Gulkand Beyond Paan: The Ancient Sweet Rose Preserve
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For ages now, the rose flower has been a symbol of love since its mention in Roman mythology and its association with Aphrodite, the goddess of love. It is also given as a gift for a special occasion, and many even preserve a special gift of roses in between the pages of a book to remember the moments by.

We are all aware of the importance of rose water, which has the potential to enhance beauty and add a sweet flavour to many dishes and desserts, or even rose syrup, which we make into a famous drink called rooh afza to relish and beat the summer heat. Roses have been used in ancient medicinal systems like Unani and Ayurveda. But what is this love for gulkand that most of us have been eating for many decades and that is underrated, or to which many of us remain oblivious?

Gulkand, a luxurious sun-cooked preserve of Damask rose petals, has ancient origins in Indo-Persia for its intense flavours and cooling properties. "Gul" (flower) in Persian and Urdu and "Kand" (sweetness) in Arabic create a perfect name for this gently caramelised preserve. Traditionally used in regal recipes, gulkand helps beat the summer heat and offers numerous health benefits.

Dating back to 900 B.C., Ayurvedic, Greek, Persian, and Arabic physicians prescribed Gulkand to combat summer ailments like sunstrokes, acidity, and lethargy. It also aids in beautification by purifying the blood and improving the complexion, addressing skin conditions like rashes and acne.

Celebrity nutritionist Rujuta Divekar talks about the importance of gulkand on her Instagram profile and suggests that gulkand is the best thing to add to your diet if you are going through issues like PCOD, eye inflammation, sunstroke, and thyroid issues. In the summer, she says that a spoonful of gulkand a day can help you beat the heat away.

Beyond its health benefits, Gulkand has historical connections to love and romance, acting as a powerful aphrodisiac and reducing body odour when consumed regularly. Its captivating fragrance and exquisite taste made it a favourite among ancient royalty and the aristocracy. Even today, Gulkand preserves its regal allure, offering a unique "rose experience" that remains unmatched. Just one teaspoonful of gulkand in water, your dessert, or even a paan can forever change the way you appreciate roses. The cultivation of Damask roses in India is said to have started upon the Moghuls arrival in India, who are known to have introduced the recipe of gulkand as well.

Up in North India, gulkand is commonly consumed in a paan by adding a spoonful to milk or water, and using the preserve or rose-petal jam to make barfis, rasmalai, peda, and other sweets and desserts. "Gulkand is extremely safe to consume as a daily health tonic. Add it to plain water, milk, lassi, ice cream, or juices, or just eat a teaspoon to reap the benefits. It is highly recommended during peak summer months due to its cooling and rejuvenating properties," says certified dietician Ekta Gupta from Delhi. It is a beloved treat for paan enthusiasts in various Indian states, with Uttar Pradesh leading in demand and production. To meet year-round demand, local manufacturers in Kannauj are known to use different or local species of roses for gulkand too.

However, as you travel down South India, people relish a dollop of gulkand and butter mixed and served in a sal-leaves bowl topped with bananas, almost on a daily basis by many older people in particular. It is a snack of royalty that is so easily available as street food in some popular stores on-the-go at pocket-friendly prices, and yet it is so underrated that many people living in those cities, like Bengaluru, Hyderabad, or Chennai, are completely oblivious to the healthiest versions of this condiment available in their own cities.

Over the years, gulkand has become an essential element in popular street foods and is served in various combinations as dishes, desserts, and drinks. Most of the petty shops that have popularised gulkand also make their own versions from an age-old homemade recipe that has been passed down from their grandparents, and so on. What is common is that gulkand is paired almost compulsorily with butter, which is often sourced from farmers in the villages nearby.

In many instances, despite awareness, people cringe at the thought of pairing gulkand and butter in a bun instead of fruit jam or adding a dollop of it to their fruit salad simply because they are either used to it in paan alone or cannot fathom flower preserve being added to their ice cream. Either way, they are missing out on gulkand's many health benefits.

"Gulkand contains natural probiotics that can help improve digestion and promote a healthy gut. It is rich in fibre and aids in relieving constipation by regulating bowel movements. It helps in balancing Pitta dosha in Ayurveda, which is associated with heat in the body. Gulkand is beneficial for people with low haemoglobin levels as it contains iron. Regular consumption can help increase haemoglobin levels and alleviate the symptoms of anaemia. Gulkand is known to provide relief from headaches and can help combat lethargy and tiredness. Its cooling effect helps in soothing the body and promoting overall well-being," says Nidhi Nigam, a clinical nutritionist, on her Instagram video, who is based out of Bengaluru.

Here are some of the unusual combinations that South Indian cities are famous for, especially Bengaluru, that lure visitors to try them at least once in their lifetime, if not every day for locals:

Bun Butter Gulkand:

For those who are aware of the health benefits of gulkand, they enjoy it best when mixed with some fresh butter and slathered generously in between a sweet bun. Savouring gulkand bun at stores like Bhagyalakshmi Butter And Gulkand Store in Bengaluru or Sellam Milk Depot in Chennai is like a ritual for many who have been visiting and relishing gulkand with butter almost every day for many decades since the stores' inception.

Gulkand Milkshake:

A dollop of gulkand, some vanilla ice cream, and milk are blended and topped with tutti fruitti before being served as a popular summer drink in many street-side stores and ice cream parlours in Bengaluru. These places are often so crowded that getting a glassful can be a time-consuming activity!

Gulkand Ice Cream Bun:

A cool joint in Bengaluru is famous for their gulkand ice cream bun, which is sliced in half, laced with a mixture of butter and gulkand on each side, and sandwiched with a rose-flavoured ice cream slice in between. This is cut into two halves and served on-the-fly.

Gulkand Kulfi:

Many local ice cream brands in Bengaluru have been selling gulkand kulfi on a stick or in a matka for a while now. This seems to be a popular choice for dessert after heavy meals.

Gulkand Fruit Salad:

Many local stores that serve gulkand snacks and desserts most commonly serve this combination, which is a hit among people. A banana leaf is placed on a paper plate, and a generous helping of cut mixed fruits is ladled in and topped with a dollop of butter and gulkand. Some of them prefer ice cream on theirs, and others add gulab jamun along with ice cream to make it a wholesome sundae altogether.

Banana Butter Gulkand:

This is the most popular combination in Bengaluru, where blended gulkand and butter are simply topped with sliced banana and served. One popular store in Wilson Garden has been selling it with another name called 'Triveni', which means a tributary of three rivers, or in this context, 'flavours'.