Rosogolla is Bengali, not Odiya, say GI authorities
Kolkata: Rosogolla, the syrup-soaked spongy ball that has served as a gastronomic identity marker for the Bengali community for almost 150 years, just got recognition for its uniqueness.
The Union ministry of commerce and industry on Tuesday recognised Banglar Rosogolla, the iconic sweet, as deserving of protection under geographical indication (GI), ignoring competing claims about its origin from neighbouring Odisha.
Earlier this year, two exotic varieties of rice produced in small quantities—Tulaipanji and Govindabhog—also received similar protection under GI as unique products of West Bengal, but this went largely unnoticed. But the success with the ubiquitous rosogolla, at least 20 million pieces of which are produced every day, was “sweet news”, said chief minister Mamata Banerjee. It triggered celebrations in Kolkata.
The recognition does not necessarily end the debate on the origins of the coveted sweet. Whereas a confectioner from Kolkata, Nabin Chandra Das, is known to be the inventor of rosogolla, people of Odisha have claimed that a variant of the sweet was offered to the deity at Puri’s Jagannath temple from much earlier.
The GI recognition was widely seen as a victory over Odisha’s claim, but what the intellectual property authorities have recognised is the uniqueness of Banglar Rosogolla for its melt-in-the-mouth smoothness, spongy texture and the lightness of the sugar syrup in which it is dipped.
“Smooth and delicate” feel in the mouth are the basic characteristics of Banglar Rosogolla, the state had said in its petition seeking GI protection. Hardness of Banglar Rosogolla is “experimentally proven” to be much lower than samples collected from other states, and the sugar concentration of the syrup is maintained at 30-40%, making it lighter than variants from other states.
Though the state’s application for GI protection of Banglar Rosogolla was based on various physical and chemical parameters of the sweet, which are claimed to be consistent, sweetmeat makers actually go by their instinct, said Sumit Sundar Ghosh, director, Chittaranjan Mistanna Bhandar Pvt. Ltd, a fabled confectioner established in 1907.
“I am not sure the uniqueness can be maintained if people stopped to rely on their intuition and started to measure the ingredients or if production were to be mechanised,” he added. At the same time, his firm was one of the early birds to start its own dairy farm to maintain product consistency. The quality of milk is paramount, determined by the fodder and the process of collection, he said.
Back in 1994, the sweet maker from north Kolkata started to invest in its dairy farm. It now sprawls 100 acres, and produces 2,000-2,500 litres of milk a day, said Nitai Chandra Ghosh, Sumit Sundar Ghosh’s father and a fifth generation confectioner. The farm has its own refrigerated trucks to carry the milk to Kolkata from Durgapur, 180 km away.
“Our rosogollas are made entirely out of the milk that we produce,” he said. “We still buy small quantities of milk but only to produce other sweets, which, for instance, need milk with higher fat content.”
Curding of milk to derive cottage cheese, or chhana—the main ingredient of rosogolla—started in eastern India under the influence of the Europeans, said Mani Shankar Mukherji, an author and historian. In 1868, confectioner Das invented the rosogolla in its current form capping several years of experiment after being thrown out of his ancestral business of sugar refining, said a scion of the family, Dhiman Das, also a director of K.C. Das Pvt. Ltd.
Nabin Chandra Das built his business on the strength of the rosogolla, whose popularity spread beyond the neighbourhood of his store in north Kolkata from the 1870s. K.C. Das helped spread the sweet outside Kolkata by creating a long-life variant sold in cans from 1930. Now there are 16 K.C. Das stores in Bengaluru, compared with only five in Kolkata, said Dhiman Das.