Besan ki barfi and Mysore pak are passé; changing food trends, international exposure, modern influences on Indian food cultures, and the constant demand for being innovative and interesting have given birth to gourmet mithais — luxury sweets that not only entice the taste buds, but also promise to use healthier sugar alternatives, as well as display novelty in use of ingredients.
While Indian mithais are a “cuisine” in themselves, points out chef Sanjyot Keer, founder of Your Food Lab, new-age versions of mithais like ‘Tiramisu Barfi‘, ‘Gulkhand Pedas’, ‘Kaapi Pak’ (coffee-infused Mysore Pak), and ‘Rasmalai-stuffed in Ghevar tart with saffron-flavoured creamsweets’ have caught the fancy of today’s consumers, he adds. “Our halwais, by prepping some delicious sweet spread, are making the market for gourmet tick like never before,” he told indianexpress.com.
According to a 2022-food trends report from Godrej, 50 per cent of food experts see gourmet mithai to be in demand. According to the report, the driving force behind this new-age mithais is the goal to revive the passion for traditional sweets and add Indian mithai to the global and innovative dessert menu. Rushina Munshaw Ghildiyal, curating editor of the Godrej Foods Trends Report 2022 – Collector’s Edition, in a press statement, says the rise can be attributed to the fact that India has had a rich repertoire of ingredients that our skilled confectioners transformed into legendary offerings.
“I see a league of new mithaiwalas juxtaposing unusual flavours, couturesque design, and a new global vocabulary with time honoured traditions that are driving a resurgence of pride in India’s rich mithai heritage,” said Ghildiyal, stressing that as “the festival season starts, not only will mithai with healthier claims be in demand, but gourmet mithai – mithai reimagined by the new age designer mithaiwalla — will see more demand from people”.
Tracing the rise and interest
The world of mithai has always been traditional in its flavours and approach and seldom has gone through any form of evolution, says chef Jerson Fernandes, director of Culinary, Novotel Mumbai Juhu Beach. “While Western pastry and sweets became the obvious choice for every celebration including birthdays and graduations, mithai only saw a link with festivals,” he adds.
There is a variety of traditional sweets in India (Source: Getty Images/Thinkstock)
Agreeing, Chef Krishna Reddy, The Autumn Leaf Bistro, Goa, says traditional mithai businesses “haven’t created an original success in, at least, the last 70 years or more, with the exception of a few ‘fusion’ goods like chocolate barfi and ladoos that are marketed as a concession to modern desires, despite a silent yet bold uprising of the mithai revolution.”
“A number of luxury mithai makers in India, while imbibing traditions and discovering new flavours, have come to look at the mithai space with a different lens, giving us a gamut of innovative and interesting mithais. Modern mithai makers have reimagined sweets to make them a part of our everyday lives,” Fernandes, who has experimented with creations like champagne ladoos, Nutella cham cham, Dulce de leche pedas, gulkhan pedas, Ferrero Rocher ladoos, red velvet malai sandwich, Toblerone barfi, and Gianduja milk cake, tells indianexpress.com.
Such has been the interest that “basic sweets” like besan ladoo, khoya barfi, kaju katli et al have now been taken up “a notch higher by introducing variants” like 24-carat gold varq Pistachio Ladoo, Caramel Pedha, and Besan Truffle. Agrees Kunal Mutha, Founder, Only Earth, and calls the rise of the “steadily growing” gourmet mithai movement a “big thing”. “It will bring back old memories while completely surprising you. It’s a celebration of the variety of Indian sweets while embracing traditions and learning about new flavours presented across in innovative formats,” Mutha tells indianexpress.com.
What’s helping them find their niche?
Catering to evolved taste buds, modern mithai producers have “revamped sweets”. But it is not just the variety and inventiveness of gourmet sweets that is making these bite-sized offering such a hit, it is also their “amazing ingredient research, plating, and presentation that they can bring back long-forgotten memories and traditions,” says Mutha.
Rising to the occasion, many home-bakers and health-food entrepreneurs are also offering sugar-free, naturally sweetened options for individuals who want to celebrate without losing track of calories. Fernandes notes that “being 100 per cent vegetarian and handmade”, even the boxes in which the mithai is packed are made using biodegradable materials and are recyclable, making them completely environment-friendly. “Most sellers offer luxurious mithai gifting options. Personalised packaging, customised sweet selection, and home delivery are just a few of the things on offer,” Fernandes says.
Why the need?
Know your desserts (Source: Pixabay)
“Healthy and vegan desserts are made with nutritious components including fruits, seeds, and nuts. In addition to being light on your stomach and good for health, they can lessen your risk of developing chronic pain diseases including diabetes, cancer, heart disease, and others. The concept of a healthier dessert may also help you feel a little more satisfied,” Mutha notes while sharing that oats, almond, and coconut milk are “excellent dairy substitutes” for many gourmet sweet varieties
Many gourmet mithais/desserts include a fusion/twist on traditional preparations, too. “The twist can be either in terms of flavour or the use of alternatives (healthier) ingredients like dates or apples or using Erythritol (zero calories), or Monk Fruit (zero calories). The traditional Indian mithais are mainly made with refined flour along with huge amounts of sugar and unhealthy fats like dalda and margarine which are very high in fat content,” Sandu, who prepares sugar-free chocolate modaks, almond date balls made without refined sugar and low on fat or sugar-free/gluten-free cookies or sugar-free/diabetic free chocolates, says. Experts from the nutrition field urge that whether traditional or gourmet, people need to closely monitor the increasing sweetness and the growing use of added sugars and non-nutritive sweeteners.
What would you choose?
Choosing one over the other boils down to how one perceives “gourmet”, according to Chef Keer. “Indian sweets have their own flair and intricacy involved to prepare them. Closely watch how a ghewar is made, it’s such a technique-based mithai. First the light, crisp base which has a mesh with so many layers is created and then the reduced milk is topped with nuts, and a silver leaf — which is a delight,” he says, adding that “there is an audience for everything”.
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“People who can spend are turning towards gourmet versions in the name of ‘grande’ celebrations, while others keep it simple with traditional mithais,” says Keer.
After all, most gourmet mithai range from Rs 8,000 a kilo and go up to Rs 50,000 for a kilo, says Fernandes.
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