomes slightly sticky.
To make the Gulab Jamun, you should mix in milk powder, all-purpose flour, baking soda, and ghee together.
Add milk a little at a time, and knead to form a soft dough. Divide the dough into small portions and roll into a smooth small size ball.
Finally, deep fry each ball over a low to medium heat.
Rasgulla is a traditional Bengali sweet. It is easy and simple to make at home. First, you should start by making the chenna or cheese balls.
In a pan, boil milk until bubbles started to form on top. Then, you rinse and knead the chenna into small balls.
You should then cook the chenna with sugar syrup. Cook it over a medium flame. It will help to give a spongy and puffed rasgulla.
If the temperature is too high, the rasgulla will tend to break.
Traditionally, Carrot Halwa is made with red carrots and whole milk cooked on the stove-top for some time. This can also be made using condensed milk and in a microwave. You can serve carrot halwa warm or cold, depending on the weather.
In a pan, you should cook grated carrots with ghee until they are soft and pale in color. Then, cook the mixture with some milk until the carrot mixture thickens.
Finally, add sugar, crushed cardamoms and cook until the sugar dissolves, then mix until the carrot mixture becomes thick.
Doodh peda is an easy and delicious Indian sweet made with milk powder and condensed milk. It is simple to make in just a few minutes. You can also make this dish in a microwave – a much easier and quick method of making doodh peda.
In a microwave-safe bowl, combine condensed milk, milk powder, saffron, crushed cardamoms, and ghee. Cook the mixture in the microwave until the mixture thickens.
When it is warm enough to handle by your hand, shape them into small balls, make a slight dent in the center and garnish with chopped nuts.
Sooji Coconut Ladoo
Sooji Coconut Ladoo or Rava Ladoo is an easy and quick dessert. In a pan, heat some ghee with sooji and roast it over medium heat, until aromatic and transfer the roasted sooji to a bowl. In the same pan, heat some ghee and roast the cashew nuts and raisins.
Add the shredded coconut and roast until the color becomes golden brown and add it to the roasted sooji. Finally, add crushed cardamoms, sugar, and mix well. Add the warmed milk little by little and shape them into small balls.
Tips for Trying Indian Sweets
Sweets are usually eaten as the last course of a meal. But in India, they are served with the rest of the meal and in some traditions especially during celebrations, people start eating a meal only after having had a bite of the sweet on the plate, to signify the celebration.
Indian sweets are relatively cheap and there are a lot of items you can choose from. But be aware that most of the Indian sweets are made in ghee which is a dairy product. If you are allergic to milk and by-products of milk, please choose carefully.
Explore India with Asia Highlights
There are countless of Indian sweets and desserts available in India. You can find some of them outside of India, but you cannot beat the feeling of savoring them in their country of origin.
Travel with Asia Highlights and experience the taste of India’s sweets and desserts.