India is a land of diversity, and one of the things that unites us is our love for food. Yes, we are indeed united by food. And if one must choose a favourite from the diverse gastronomic palette that the country boasts of, it has to be the laddoo. Til ke laddoo, gur ke laddoo, besan ke laddoo, nariyal ke laddoo – each type of laddoo is delicious in its own way.
While the versatility of the laddoo makes it a household favourite, it is quite interesting to note that the ancestor of this festive indulgence was an amalgamation of ingredients used for medicinal purposes. It is believed that the well-known surgeon, Susruta began using jaggery and sesame seeds as an antiseptic. He began coating the sesame seeds with honey and jaggery and rolled the mixture into a ball, so that it could be eaten easily. In fact, Enkidu from the legend Gilgamesh mixed worms, cucumbers, honey and bread made of sesame flour, and made it into a round ball or laddoo so that he could consume it with ease. While we have thankfully done away with worms, medicinal ingredients such as sesame seeds, peanuts and jaggery are still used in several types of laddoos. The laddoo found its way to Indian temples via the spice route, and its long shelf life further strengthened its position as prasad given to devotees in the temples.
One of the most well-known laddoos is the ‘Thaggu ke laddoo’ of Kanpur, and the story of its origin is quite interesting: During the British era, India began importing white sugar. While a majority of Indian nationals called it ‘white poison’ owing to its British roots, many sweetmeat makers soon realised its worth and began using it in sweet preparations. One such halwai was Mattha Pandey, who began using white sugar to make laddoos, but later felt guilty of using the so-called ‘white poison’ for making a sweet for the Indian masses. However, when this sweet became widely famous and accepted, it became popular by the name Thaggu ke Laddoo or ‘Laddoo made by a cheat’, and the now-popular tagline Aisa koi saga nahi, jisko humne thaga nahi (There is no relative remaining whom I have not cheated) was born.
With a variety of ingredients to choose from and an even greater number of ways of preparation, the laddoo is certainly one of the most loved sweets of the country.
So, gobble up some delicious laddoos of your choice and enjoy yourself!