Did These Festive Treats Have Medicinal Origins?
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Every Diwali, Chennai-based Shruti Kannan would pester her mother to prepare Murukku, because it was the one dish that almost every colleague in her IT company recognized. In fact, her coworker, Ritu Bendre, told her that the same preparation was called chakli in Maharashtra and was a must-have in every household during the festive season.

Interestingly, while Murukku is now a popular snack during festivals, it was originally served as a medicinal food. Made using rice flour and urad dal, which are both nutritious ingredients, it was believed to aid digestion and provide energy.

Kiran Ahir, founder of The Art Lab Patisserie and Bakery adds that the crispy savoury, which literally means 'twist' in Tamil, was a snack that was initially designed for its long shelf life. "Made from rice flour and a blend of spices, Murukku was a practical option for travellers and soldiers due to its ability to stay fresh for extended periods. Eventually, it found its way into Diwali festivities, where its satisfying crunch and delightful taste became a hallmark of the festival," she added. 

Diwali, the festival of lights, is celebrated with immense enthusiasm and joy by millions worldwide. It is a time for families to come together, exchange gifts, and indulge in a wide array of mouthwatering sweets and savouries. 

While many of these delectable treats are now synonymous with the festival, exploring their humble origins, some of which were once considered mundane or even medicinal, is fascinating.

Jatinder Pal Singh, executive chef at the Sheraton Grand Bengaluru Whitefield Hotel & Convention Center, cites the example of Marundhu. This herbal concoction is a traditional South Indian preparation made with various herbs and spices believed to have medicinal properties. "Over time, it evolved into a sweet confectionery known as 'Marundhu Mittai' or 'Herbal Candy', which is commonly prepared during Diwali," he reveals.

Aloo Bonda's Nutritional Surprise 

A traditional Diwali platter will have a mix of sweets and savouries. And irrespective of which state one is from, potatoes have to make their presence felt on it, be it as fried chips in Kerala or Aloo Bonda in Karnataka. 

Aloo Bonda is a popular snack made by deep-frying mashed potatoes coated with gram flour batter. These spuds, a staple in Indian cuisine, often get a bad rep as the prime suspects for adding calories to the diet, but few know about their nutritional value. They are rich in antioxidants like Vitamin C and potassium, an essential electrolyte for the heart, muscles, and nervous system functioning.

Chef Singh also says that Sundal, another simple and nutritious South Indian snack, is a must-have in any festive preparation. Made from boiled legumes like chickpeas, lentils, or peanuts, and seasoned with spices, it is a wholesome dish that is also protein-rich and helps replenish the body's normal wear and tear during festivals.

Mysore Pak: A Royal Dessert's Countenance 

When talk veers towards sweet dishes prepared in South India during Diwali, how can one miss Mysore Pak? Legend has it that King Krishna Raja Wadiyar IV's royal chef, Kakasura Madappa, was tasked with preparing a dessert to symbolize the glory of the Royal Palace of Mysore. He came up with a soft preparation after sauteing finely ground besan (gram flour) and sugar in vats of ghee over low flame till it got a distinctive golden-brown colour, reminiscent of the golden hue used in the royal crest. The king loved the dish with a soft, porous and melt-in-the-mouth texture so much that he named it Mysuru Paaka and decreed it be a part of every royal celebration.

Today, many are dismayed when offered a Mysore Pak because of its high calorific value. However, they forget that the ghee, when enjoyed in moderation, aids in digestion and also boosts immunity. Likewise, besan promotes healthy digestion and muscle repair in addition to helping in weight management. 

No Southern festive platter can be complete without including the omniscient fruit—coconut. After all, the entire southern belt is dotted with swaying coconut trees and its presence is felt in every aspect of life in the region—be it cultural, religious, gastronomic or economic. 

"It has long been considered a nutritious and versatile ingredient in the region's cuisine, and hence coconut barfi, made from grated coconut and sugar, likely had its origins in simple coconut preparations before evolving into the sweet delicacy it is today," Chef Singh stated. 

Culinary Fusion During Diwali 

It's fascinating how these dishes, with humble or medicinal beginnings, have transformed into beloved festive treats. Over the years, many of these traditional dishes have evolved as cooks and chefs experimented with ingredients, techniques, and presentation to create new variations dishes. This could involve adding new ingredients, adjusting cooking methods, or incorporating modern kitchen tools.

Additionally, the availability of ingredients, whether due to trade, agriculture, or urbanization, can also influence how a dish is prepared. For example, the availability of refined sugar may have led to the sweeter and more sophisticated versions of traditional sweets. 

Moreover, South India is a diverse region with distinct culinary traditions in each state. As people from different regions interacted and exchanged culinary knowledge, it led to the fusion of flavours and techniques. 

"For example, Mysore Pak, which originated in Karnataka, may have been influenced by neighbouring culinary traditions," Chef Singh pointed out. This explains why it now has variants made of chocolate, dry fruits, milk powder and even a crispy version.

Evolving consumer tastes also significantly affect how the dishes have transformed. For example, a preference towards healthier options could result in baked Aloo Bonda or spicier versions of Murukku.

This culinary evolution is a dynamic process influenced by social, historical and cultural factors. While some changes may occur at the ingredient or preparation level, others may relate to presentation or serving style. These adaptations allow traditional dishes to remain relevant and continue to be enjoyed by generations to come.


Rose blossom Ladoo

Makes 40 ladoos of 30 gms each


    Ghee (clarified butter) – 500 grams 

    Gram flour – 1 kilo

    Sugar – 800 gms 

    Hazelnut – 250 grams (lightly toasted and crushed)

    Rose Paste – 150 grams 

    Rose Petals – 180 gms 

    Honey – 80 gms 


1.    In a thick bottomed kadhai, melt the ghee on a low flame.  

2.    Add gram flour gradually to it and keep stirring till it turns brown in colour. 

3.    Keep aside to cool down.

4.    In another saucepan, take half litre water. Add sugar and stir continuously on low flame till the sugar dissolves and achieves one-thread consistency. 

5.    Add the crushed hazelnut to the melted sugar.

6.    Mix the gram flour mixture and hazelnut mixture gently together and divide it into 30 units. 

7.    Brush these ladoos gently with honey and roll with dried rose petals. 

- Source: Sheraton Grand Bengaluru Whitefield Hotel & Convention Center