Liquid Gold – A winter delicacy
by Spice Story
As winters set in – all of Bengal is obsessing over the arrival of the sweet, gooey and nutty Nolen Gur.
'Nolen Gur' or ‘Notun Gur’ is literally translated as 'New' Jaggery. The arrival of this sweet golden liquid in winter gets most Bengali food lovers lick their lips in anticipation. Popularly known as Khejurer or Jhola Gur, is made from the first flush of juice from the date palm tree. The sap is then reduced patiently to a gooey consistency to create it’s sweet and nutty flavor. This nutty, caramel flavour is what distinguishes Nolen Gur. Available as Patali Gur (solid) and Nolen gur (liquid), are used to make sweets like joynogorer moa, roshogullas, sandesh, payesh, pithe and more. These bengali sweets take on a new life in the winters since Nolen Gur gets used in the making.
The date palm sap is evidently extremely sensitive, and extracting it is most favourable only as the cold sets in. The sweetness inversely proportional to the dip in the mercury. The colder the night, the sweeter the sap. In the winters, the setting sun sees many a artisans climbing the trees to set up earthen pots to collect the khejurer rosh or date palm sap. At dawn, the pots are brought down, and the sap is quickly transferred (to avoid fermentation to gigantic pots set on wood fire. It is then constantly stirred until the translucent sap acquires its gorgeous golden amber hues. The rest is further reduced and then transferred into moulds and left to solidify in to the Patali gur.
Looking into the making of Jhola gur, came across the film Saudagar (1973). An adaption of Bengali writer Narendranath Mitra's short story "Raas", the film depicted a scheming Amitabh Bachchan (in a lungi and skull cap) wooing Nutan (a widow adept in preparing the jaggery). Saudagar depicts in great detail how the famous Bengal jaggery is prepared with Nutan playing the woman with wonder skills that go into stirring this most loved gooey concoction called "Nolen Gur".
Over the centuries, khejurer gur has remained an unsurpassed winter bounty. Know for its vivid taste this natural sweetener is also packed with antioxidants, protecting the body from the damaging effects of free radicals.
The micronutrients it contains provide immunity to the body from various infections during the season.
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.
Owing to high iron content, it increases the haemoglobin level and helps treat anaemia.
In its liquid form, Nolen Gur is eaten with just about everything. Recalling the last lines of Sukumar Ray's poem ‘Bhalo re Bhalo’ in which he lists all the things he loves in this world, and ends by saying "Sobar chaite bhalo/Pauruti aar jhola gur" (but the best of all, is liquid gur eaten with roti).
As chefs and food experts discovered this natural flavourful sweetener and began to experiment with it, the Nolen Gur has transformed from being a traditional winter delicacy in bengali households to a gastronomic phenomenon, finding its way into haute cuisine as a crème brûlée, onto hand-churned ice-creams, Icings on Cakes, pastry glazes and more.