Rewind a couple of decades back when Diwali was all about home-made ‘palakarams’. Remember how the vadais and laddus smelt? This was the time when colossal kadais were brought down carefully from lofty attics, cleaned and dried to fry vadais, steam paniyarams and roast murukkus. Grannies and mommies would sit together churning out sweets and savouries of a dozen kinds, the flavours of which filled our houses, the banter and laughter echoing all through the night before Diwali.
If the number of ‘traditional and healthy sweets and savouries’ flooding the festival market these days are any indication, then the good old days are definitely making a come back. Groups of dedicated young businessman are striving hard to bring back the forgotten flavours in a new package. They are setting a trend where more people are now looking back and moving towards the ‘organic’, ‘gluten-free’, ‘sugarless’ and ‘native’ varieties of sweets for Diwali.
Millet based sweets sweetened with palm and sugarcane jaggery are the rage now. Minor millets such as samai, varagarisi, thinai, kuthirai vali and kambu are made into innovative and tasty sweet items. Assorted varieties like thinai halwa, varagarisi jalebi, kambu sev, kambu seeval and pakoda, Kelvaragu murukku and ellu mixture packed in avant garde boxes are moving off shelves in organic shops.
A. Asaithambi, who owns an outlet Ko Iyarkai Angadi on the Alagar Koil Road, sells 13 different varieties of laddus made of horse gram, lentil and millets. He says, “Usage of low quality ingredients and sugar in sweets during Diwali takes a toll on health. People should be conscious of healthy festival eating and we are introducing the trend among people.” “When I started with these products, no one even came to do window shopping. People were least interested and found the tastes peculiar. But now, they are aware and lapping up millet made Diwali sweets”
The karupatti paniyaram he makes also sells like hot cakes. “It is made of Kaatu Yaanam rice. It is an organically grown traditional brown rice variety. Rich in fibre, the rice is good for diabetics and it also cures arthritis,” says Asaithambi, who is also a diploma holder in Siddha medicine. The paniyaram is made with nattu sakkarai (sugarcane jaggery). He also makes Kuthirai vali and Varagarisi halwas, besides Karuppatti Palkova. Palm jaggery halwa costs Rs.25 per 50 gm while the naatu sakkarai variety costs Rs.15 per 50 gm.
Karuppu Sami, an organic farmer supplies and sell over 15 varieties of innovatively made millet-based sweets and savouries. Packed under the brand name ‘Thaenkani’, the sweets are hand-made by women at home, using organic grains from Karuppu Sami’s fields. “Right from the grains, all the ingredients used are grown organically and not outsourced. We use pure palm jaggery for sweets and groundnut oil for namkeens,” he says. “Grains like the mappillai samba paddy, groundnut, til and all millets are used even in mixtures, murukkus, sevs and seevals.”
Kuthiravali sev, kambu seeval, ribbon pakoda made of varagu and mixture made of puffed rice and rice flakes are some of the best sellers. Rotis and cheedais made of thinai, jalebis made of jeeraga samba rice flour and mysore pak made of jaggery and coconut oil are the other highlights. “In sweets like halwa and athirasam, we even add thrikadukam, a natural spice that’s cures common cold in children. There are lots of challenges in the millet market as these items are perishable. We don’t add any preservatives and additives and hence the shelf life is short,” he adds. The sweets cost Rs. 400 or 450 per kilo and the namkeens come for Rs. 350 per kg.
Sivakumar of Virudhunagar specialises in kambu cookies which are free of baking powder and dalda. “The millet cookies are handmade and hence lack the finesse and smoothness, yet they are free of chemical additives. Other products we have introduced this Diwali are flax seed chikkis, millet mixtures and ragi laddus,” he says.
Perumal of Rajapalayam is known for the thinai Halwa made with eight kinds of grains. “The flour is a mixture of native rice varieties like kavuni, karuppu kavuni and samba. It’s a hit among customers and a healthy alternative to the other halwas that are full of bad calories from sugar and palm oil,” he says.
Modern day sweet outlets are also experimenting to cash in on the trend of healthy sweets. Arulsujanesh of Annapoorna Mithai on Bypass Road, Madurai, says, “Every Diwali, there’s a demand for innovative sweets and this time around, more people are consciously avoiding calorie-laden items. We have introduced whole-fruit and sugar-free mithais exclusively to cater to such discerning customers.” Among those are Fig and dates burfi and dry fruit rolls that are entirely made of just nuts and dry fruits. Milk green khus khus is a sweet with an inner core of gulkhand, rolled in a layer of milk khova and coated with khus khus. “Milk, gulkhand (made of rose petals) and khus khus are all natural ingredients and no extra sugar is added,” says Arulsujanesh.