The Origins & Iterations Of The Laddu In India

The Origins & Iterations Of The Laddu In India

Lo, laddu khao” is a phrase almost all of us have heard at multiple occasions –– weddings, birthdays, festivals, and even if a certain exam’s results revealed exceptional scores. An integral part of Indian celebrations, the humble laddu... is not so humble. The sweet gives off an energy that is indicative of its position high up on the scale of Indian desserts. Its all-encompassing reign has been unbeaten for decades –– but when and how did it start?

Let’s go back to the laddu’s roots. This is a tale that is not entirely straightforward, given the fact that there exist hundreds of varieties of the sweet. The motichoor, besan, coconut laddus –– are some of the mainstream ones, but a plethora of them bask in their unique glory across India.

However, the basic concept of a laddu –– putting together several ingredients, which are sweetened and then rolled into a ball - comes not from the intention of creating a new sweet, but instead of packing medicinal benefits into one treat. Ancient Indian surgeon Susruta, was considered the main resource of knowledge for all things surgery. It is believed that in the 4th BC, Susruta used laddus as a way to get his patients on the road to recovery by packing the medicinal properties into a small ball. So ingredients including peanuts, sesame seeds, jaggery, and more were rolled together in a ball, which also made it easy for the patient to consume. Ironic, isn’t it? The first-ever laddu was healthy!

Image Courtesy: Savory Bites Recipes

In the South, there exists a different belief. The Nariyal Nakru, which is the coconut laddu, comes from the times of the Chola Empire. The sweet would be packed for soldiers or travellers to take on their journey - for good luck as well as something to keep their stomachs full.

In the far East, folklore dictates that laddus were formed by accident by a ved, typically one who practices Ayurvedic medicine. It is believed that he dropped ghee into the medicinal concoction and in an attempt to cover up the flaw, he turned the mixture into small balls.

For quite a long time, laddus remained mixtures of jaggery, flour, and other basic ingredients such as dried fruits, grains, and others. With newer social and geographical influences, the recipes began to be tweaked and never remained the same.

Image Courtesy: Binjal's Veg Kitchen

The addition of sugar into laddus did not take place until the British took control of India. Once the import of sugar took place during the early colonial years, many referred to it as the Sweet White Poison. Indians jumped on the hype train and began replacing honey, jaggery or any other natural sweetener with sugar. Once sugarcane cultivation began in India, laddus did not remain the same. They now depended on sugar syrup or regular sugar to give the dessert a new level of sweetness.

The processes and ingredients may have undergone variations, but the way India adapts to the laddu highlights the culinary beauty of this country –– Rava laddus in the South to motichoor ke laddu in the North, and churma laddu in the West to tilor laddu in the East. The origins and history of this Indian dessert are testament to the fact that India’s culinary journey is multifaceted, yet one to be celebrated by all - because let’s face it, who would ever refuse a laddu?

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