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Gums, ‘gondh’ and festive recipes

Gums, true to their name, are used as binders and emulsifying agents in festive recipes like panjiri, laddoos and chocolate barks

(left) Gondh Ki Panjiri; and Gondh Chocolate Bark.(Nandita Iyer)

By Nandita Iyer

LAST PUBLISHED 28.10.2023  |  09:00 AM IST

Edible gums add a unique and intriguing dimension to Indian cuisine. They have been a part of our culture since ancient times, with India being home to a variety of gum-producing plants due to its diverse climate conditions. Come festive season, one of the most popular edible gums—gondh—becomes ubiquitous in mithais.

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Gums, true to their name, are used as binders and emulsifying agents in recipes. Different gums have varying emulsifying properties and are used as per the need of each product. It’s fascinating how they are produced in nature. The current understanding is, they are metabolic by-products of plants—generated either as a part of their normal life cycle or as a response to injury or disease to the bark. Gums are formed from the disintegration of cellulose in plant tissues. Think of it as nature making its own viscous protective band-aid for an ailing part of the plant to help it recover.

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To commercially harvest these products on a large scale, these trees are tapped by placing strategic cuts on their bark to not injure it or contaminate the samples collected. The gum exudes over three-eight weeks as a viscous liquid, collecting as a drop on the bark, and then hardens, after which it is collected. This is bleached in the sun, and impurities are removed before packaging. This is the journey of gondh, nature’s gift from the Acacia senegal trees to your kitchen shelf and into your food.

Gondh is a favourite ingredient in the winters of the north and west India. Gondh laddoos are a part and parcel of pregnancy and post-partum in many parts of India. My Gujarati friend and neighbour, Meha Senthil, who now lives in San Diego, US, reminisces about gond paak. “My mom used to cook with gondh. There’s a paak that’s eaten on delivery that has 40-plus ingredients, and one of the main ingredients is gondh. It’s an (exhaustive) process to make this paak and mom prepared it for each of my three deliveries (as well as for many friends and cousins when they had babies). The paak is supposed to give you jor (strength). She meant well, but I hated the taste of the paak especially since I had to eat a piece daily. I think my poor dad ended up finishing each batch that I never got through."

Laddoos are not the only thing that can be made with this ingredient. A chapter in The Bloomsbury Handbook Of Indian Cuisine (2023) describes a dish from Rajasthani cuisine called panchkuta made using five local ingredients—ker (caper-like desert fruit), sangri (bean-like pods of the khejri tree), the seeds (kumatiya) and the gum of the Acacia senegal tree and amchoor (dried mango powder), stir-fried with spices and chillies. Travellers relied on this dish during their long camel journeys across the desert.

Gondh has no flavour and aroma, but it’s used in cooking due to the belief that it has nourishing properties. It adds a delightful crunchy texture when fried and added to laddoos or panjiri. The latter has all the ingredients that go into a laddoo, but the format is different. It is served like a dry halwa and the quantity of ghee is lesser. Gondh panjiri can be thought of as a desi granola and used to top porridge as well as cereal. For an indulgent and nourishing breakfast, mix it with milk and enjoy. Whether in crunchy laddoos, aromatic paak, or nutritious panjiri, gondh weaves its magic into the fabric of Indian cooking, making every dish a celebration of nature, tradition and well-being.

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Gondh ki Panjiri

Makes 250g

Ingredients

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4-5 tbsp ghee

3 tbsp gondh or edible gum, crushed into small pieces

100g wheat flour (coarse is better)

2 tbsp rava (semolina)

4-5 tbsp chopped almonds

4-5 tbsp of other mixed nuts and seeds

2-3 tbsp desiccated coconut

1 tsp powdered green cardamom seeds

1 tsp dried ginger powder

Half cup powdered jaggery

Method

Heat the ghee and fry the pieces of gondh until they fluff up. Drain well and keep aside.

In the same ghee (add some more if required), on a low flame, roast the wheat flour and semolina for 7-8 minutes until light brown in colour and fragrant. Remove to a dish.

Dry roast the almond and mixed nuts and seeds for 3-4 minutes. Remove to a dish to cool.

Dry roast the desiccated coconut on a low flame until fragrant. Let it cool.

Once all the ingredients have cooled down, combine them well in a large bowl. Add the green cardamom powder, ginger powder and powdered jaggery and mix well. Store the panjiri in an airtight container.

Gondh Chocolate Bark

Makes 120g

Ingredients

100g chocolate bar, finely chopped

2 tsp crushed gondh fried in some ghee, drained

2 tsp chopped roasted almond

2 tsp chopped pistachios

Pinch of coarse salt

Method

Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

Melt the chopped chocolate in a bowl using the double boiler method or in the microwave. Stir well with a silicon spatula.

Stir all the other ingredients except the salt into the melted chocolate.

Pour on to the parchment paper and smoothen out using the spatula to around half-inch thickness. Top with a sprinkle of salt.

Refrigerate for 10 minutes and break into smaller sized pieces. Store in an airtight box in the refrigerator and use as required.

Double Tested is a fortnightly column on vegetarian cooking, highlighting a single ingredient prepared two ways. Nandita Iyer’s latest book is The Great Indian Thali—Seasonal Vegetarian Wholesomeness (Roli Books). She posts @saffrontrail on Twitter and Instagram.

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