Just when you think you've seen it all, there's still a surprise in store. That explains my first tryst with the Muscoth Halwa. I'll say this, I'm not a huge fan of sweets that drip with ghee. This includes many versions of wheat halwa. It was during my last visit to Tuticorin that I first tried the Muscoth Halwa. I must confess that it required a lot of coaxing before I gave in. It wasn't just a case of love at first taste but also a twist in the tale. I certainly didn't expect a flavour profile that was so distinct and different from the immensely popular Tirunelveli halwa.
The key to my surprise lies in the name. Muscoth is coconut milk in Sinhala. The story of the Muscoth Halwa starts in Sri Lanka. Joseph Abraham is believed to have stumbled upon this unique sweet during his travels to Sri Lanka in the 1950s. It didn't end there. He was so enamoured by this unique taste that he began digging deeper and eventually secured the recipe from the same sweet shops.
Joseph began to experiment with this sweet in his native village of Mudalur. This village is about 60 km from Tuticorin. I missed visiting this village even though my explorations around Tuticorin took me to the fishing hamlet of Manapad that's just 30 minutes away from Mudalur. I spent half a day discovering Manapad's fascinating history. St Francis Xavier was here in 1542 and the 16thCentury Holy Cross Church that's close to the ocean has a relic fragment believed to be from the True Cross of Jerusalem.
Mudalur is now best known as the home of the Muscoth Halwa. Establishments like SJ Sweets and AJJ Sweets employ scores of locals and also have retail counters at their facilities. Mudalur translates to 'first village'; the village's first settler (in 1799) David Sundaranandan is believed to have modelled this settlement after the biblical City of Refuge. What started as a passion for Joseph Abraham eventually became a thriving business. He would initially make the sweet in small quantities for the locals but eventually, it was too good to stay a local phenomenon.
Simon K Isaac, Joseph's grandson now helms SJ Sweets one of the two family establishments that have been set up by Joseph's family. He tells me that the recipe for the Muscoth Halwa was perfected in the 1960s. Simon's mother Devakani was involved with the R&D for the recipe along with her father. This delicious sweet combines maida with cashew powder and coconut milk. There's also a hint of cardamom and raisins in the mix. The key differentiator that sets this sweet apart from its wheat halwa cousins is the use of coconut milk. There is no ghee, this is why it's easy to polish off large quantities at one go without feeling queasy. Ask me; I've perfected this.
Simon decided to explore the origins of this sweet and made multiple trips to Sri Lanka. He wasn't able to find a sweet with a similar taste. It made him wonder whether his grandfather's now-famous recipe was actually conceived in Mudalur with a little inspiration from his travels to Sri Lanka. The increase in demand for Muscoth Halwa has seen SJ Sweets switch to mechanised production but the original recipe is still intact. The recipe might seem uncomplicated but it's the finer touches and probably family secrets that ensure the version from Mudalur will always have an edge over this home-style recipe.
How To MakeMuscoth Halwa | Muscoth Halwa Recipe:
- Mix water with 200 gm of maida. Extract the milk and remove the gluten and let it settle for a few hours before you use the milk settled at the bottom.
- Add coconut milk (about 3 cups) to this maida milk and about 1 cup of sugar to this and stir. Also, add cashew powder (25 gm) to this mix. Stir this on a low flame till it thickens.
- Caramelise 2 tablespoons of sugar in a separate vessel and add this to the halwa and stir for about 40 minutes or till the oil from the coconut milk comes out.
- You could add whole cashews (instead of the cashew powder) at this stage and stir for a few more minutes.
- Transfer this to a pan and let it cool for a few hours.
The cooling process is very important according to Simon. At SJ Sweets, the Muscoth Halwa is cooled overnight before it's vacuum-packed. While the soft textures of the Muscoth Halwa differentiates it from the more chewy wheat halwa, there's also a harder chewy version that the family makes. It requires a longer cooking time. This is not a version that is commercially available. You don't have to travel all the way to Mudalur or Tuticorin for a taste of Muscoth Halwa. This sweet is available in retail stores in cities like Chennai and also on online delivery platforms. It typically lasts about three weeks without refrigeration. It's not just the flavour profile that is likely to grab your attention but it's also the Muscoth Halwa's fascinating back story that began in Sri Lanka.
About Ashwin RajagopalanI am the proverbial slashie - a content architect, writer, speaker and cultural intelligence coach. School lunch boxes are usually the beginning of our culinary discoveries.That curiosity hasn’t waned. It’s only got stronger as I’ve explored culinary cultures, street food and fine dining restaurants across the world. I’ve discovered cultures and destinations through culinary motifs. I am equally passionate about writing on consumer tech and travel.