Although many know it as a simple frozen confection, kulfi was the result of royal wishes and scientific know-how. Its history can be traced, in part, to the 16th century kitchens of the Indian Mughal courts. The IS Ain-i-Akbaria detailed account of the reign of Emperor Akbar (1556-1605), records the first ever mention of the frozen dessert, as well as extensive details of the daily activities of the court, including the foods prepared and created in the royal kitchen.
Indian Mughal art was greatly influenced by Central Asian and especially Persian art. In fact, the term “kulfi” originates from the Persian word “qulfe”, which are conical cups used to shape desserts. From at least the 13th Century, summer drinks such as sherbet were cooled using ice and snow obtained from the Himalayas, but the Arab technique of using saltpetre to make ice was used by the imperial chefs to prepare kulfi – by freezing a mixture of condensed milk. , pistachios and saffron.
With the advent of technology, the ancient technique of using saltpetre has been replaced by modern commercial refrigerators and cart-cart freezers. Today, only a handful of kulfiwallahs in India continue to use saltpetre for freezing purposes.
“In some Indian villages, kulfi is still made and sold in the traditional way,” Shah said, “but that method is rarely seen in the cities.”
Despite the mention of kulfi in Ain-i-Akbari, their exact origin is not clear. Considering the influence of Persian cuisine, it is possible that the concept of the frozen dessert came from the cooler regions of Persia and Samarkand, where similar summer desserts faloodeh (called paloodeh) and sorbet as early as 400-500 BCE. According to the food historian Charmaine O’Brien“the Mughals appropriated the concept and elaborated it to create the creamy, perfumed dessert that it is today.”
Regardless of its place of origin, for many Indians, the idea of considering kulfi as the Indian version of Western ice cream is botherful, especially since it is likely that the first one was invented long before ice cream was introduced in the West. In addition, there is a clear distinction in the method of preparation and texture.
“Kulfi is completely different from ice cream,” said Abhishek Gupta, executive chef at Leela Ambience Hotel & Residences Gurugram in Gurugram District, one of the major satellite cities of Delhi. “Kulfi is a cold dessert made from dairy, which is just frozen. The mixture is usually flavored milk (cardamom, saffron, pistachios, rose petals) which is slowly cooked in a pan. alone (wok), which reduces the milk and eventually condenses it. The slow cooking caramelises the sugar. The mixture is poured into molds and then frozen. To speed up the process, the mold is submerged in ice and salt. This freezing method gives kulfi its characteristic smooth, soft, creamy, crystal-free taste.”
On the other hand, Gupta explained, ice cream is a frozen dairy dessert prepared by adding flavored milk, sugar and cream, followed by freezing. Of course, the style of serving kulfi and ice cream also varies: kulfi is unmolded, cut in half and syrups, nuts and such, and the ice cream is put away and usually served in bowls or cones.
However, kulfi and ice cream have one thing in common: they have both been subject to countless experiments and developments. And despite the seemingly endless flavors of kulfi, the royal recipe of pistachio flavored kulfi still reigns supreme.