Going past an Indian sweet shop do you often wonder what all those different sweets are? How are they made or what are their ingredients?… I decided to put a guide together to help you find out more about these delicious sweet delights from South Asia.
Indian sweets are collectively called Mithai which is derived from the word mitha which means sweet. There are many varieties, and different types of Indian sweets but they usually come from the original recipe for the sweet.
Let’s look at the most common types of Mithai that people consume especially at special occasions like weddings, parties and functions, and festivals like Diwali, Eid and Vaisakhi.
Many of the recipes for the sweets originated centuries ago with many of the sweets being cooked at home.
Some families still cook such sweets at home especially if they have elders in the family who know how to make them. However, the majority of people buy them at “sweet centres” or restaurants as take-outs or order them as gifts to be given at specific events like a wedding.
Sometimes called Burfi or Barfee, has its named derived from the Persian word “barf” which means snow since barfi is similar to ice/snow in appearance.
This sweet is made from condensed milk, cream and sugar. The simple type is usually of a white or creamy colour and has a thick sweet texture. It is usually available in small rectangle or diamond shapes. This particular sweet has many varieties, because you can add almost anything to the recipe, depending what you like.
Popular during the festival of Diwali, this is a sticky chewy sweet which is usually of an orange colour. It is typically made from a type of wheat flour called maida, saffron, ghee (type of butter) and sugar.
A deep fryer or wok filled with very hot oil is used to make it. The mixture is usually squeezed from a hand held cone directly into the hot oil, allowing it to deep fry. The resulting shapes are circular or pretzel like and they are then soaked in syrup to give it the sticky texture.
The sweets are served warm or cold. Lime juice is sometimes added to the syrup, as well as rosewater or other flavours. It can be eaten warm or cold. Some people even have the sweet served in milk. The origin of the sweet is from the middle east, where it’s called Zlebia. Therefore, its likely that during the period of Muslim rule in India, this dish was introduced in the country. When this happened they replaced the Z with J in its name.
This is a deep and sweet tasting mithai and very popular.
It is made from khoya (milk powder), mixed together with flour and sugar, and then deep fried. Either in ball shapes or rounded rectangular shapes. Once fried and brown, it is coated all over with a sugar syrup flavored with cardamom seeds and rosewater, kewra or saffron. Dessicated coconut if often used as a finishing touch.
The word “gulab jamun” comes from Persian, gulab, “rose” referring to the rosewater-scented syrup and the hindi word “jamun.”
Halwa, also called halva, halveh, helwa, or halvah is a sweet usually made with semolina or wheat can can include nuts. Traditional halwa uses khoya milk. Ingredients for halwa include ghee, milk, sweetened condensed milk and flour or semolina. There are many different types of halwa available in sweet shops. This includes Pista Halwa which contains pistachios , or Gajjar Halwa which is carrot based. It can look a little like Turkish Delight in the shops.
There are many more types of Indian sweets you will see in a sweet shop and some will vary depending on the region of India. For example, a Punjabi sweet shop will not have all the sweets a Gujarati sweet shop will have. It’s a good idea to try different sweets because you never know you might discover a new favourite!
Indian sweets do come with a health warning though because they can be quite high in fat and calories due to the rich ingredients used in most of them. Therefore, if you are waistline conscious, have them as a treat rather than too frequently.