Prepared Foods magazine often has noted increasing consumer interest in authentic ethnic products in the U.S. and Canada. And, one only had to walk the show floor of Natural Products Expo West (March 18-20, 2005, Anaheim, Calif.) to be impressed with the growing influence of East Indian cuisine. Beyond the familiar chutneys and curry pastes, dairy-based foods are beginning to appear, as well. For example, Amy's Kitchen (Petaluma, Calif.) offers a Palak Paneer meal. Paneer, a semi-soft cheese, is also offered under the Bharatma brand by Specialty Cheese Company Inc. (Lowell, Wis.) and raita yogurt was introduced by Patak's Foods (Austin, Minn.) last year.

However, traditional Indian dairy products remain generally unfamiliar to North American-based food processing companies. Such products offer an intriguing marketplace opportunity, as consumers could be provided intriguing and exotic new products reminiscent of more familiar dairy foods.
-- Prepared Foods Editors

Mark Twain, after his visit to the Orient, declared: “Although there are 365 days in a year, India has 366 festivals.” He put his finger on the pulse of real India with this cheeky comment. Truly, India is a land of fairs, feasts and festivals. In this rich diversity, sweets occupy a place of pride. Indian culture is rooted in the concept of good food, good life and good cheer. This holistic approach is reflected in the incredible variety of delicacies that deftly combine delectable taste with assured nutrition for body, mind and even the soul. These ethnic dairy foods have been covered in depth in the first publication of its kind, a 462-page handbook, Technology of Indian Milk Products. (See information at this article's end.)

Modern product developers can turn to ethnic foods for ideas to expand the present range of desserts, dips and fudges. They can explore the scope for integrating ethnic and modern process techniques and formulations to “create” a new class of dairy novelties that would have an exotic appeal.

Through millennia, Indian sweet delights have gone through waves of innovations, both in product formulations and processing by unsung master-confectioners. Traditional methods of ethnic sweet-making now are being integrated with modern culinary technology. In the last two decades, scientists at R&D centers in India have used quark separators and scraped-surface heat exchangers to pasteurize and process shrikhand, a fermented dairy dessert. Meatball-portioning machines and industrial fryers make gulabjamuns, fried balls of milk powder mixed with wheat flour. Japanese pastry-making machines and planetary mixers make other ethnic delicacies.

India's first plant to make traditional dairy foods went into production in 1981 in Vadodara, Gujarat, in Western India. Since then, a large number of dairy plants have taken to the production of Indian delicacies and specialties. A pilot plant to make them outside India has been in production at Miramichi, NB, in Eastern Canada since 2002. The unit is attached to the Northumberland Dairy Cooperative. Such a project has also aroused interest in Australia.

Indian sweets are characterized by the absence of stabilizers, emulsifiers, chemical preservatives and the like. Even the acidulant used for coagulating milk for paneer and chhana-making is usually the whey recovered from the earlier batch. Presently, the annual production of traditional sweets in India is estimated at three million tons, valued at US$10 billion. They are classified into the following five categories: desiccated milk-based products, heat/acid coagulated products, cultured/fermented products, fat-rich products and cereal-based puddings/desserts. Below are brief descriptions of some of the popular ethnic sweets, arranged in alphabetic order:

  • Gulabjamun: A nationally popular sweet delicacy, it is made with khoa, a desiccated milk product, and maida (wheat flour). It is usually consumed hot. Shaped round or cylindrical, gulabjamun is golden to dark brown in color and has a soft to firm body and smooth texture. It is soaked in thick sugar syrup. In 1858, it attracted the fancy of Lady Canning, the first Vicereine of India, after whom a variety was “created” in her honor, named Ledikeni.

  • Kheer: India's favorite dessert par excellence, kheer is a sweet milk-rice confection prepared on festive occasions. It has thick body. It also contains a substantial amount of non-dairy ingredients such as rice, sugar, nuts and spices such as saffron, cardamom, almonds and pistachio. The selection of the rice variety influences the quality of kheer as well as its texture and other sensory attributes. It contributes to the thickening and concentration of milk. It resembles rice pudding, a popular dessert in the U.S. and Europe.

  • Paneer: It is a prominent, traditional cottage cheese specialty of the Indian sub-continent. Marble white in appearance and with a slightly spongy body, it possesses a sweetish-acidic-nutty flavor. Its one unique feature is its ability to withstand frying temperatures. This has resulted in the development of paneer snacks that can be smoked, grilled or fried. Its origin can be traced to the nomads of Southwest Asia. It has been integrated into the Indian cuisine and now enjoys the status of a national delicacy.

  • Raita: Made from dahi, a yogurt-like product, it serves as an accompaniment to meals. It is easy to prepare by lightly beating dahi, spiced and salted to taste. In a recent report, a New York Times special correspondent focused on the many virtues of raita under the headline: “India's Raita Tickles New York Palate.” Raita is a salad, dip and side dish in one. It requires no cooking and is quickly made. It is terrific as a dip for flatbread or, when made extra thick, is an alternative to potato salad or coleslaw.

  • Rasogolla: An undisputed king of Indian sweets, rasogolla (literally, a ball of syrupy juice) is consumed chilled. It is made from chhana, an acid-coagulated, cottage cheese variety. The soft, succulent ball is cooked and soaked in sugar syrup. This delicacy delights millions of connoisseurs in the Indian sub-continent.

  • Shrikhand: A semi-solid, sweet-tangy fermented dairy dessert, it combines the nutritive value of fermented milk products with delicious taste. Some prefer it sweetened, while others value its tanginess. Consumed chilled, it forms a part of festive meals. Made with quark-like product from dahi, a yogurt-like product, it is finely mixed with sugar and flavoring agents like saffron and freshly-ground cardamom seeds. This mix is given a cream-smooth finish by finely kneading it in a planetary mixer. Shrikhand was the first ethnic milk delicacy to be made on an industrial scale in India.

    P.R. Gupta is the editor and publisher of the “Dairy India Yearbook.” For more information on the Indian dairy industry, contact him at yearbook@ or see Technology of Indian Milk Products. R.P. Aneja, B.N. Mathur, R.C. Chandan and A.K. Banerjee. Pages: 462 +; 248 tables and 76 charts, illustrations and drawings; 33 color photographs. ISBN: 81-901603-0-3; US LCC No: 2003-307836. Price: U.S.$150 plus courier & handling U.S.$45. Publisher: P.R. Gupta, Dairy India Yearbook, A-25 Priyadarshini Vihar, New Delhi 110092, India; Ph: (+91-11) 22543326, 22045681;