Pink petals unfurl themselves in layers to form the pretty blossom which then stands tall with it’s head nodding about the dark green leaves and hidden thorns. The paneer rose is much more than just a lovely flower. Rosewater and the heady attar made from these roses have always been celebrated in the manner in which it relaxes the mind and body.
However that’s not all, this particular variety of rose is most popular for it’s edible properties. In fact, our elders will insist on the paneer rose being the only kind of rose which is safe to eat. This native variety is also known as the Damask rose (believed to have travelled from Damascus). Those of us living in the South of India are only too familiar about it’s popularity with our local garland makers.
It is a shrub which is quite often found adorning the gardens of homes in and around Coimbatore. But there is one other speciality made from this particular rose which receives less attention in these parts and that is the gulkand. This sweet condiment is known to have it’s origins in India and Persia where these rose bushes grow in plenty. In Urdu ‘Gul’ means flower and ‘Kand’ in Arabic is sweet.
We have all eaten our share of sweet beeda, flavoured with gulkand. It offers a delicious contrast against the peppery sharpness of the betel leaf. While we are aware of the digestive properties of the betel leaf ,did you know that the gulkand has an equal if not more of a positive impact on the gut ?!
In fact Gulkand has been used in ancient Ayurvedic medicine to treat many ailments ranging from indigestion, flatulence and acidity to cosmetic problems relating to hair and skin. The cooling properties brought on by this rose and sugar infusion is beneficial during the summer months in keeping the body cool and helps ward off body odour caused by excessive perspiration.
The process of making gulkand is as enticing as the fragrant flower itself. The fresh petals are washed and dried thoroughly before being layered in a clear jar alternatively with sugar. It is then closed and left out in the sun for a few days to undergo the natural transformation of turning into a sticky, delicious blend. Though refined sugar is used in the manufacturing process today, the original recipe consisted of crystallised rock candy which was powdered and used. With the sun being the prime ingredient for this magical metamorphosis from flower to preserve, the gulkand was a much favoured delicacy among kings, nobles and aristocrats.
A few weeks ago, we procured a bottle of gulkand after hearing a celebrity nutritionist speak highly of it’s stomach cleansing properties. What could be a better time than post Deepavali when the digestive system has been put through a high endurance test! It actually worked wonders. Try a small spoonful of gulkand on an empty stomach, not only will it soothe any distress in the stomach but it will also aid the body for a better assimilation of meals during the course of the day.
“How can I have sugar first thing in the morning?” is a question that will instantly be on everyone’s mind. The sugar when paired with the paneer rose petals and left to sun dry is said to have only a positive effect on the body. Many food combinations are known to complement each other in a manner which helps the body thrive in an optimum working condition. According to research done over time, the gulkand definitely seems to fit that brief.
The process is simple enough to try making at home. It is much more than just a jam or conserve. The petals have a chewiness that is robust yet fragile, the sweet taste intertwines itself through the texture and the colour has a burnished tone almost as if the sunlight was trapped in between the roses and the sugar.
Some brands are known to add other aromatics like cloves, cardamom and cinnamon to the gulkand mixture; it is most popular however in it’s natural state. A spoonful of gulkand mixed into a glass of warm milk is recommended for a restful night. This sun baked condiment is also being noticed by dessert chefs and home bakers world wide.
Before you get conned into buying a gourmet rose petal conserve why not head to your local store, ask for a bottle of their best gulkand and experience the benefits for yourselves. Who knows, gulkand lattes might just very well be the next best thing !