Nolen Gur: An Awaited Season
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Nolen Gur: An Awaited Season

Date palm jaggery is a natural sweetener, that’s healthier and tastier than sugar

Nolen Gur: An Awaited Season

People from Bengal are completely crazy about sweets with jaggery extracted from date palm. Nolen Gurer Sandesh & Nolen Gurer Rosogolla are the most loved varieties.

Bengali Nolen Gur is more than a sweet end to your meal. It is a natural sweetener that aids digestion and helps in weight loss. This jaggery is a staple winter sweet ingredient also known as Khejurer gur. It’s a highly prized seasonal produce, that occupies a place of immense pride in Bengal’s already accomplished sweet market.

History of Nolen Gur

Back in 4th Century BC, Panini wrote, 'Gurasha auang desho goura', which means Gour is the place of gur.

The old Pundra Bardhan in undivided Bengal, now Bogra in Bangladesh, became known as Gour for its high-quality gur produced from sugarcane. The fine quality of the date palm jaggery sold in haat (weekly market) is orally documented in the Piruli song of Farid Pir and also in the folk poems of Dakshin Kalikapur village.

The reason why a more formal, ‘Sanskritised’ documentation of the origin of khejurer gur is unavailable is that the Siulis – the artisans — belonged to the lower castes.

Siulis & extraction of Nolen Gur

Siulis belong to the nomad families who specialise in tapping the sap of the date palm tree and making khejurer gur. Siuli men scale the thorny trees to collect the sap and the people of this tribe are almost never acknowledged.

Obtaining the sap requires skill. The tapping is generally done at night, with an intervening period of rest for the tree. The Siulis climb the tree at dusk, cut the end of the inflorescence (flower cluster), and hang an earthen container from it, leaving it overnight to catch the dripping sap. The tree cannot be tapped if the weather is foggy, drizzly or warm, as the sap will become turbid and sour. It’s this that makes the gur so sensitive to climatic conditions. The fresh sap of the wild date palm is sweet, fragrant and as clear as drinking water. Rich in vitamins and iron and with 12-15% sugar, it is a delicious thirst quencher.

However, it ferments quickly along with the rising sun to turn into the alcoholic tari, so the Siulis start work before the crack of dawn. The pots are brought down from the trees and the collected sap is filtered and poured into open troughs. 

This juice is then put to boil till the Brix value reaches 118-120%, a calculation that experienced Siulis make just by sight and touch alone, without any modern instruments.

Taste, texture and authenticity

Elevating the mundane Khejurer gur nudges and pushes white sugar out of business during the season. Date Palm Jaggery has a sweet and soothing aroma and can make any jaggery-sweet taste extraordinary.

A Bengali homemaker Krishna Banerjee said, “In our childhood days, date palm jaggery was available only during winters but now it is available throughout the year in many cities. While still in many small towns, they have to wait for the winter to get the date palm jaggery."

One can break pieces of the soft, deep caramel gur and put it on the tongue and savour the complex sweetness slowly spreading in the mouth. It feels like a small piece of sweet warmth.

Every Bengali household has trusted sources who would procure and deliver good quality khejurer gur from Bengal to Assam. The softer ones for immediate use and the harder roundels of the gur last through the year, safely tucked in airtight containers inside the refrigerator.

How Nolen Gur is better than refined sugar

Khejurer gur is not only delicious but also packed with vitamins and minerals that are good for digestion and weight loss. 

Who doesn’t love to indulge in sweets? But what if your sweet cravings could also act as health supplements?

Nolen Gur, or date palm jaggery, is one such dessert! Recommended by celebrity nutritionist Shiimpy Matharu, this Bengali sweet ingredient is "a feast for sore eyes, rusty gut and cramped calf muscles".

Though it is frequently used in Bengali cuisine, for the new palate, this iron-rich food can be a delicious and healthy addition. "Nolen Gur gives direct calories, which provide frequent energy to the body,” says nutritionist Shiimpy Matharu.

The doctor recommends it as a winter sweet for the micronutrients it contains that provide immunity to the body from various infections during the season. 

Here are some other reasons why you should include Nolen Gur in your diet:

1. It improves digestion, which makes it a good option as a post-meal sweet. The gur activates the digestive enzymes and helps clean the intestinal tract.

2. Owing to high iron content, it increases the haemoglobin level and helps treat anaemia.

3. It is rich in magnesium as well, which regulates the nervous system.

4. This natural sweetener is packed with antioxidants too, which protect the body from the damaging effects of free radicals.

