Every (Deepavali) Dessert Has a Story

Deepavali is right around the corner! As a symbolic celebration of good over evil and light over darkness, the festival of lights is also about celebrating the good things in life, and few things are as good as a spread of Deepavali mithai (sweets) and desserts. Ever wondered how some of your favourite Deepavali sweets came about? Well, get ready for some fast food facts because we’ve got you covered.


You’ve almost definitely seen ladoos before. They’re colourful, round and sized to be eaten in one mouthful. Although the basic ladoo calls for gram flour, ghee and sugar, there are many regional varieties that make this a sweet treat for everyone. Ladoo’s origin however is a far cry from an indulgent snack, in fact, it’s almost the opposite. It is said that ladoo was invented by Sushruta, an ancient Indian physician who used to roll sesame seeds into a ball to give his patients as an antiseptic. Sushruta would also use these edible balls to dose out small amounts of medicine, potentially inventing the first tablet.


You may already be familiar with adhirasam’s savoury cousin vadai, sometimes called the ‘Indian doughnut’, but there’s more than meets the eye here. Tracing their origins back to the 16th century, these deep-fried dessert discs are made of rice flour, jaggery (the raw sugar extracted from sugarcane juice), cardamom powder and ghee. It’s a short ingredient list, but the cooking process is long and delicate, so much so there is a Tamil phrase that says you can judge the skills of a cook by the quality of their adhirasam. A must-have during Deepavali, adhirasam has also found its way into Malay cuisine as denderam.

Mysore Pak

Mysore pak was invented by a man called Kakasura Madappa, head chef of Krishnaraja Wadiyar IV, king of Mysore – a city in southern India. While preparing a buffet of sweets and desserts for the king’s banquet, Kakasura stumbled across this simple combination of gram flour, sugar and ghee. Upon presenting his new creation to the king, Krishnaraja named the sweet Mysore pak, translating to ‘Mixture of Mysore’. The king’s new favourite dessert was a hit with his subjects as well and as a result, spread far beyond the kingdom to the rest of India and – eventually – Malaysia too.


Palkova is a rich, creamy dessert invented in the town of Srivilliputtur, Tamil Nadu. It is thought that Rajput soldiers who immigrated from modern-day Rajasthan brought khoya – a dairy product made from dried or reduced whole milk – southwards with them. One day, someone added sugar to the mix as they were making khoya, giving birth to pal-khoya; ‘pal’ being the Tamil word for milk. Over time, this was shortened to palkova. During the 1970’s, India’s government launched an initiative to make India the world’s largest milk producer, and with all this surplus milk, palkova exploded in popularity.


We’ve only just begun to scratch the surface of India’s desserts, but we’ll save some for next Deepavali. For now, go impress your friends and family with some newfound food facts and have a very Happy Deepavali!

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