The laddoo is lavender, and katli has a flavour. The artisanal mithai market has created a buzz for a while now, but the wedding market is warming up to the idea as well, with a new generation opting for mithai that goes beyond the tradition
To understand what led to mithai becoming a millennial hit in the last few years, it’s important to understand where it all started before it became ‘cool’. In 2014, restaurateur Zorawar Kalra introduced Jalebi Caviar to the world at Masala Library, a twist to the classic jalebi. The juxtaposition of the old with the modern was his goal, and he scored and how. “In 2013, I was sitting in my office with my chefs, and I dropped a pen on a paper, and it made a dot. I told them I want to make a jalebi that’s this size. The chefs made a chhanni, and figured a consistency method that will give us a small boondi, like the grain of a motichoor laddoo. That’s how the dessert was created,” he recalls.
At the same time that Kalra was creating in his office, a brand in Jaipur was starting their experimentation with mithai. “We realised no one always wants a kg or big boxes, so we should create smaller, more premium pieces, that will be more valuable — just like you can have a pastry instead of a cake. That’s what got us started,” says Divya Arora, founder of Jaipur-based Kesar Sweets.
Then, in 2016, chef Ranveer Brar partnered with the owners of Shree Gangour Sweets in Mumbai and created English Vinglish, a dessert boutique that aimed to internationally twist desi mithais. From Amarkhand Cheese Cake to Kalakand Cookies, these desserts were a hit.
In a way, Kalra, Kesar Sweets, and Brar, in their own spaces, predicted the future, because now we have a whole market that’s taken the humble mithai and created an empire out of it. If you’re not into taking one’s word for it, a quick number: According to a 2022 food trends report from Godrej, 50 per cent of food experts see gourmet mithai to be in demand.
Of course, no good change happens overnight. Noticing a gap in the premium mithai segment, Sid Mathur started Khoya in 2017, wanting to take mithai back to its roots with a little bit of history, but with more finesse. One of the most interesting mithai that Khoya does is the milk cake. “As a kid, I always wanted to eat the most caramelised side of the milk cake, and not the blonder looking ones. Through a specific technique, we have made our milk cakes more caramelised, as that’s what people like,” he shares.
As artisanal mithai was still at a nascent stage, a generation ready to go beyond ‘basic’ started opting for cupcakes and macarons for Indian festivals (guilty as charged). This led to Sameer Seth, Founder & CEO at Hunger Inc. Hospitality that also owns Bombay Canteen and O Pedro, to reimagine Indian mithai in a contemporary context. Bombay Sweet Shop opened its doors in 2020, and makes tasty delights that appeal to those growing up on salted caramel and ganache, and those looking to expand their idea of meetha. The marriage of filter kaapi and Mysore Paak gave birth to Kaapi Paak, one of their bestsellers, where coffee powder is added to the paak mix and cooked till the ghee leaves the end of the kadhai.
While Bombay Sweet Shop has their variations, Jaipur’s Kesar Sweets does marzipan balls out of badam katli using different flavours like lemon, lavender, etc.; they make pecan and hazelnut katlis just like one does with almonds. They were internationally recognised within a year of opening, and their mithais have travelled around the world.
Shweta Agarwal was looking for options for her wedding favours in 2020. Her parents wanted mithai, but she couldn’t find a single option that she resonated with. So, she decided to make one herself, and started Genda Phool in October of the same year. Genda Phool’s Cashewmel, one of their bestsellers, is a cashew-flavoured base and salty caramel filling. They blend the pasty, salty flavour of pistachio with the kicky taste of Kolkata paan leaves, add a dollop of gulkand, and call the mithai Paantastic Pistachio.
While festivals were the first to grab with both hands this premium line of brands doing bespoke mithai, weddings took no time to catch up as well. Seth shares that the usual requests for weddings include designing of the packaging, gift bags, and personalised messages. Agarwal observes that for rituals, people mostly opt for traditional options while for gifting, they prefer contemporary counterparts. Khoya sent almost 50 kg of mithai to Udaipur in boxes of 36 mithais each for Isha Ambani’s wedding functions. Delhi-based Gur Chini made laddoos with Italian pistachio and 24-carat gold for Akash Ambani and Shloka Mehta’s wedding, while another brand, Arq Mithai’s primary market is also weddings.
“A father wanted to give laddoos on his daughter’s wedding, and the daughter wanted to give Ferrero Rocher. I could understand the dilemma, and we created this hazelnut laddoo using a core of chocolate and used hazelnut praline and almond. That gave them both what they wanted,” says Kesar Sweets’ Arora.
Aashay Samel, director of weddings and events, Tamarind Global, shares insights that wedding planning companies have observed. “In two years, we’ve done about 20-22 weddings, and each year, at least 80 per cent weddings are destination — so transporting mithai becomes difficult. High-end, gourmet mithai goes with the invitations. There’s a demand for artisanal mithai in the wedding market.”
Brands can say their piece, but we hear it from the horse’s mouth: consumers. Delhi-based Rini Chatterjee ordered artisanal mithai boxes from Khoya with an assortment for her friend’s mehendi function. “These mithai boxes make for a gourmet gifting option — well-packed bags that look fancy, and the sweets look pretty too. While legacy mithai companies have also upped their game, we wanted something glamorous, and taste and quality wise, Khoya was quite up there,” she says.
In Mumbai, Rishab Turakhia ordered mithai from Bombay Sweet Shop to accompany his invitations. A box of nine assorted mithais and four chocolate bars were distributed as hampers. “We felt the traditional sweet box was too common, and wanted to do something different,” he shares, adding that traditional mithais (while a great tradition) are more of a formality, and lack the wow factor that artisanal mithai does so well.
Legacy brands are finding their own way to appeal to a new crowd of mithai eaters. Well-known brand Bikanervala has started Saugaat, a line that seamlessly blends international flavours with familiar ones. Indian, Turkish, and French flavours come together in their Lait Croquer — a combination of French wafer and doda, churned with Turkish hazelnut, or the Lemongrass Creme, where lemongrass is infused with khoya to make its own kind of barfi.
Almond House, a legacy brand of over 32 years in Hyderabad, is regionally renowned for its offerings in the wedding market. Chaitanya Muppala, CEO, shares that in the last couple of years, they have put an increased focus on wedding gifting. They are popular for their dry fruit mithais. “We do miniature versions of our classic mithais that can be served with toothpicks. We’ve consciously stayed away from ‘reinventing’ mithai, and play with the form instead, because consumption patterns have changed, so our focus is on repackaging without deviating from what it’s originally supposed to be. The change at the recipe level would be reducing sugar by using alternatives. I’m personally slightly averse to adding alcohol or chocolate to our mithai. We don’t want to make mithai contemporary by integrating it with chocolate,” he says.
As more and more millennial weddings order gourmet mithai, the general market consensus on what makes these choices tick with this generation is the freedom of choice in flavour profiles, level of sweetness, aesthetic appeal, the option of dietary preferences (vegan, lactose-free, if you’re one of those), and the glamour quotient that ‘well-dressed’ mithai has. And as one of those ‘different’ people who doesn’t drool at the sight of a box of malai peda but will grab a Ferrero Rocher Besan Laddu by the balls, I concur.
Images: Bombay Sweet Shop, Gendha Phool, Kesar, Khoya