INDIA: The festive season of lights brought by the guilty pleasures of indulging in crispy delicacies has come to an end, but the winters have just begun. This calls for some piping hot sweet to warm the body, and nothing sounds better than a nutritious bowl of gajar ka halwa. The guilt-free treat is a favorite among the masses. Winter months require more energy for the body to stay warm and sugar gives this energy boost to your system.
Grown during the winter, carrots make the best ingredient for a mouth-watering bowl of dessert. Gajar ka halwa laced in ghee is an ideal sweet dish for this season.
Gajar ka halwa is a sweetened pudding dessert made of carrots sauteed in ghee that is a go-to sweet in Indian households on many events or occasions. The goodness of this sweet is not just limited to the love for its taste, gajar ka halwa comes with a pack of nutritional benefits and also suits your body during the cold.
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The making of gajar ka halwa and origins
Gajar ka halwa is a combination of freshly grated carrots, ghee, sugar, milk, khoya (dairy food), cardamom and nuts. Vasundhara Chauhan, writing for The Hindu, says that gajar ka halwa tastes best when slow-cooked and that using a pressure cooker spoils the dish.
It is typically made by placing the grated carrots in a heated pan with specific amounts of milk or khoya, sugar, and cardamom for flavour. The dish is then stirred for 4-5 minutes after which chopped cashew nuts, almonds and pistachios with ghee are added to the halwa.
This dessert is a tradition during many festivals in India, a tradition most loved. Gajar ka halwa is eaten mainly on the occasion of Diwali, Holi, Eid al-Fitr and Raksha Bandhan. The name ‘gajar ka halwa,’ originates from the Arabic word “halwa”, which means “sweet” and since it is made from carrot, which in Hindi is gajar, it is known as gajar ka halwa (meaning pudding or halwa of carrot).
The dish was first introduced during the Mughal period and is strongly associated with Punjab. Gajar halwa is also similar to other types of Punjabi halwa.
Originally gajar ka halwa contained carrots, milk and ghee, but now there are variations, like adding papaya which then becomes carrot-papaya halwa or including mava/khoya. The milk and carrot combination is known as milk flavoured gajar ka halwa and adding cream or mava and carrot is described as mava flavoured gajar ka halwa. Some lesser-known variations include carrot and beetroot halwa, cheese gajar ka halwa (made with purple carrots and ricotta) and khajur (dates) gajar ka halwa.
Following the latest trends, today gajar ka halwa is custom made for vegans, and gluten-free to focus only on the nutritional value.
Compared to the typical Indian sweet dishes, gajar ka halwa is a nutritious dessert with less fat (a minimum of 10.03% and an average of 12.19%). The sum of all the ingredients makes the dessert a healthy one.
During winters, our immune systems take a hit because of the lack of sun exposure and cold.
Carrots store vitamin A in the form of beta carotene. It is an antioxidant that treats dry winter skin, strengthens immune system and fights infections. Loaded with vitamins A, C and K, carrots are rich in fibre, hence promoting gut health and monitoring blood pressure levels. The fibrous roots of carrots take longer to digest, hence you don’t feel hungry as much, keeping your weight in check. A study also says that carrots contain phytochemicals that help reduce the risk of tumours and cancers because of their antioxidant properties.
The health benefits of milk cannot be exaggerated enough. Milk is rich in vitamin D, proteins, calcium, probiotics, and immunoglobulin, which supports your immunity against viruses in the winter.
The super ingredient ghee is packed with amino acids and antioxidants. Ayurveda says that ghee boosts memory, slows down ageing and also improves immunity. Ghee also aids weight loss as it flushes out stubborn body fats leading to an increase in good cholesterol. It also lubricates bone joints, relieving aches.
Cardamon used in gajar ka halwa contains vitamin C which treats cold and cough. The benefits of dry fruits are not unknown, they not only enhance the taste of the halwa but also are rich in fibre, boost immunity, digestion and overall health.
Gajar ka halwa vs Ferrero Rocher
When rolled into small moulds and garnished with shreds of almonds and pistachio, gajar ka halwa becomes carrot halwa ladoo and in appearance can remind you of the worldwide famous chocolate Ferrero Rocher, only, gajar halwa is a healthier alternative.
Ferrero Rocher is made of a whole roasted hazelnut encased in a wafer shell of hazelnut chocolate and covered in milk chocolate and finely chopped hazelnuts. These chocolate balls are high in fats and calories as they contain sugar, milk chocolate, milk powder, cocoa butter, butter oil, palm oil and emulsifiers. Such saturated fats should be consumed in small amounts as they are linked to obesity and high cholesterol.
Unlike gajar ka halwa, Ferrero Rocher contains more added sugars than natural, making it not a very healthy choice for sugar cravings. The natural sugar from carrots and healthy ingredients in gajar ka halwa make it a low-fat sweet and heavier on the nutrition side. When compared to gajar ka halwa, the processed chocolate candy has negligible amounts of health benefits.
The bottom line is that Ferrero Rocher is not a healthy snack option, however it won’t hurt to consume limited portions once in a while. Or better yet, savour a steamy aromatic bowl of gajar ka halwa without having to worry about fats and calories. At the same time, the benefits of any food, healthy or less healthy, can be utilized to its fullest only when consumed moderately.