5. This Bengali sweet has simple carbohydrates, which are much easier to digest than the complex carbs of other sugary sweets. Fast digestion helps produce energy and it can help you stay active and refreshed throughout the day.

6. It is a storehouse of vitamins and essential minerals like iron, potassium and magnesium.

7. According to nutritionist Matharu, 15-20g of it can be consumed daily, to help with weight loss as its high potassium content reduces bloating and water retention.

Nolen Gur and its varieties

Date palm jaggery can be eaten as nolen gur — the softer, golden coloured gur, named after the nol, or the pipe that is used to collect the sap, and from nolen meaning new. Or as jhola gur, the viscous liquid gur made by reducing the sap but stopping short of crystallisation.

Jhola comes from the Bengali word for ‘hanging’ — the way the pots are hung. Jhola gur has a low shelf life but a high aroma and is used to make the famous Joynagarer moa. Then there is poyra gur, from the word poila or ‘first’, for the gur made from the first sap of the season. This is believed to be the best variety because of the elongated period of rest that the tree gets.

The jhola gur made from the first sap is called jiren jhola gur — ‘jiren’ being the word for resting. The jiren gur is almost translucent. The sap is reduced further on low heat and poured into terracotta moulds to yield the solidified patali, which has the highest shelf life of about eight months but is the most compromised on flavour.

Khejurer gur has now become a part of fine dining and has inspired several refined sweets, but the first jhola gur each season still evokes memories of a winter special Bengali breakfast of luchi and jhola gur. Or, as the famous poet Sukumar Ray father of Satyajit ray recalled, “kintu shobar chaite bhalo, pauruti aar jhola gur” — the best of all is bread with jhola gur.

Nolen Gur infused sweets

There’s a mishti magic as one of the city's most favourite ingredients - Nolen Gur makes an appearance as the temperature drops. From classic Nolen Gur-infused sweets that have stood the test of time to new age desserts, you will be spoilt for choice almost till early March or till the Nolen Gur stocks run out.

Before you start salivating further, let us take you through our five picks which are must-haves when it comes to one of the top Nolen Gur specialties.

Nolen Gur Cham Cham at Balaram Mullick and Rajaram Mullick with sweet traditions that date back to 1885. BRM is one of the city's most iconic sweet brands. One of my favourites from their long list of Nolen Gur specialties is their Cham Cham that is not as cloyingly sweet as a classic Cham Cham. Also, do try their baked Nolen Gur Mishti Doi.

Jolbhora sandesh

Want to taste the crème de la crème? The liquid gur filled sandesh is a common sweet in every Bengali’s refrigerator during the winters. Girish & Nakur is the place you should visit. Go to the Hedua one, so that you can try the jolbhora from Nalin Chandra as well.

Nolen Gur Rosogolla

This is one of the most anticipated winter dessert Recipe which spreads happiness and makes any ordinary day special with its comfort, tempting look, unbeatable flavour and irresistible taste. It is an authentic Bengali dessert where Indian Cottage Cheese Balls are cooked in date palm jaggery (Nolen Gur) syrup.

Nolen Gurer Rosogolla is a delectable soft, spongy and juicy dessert that drives the person to the taste of the divine. 

For Bengalis, any occasion starting from Pujas to marriage, birthdays to Griha-Prabesh is incomplete without Rasgulla. We always celebrate our happiness with sweets and of course, Rasgullas are the first choice and preference of every Bong.

Every Bong has a soft corner for the flavour and taste of Sweets with jaggery and Nolen Gurer Payesh is the biggest example to prove it. In winter season, every house is flavoured up with Nolen Gurer Payesh for any special occasion.

Gurer Patishapta

Patishapta is a household favourite. Apart from the sweet shops, you will remember having the patishapta made by your grandmother at home. It is a thin, delicate crêpe, with a filling of gur. We usually savour the patishapta all year round but it comes with the kheer filling. It is only during winters that we get the gurer patishapta. Head to Hindustan Sweets or Ganguram to stuff your face with this winter special.

Nolen Gurer Ice Cream

Nolen Gurer Ice Cream is a scrumptious ice cream recipe that was traditionally relished in Bengali households. Prepared with jaggery, fresh cream and full cream milk, this creamy recipe is simply mouth watering. This ice cream recipe is a healthier alternative to those artificial sugar-laden ice creams. So if you are a die-hard ice cream fan, then you must try this dessert.

Pabrai’s authentic nolen gur flavour — and brownie points for the extra nolen gur syrup topping!