Thursday, December 6, 2012


Most Indians have a weakness for traditional sweets and consumption of these food items increase very significantly during festive occasions. In contrast western population is hooked on to other sweet tasting products like puff pastry, ice cream and such modern foods. In the absence of any reliable statistics it is too hazardous to make any meaningful estimate regarding the size of the industry or the per capita consumption of sweetmeats in India. Considering that a substantial portion of sugar manufactured and jaggery produced in the cottage sector are going for preparation of various sweetmeat products, the per capita consumption can be phenomenal.

There are many sweets made and consumed in different parts of the country and almost all of them have a history dating back to centuries past. What is amazing is that the art of making sweetmeats is still preserved in the country even after the onslaught by western civilization 300 years ago in india and the skill required for making each one of them is passed on from generation to generation through a process of assimilation when children were growing in joint family system prevalent till a few years ago. It is only after the relentless urbanization trend witnessed by the country and evolution of nuclear families that the sweetmeat making capabilities started getting diluted progressively. Consequent to it the urban areas saw commercialization of sweetmeats which were sold through the so called "Halwais" located in every neighborhood.

Progressive shrinking of kitchen size in many high rise apartment complexes spelt further doom to the ability of modern day house wives to prepare good quality Indian sweets. Credit must go to Central Food Technological Research Institute at Mysore for foreseeing the trend and developing "ready mixes" for popular sweets like Gulab Jamun and Jilebi which to day adore most retail store shelves and the simplicity of preparation of the ready to eat product from these mixes at home kitchens ensured that next generation population is exposed to the pleasure of appreciating the fine characteristic taste of such traditional sweets. Some sweets like Gulab Jamun, Rasogolla, Bakerwadi, Shrikand etc are available in stabilized packs with a few months of shelf life.

Failure of food scientists and technologists to research into the basics of most sweetmeats made in India in the unorganized sector is responsible for the sorry state of affairs that exist to day vis-a-vis this industry. In a recent report in one of the reputed news publications, the pathetic condition that prevails in the preparation kitchens that churn out high volumes of these products have been brought out.  Preparations like Rasogolla or Laddus are  "made in the dingy lanes" of the Capital in "filthy shanties" in the buzzing presence of  worms and mosquitoes and if any consumer has the stomach to see these facilities, the craving for sweets offered by the Halwais would be killed once for all! Most shops peddling their products depend on supplies coming from these dirty shanties as they do not have their own kitchens to meet the demand, especially during festival seasons. Besides expert skilled artisans are required to make many special sweets like sonpapadi and these artisans are in short supply besides being very costly to maintain. Either due to negligence or ignorance, both the preparation kitchens as well as the personnel working there are dangerous from sanitary and hygiene perspectives. God only knows what quality ingredients are used to prepare these products and whether additives used are legally permissible. Neither the shop owners nor the vast safety assessment system of Delhi administration seems to be bothered about this sorry state of affairs which can be a potential time bomb waiting to explode one day in the form of mass food poisoning.

Indian ethnic preparations like sweets and savories have a huge potential for development and growth and this can be realized only if the working conditions and technologies used are drastically improved. While mechanization and automation of the processes may be a distant dream, at least the preparation environment can be monitored more rigorously, with those not conforming to minimum safety standards severely punished and restrained from continuing with their business once for all. There are many unit operations while making a product which are amenable to use of simple gadgets and equipment already available and this industry deserves some attention at the hands food engineers to help them in this area. Are the MFPI and FSSAI at Delhi listening? Some thing needs to be done immediately to streamline this industry so that consumer safety is not compromised any longer.


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