On this hot summer afternoon, I was remembering ‘Nolen Gurer Ice Cream’, which we enjoyed last time at Oh! Calcutta — a Bengali cuisine restaurant in Kolkata. I believe it’s quite justified to dedicate this post on this innovative delicacy.
Jaya and I went to this restaurant for Bengali cuisine before catching our flight to Ranchi. We started with ‘Aam-pora sharbat’ (আম-পোড়া শরবৎ) followed by ‘Mochar Chop’ (মোচার চপ), and ‘Bhaape Ilish’ (ভাপে ইলিশ). Towards the end of our lunch when the waiter asked for our choice of dessert, we found that they have ice cream made with Nolen Gur (নলেন গুড়) or date palm jaggery on the menu. We could not but say ‘YES’ to it. I devoured the first spoon with an extra serving of the prized liquid Nolen Gur (jhola gur)… it was awesome! It was deliciously creamy and breathtakingly aromatic.
It’s not like the usual ice cream. It was light brownish in colour. It’s a fusion masterpiece, blending traditional sweet notes with creamy textures. Apart from its heavenly taste, the gooey yet slippery, finger-licking consistency of the jaggery elevates the experience of consuming it to a sinful level.
Nolen Gur’, ‘Notun Gur’ or ‘Khejur Gur’ is Date Palm Jaggery that is unique to Bengal. Nolen gur is used extensively to prepare delicacies of winter. This gur is available only during winter and has an unmatched fragrance and flavour to it. The ‘gur’ is procured by family based farmers located in nearby districts of Kolkata, capital of West Bengal. A cut is made into the Date Palm Tree and an earthen pot is attached just below it to collect the sap that oozes out from it. This sap is then boiled in large iron vessels to obtain the final product that leaves one wonderstruck — the taste is heavenly. It is unique because this whole process can be done only during winter and, therefore, known as ‘Nolen Gur’ or the New Jaggery. It is consumed fresh, too, during the winter months because in summer, due to the heat it turns rancid. But, now a days, the sweet makers of Bengal have developed ways to preserve this gur and use it almost round the year.
The date palm sap is made into three types of jaggery: liquid, grainy and the solid chunks of patali gur. The sap is heated in huge woks over wood or coal stoves and it is only an expert who can gauge the different degrees of cooking to achieve the right textures.
There are no chemicals or preservatives added, it is completely organic, and way healthier than sugar. In fact, nolen gur is recommended for people with diabetes by many health experts. Gur has an unrefined and complex structure which ensures slower release of sugar into the bloodstream as compared to refined and processed sugar.
Bengal’s unapologetic sweet tooth is probably a result of once being the producer of the finest sugar in the world, beginning with the prized gur that probably gave it its ancient name Gauda.