Kheer: Unveiling The History Of The Beloved Sweet, Plus A Recipe
Image Credit: Freepik

Kheer is a delectable Indian dessert crafted typically from rice. Different versions of the dish also integrate ingredients, such as vermicelli, semolina, and moong dal. These primary ingredients are infused with boiled milk and blended with sweet elements like sugar and jaggery to form the creamy and enriching kheer dessert. Crushed dried fruits like pistachios and almonds are frequently used as garnish over kheer; they give the dish necessary crunch to elevate its texture.

Kheer holds an important place in the culinary heritage of India. The dish acts as a great force of unity, bringing together people from different cultures and regions of the country. While North Indians call the milk-based dessert “kheer,” people in South India refer to this dish as “payasam.” Similarly, a variation of kheer is also relished in West Bengal, where the sweet treat goes by the name “payesh.” But where exactly did this culinary behemoth emerge from? The theories are aplenty.

Explore the history of kheer, below.

Kheer: Origin Story

The earliest documented references to kheer suggest that the dish may been invented some 2000 years ago as a prasad at the iconic Jagannath Temple in Odisha. From this temple, the dessert is believed to have dispersed to other regions of South Asia, which in turn, produced regional variations of the dish depending on local tastes and preferences. Textual references to kheer are also present in the 14th century epic poem Padmavat of Gujarat, where the delicacy was crafted from milk and jawar.

Image Credits: Freepik

In South India, kheer or payasam is linked to Lord Krishna. A passage at the legendary Ambalappuzha Temple cites that the deity established the ritual of serving payasam without any charge. That’s probably why payasam is a staple prasad food in temples across South India, such as Guruvayoor and Ambalapuzzha. While kheer continues being a religiously significantly dish, it has become a fixture during weddings and other celebratory events, indicating its deep-rooted and far-reaching influence on the culinary culture of India.

Kheer isn’t only limited to India either; versions of the dish are also enjoyed in different parts of the world. Take a look at some of them.

Kheer: Across The World

In ancient Persia, a dish known as “firni” was reminiscent of kheer. The rice and milk base was blended with dried fruits like raisins and rose water to form the tasty and aromatic dish. The majestic “Shola-e-Zard” dessert of Afghanistan also bears similarities to Kheer. Saffron and rose water were used to imbue the dish with a vibrant gold colour and an enticing fragrance. A plethora of nuts, dried fruits, and spices were used as flavourings as well as garnish in the dish, uplifting not only the dessert’s taste but also its visual appeal.

Image Credits: By Mehdi - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0/Wikimedia Commons

Rice pudding gained prominence in China during the reign of the Ming Dynasty. The dish was prepared by drenching fruits in honey and layering them with sweetened and cooked rice, before steaming the concoction for blending. Lastly, in 17th century Europe, rice pudding evolved into a baked pudding, composed of sugar, cinnamon, ginger, butter, and orange juice. In this way, the dish’s texture underwent a transformation from a tender porridge concoction to a sturdier baked good.

Now, check out a simple kheer recipe to try out at home.

Kheer: Recipe

Image Credits: Freepik


4 cups water

1 cup Basmati rice

½ cup sugar

1 litre milk

4–5 green cardamom pods


Step 1: Rinse the rice carefully. Boil water in a pan; add the rice to the pan, reduce the heat to low, and simmer the rice for about 20 minutes, till it becomes soft.

Step 2: In a separate pan, warm the milk. Once it begins steaming, turn down the heat and let it warm through without boiling.

Step 3: Once the rice is prepped, add it to the milk with sugar. Smash the cardamom pods and throw them in too. Stir the mixture carefully for blending.

Step 4: Let the kheer simmer for about 15 minutes. Continue stirring the concoction until it becomes a little dense.

Step 5: Remove the kheer from the heat and let it cool a little. Lay out the kheer in serving bowls, and enjoy the dish warm or chilled, as desired. Enjoy!