To healthify or not is the question?
Gulab Jamun is a classic dessert. What is not to love about a deep fried dough that is suspended in sugar solution? Each ball is typically around 150 calories. Usually a dessert portion is 2 balls which makes it 300 calories per serving. A typical Indian dinner is around 600 calories. Now, you have just eaten 50% of your dinner calories as your dessert.
Is that so bad? I had this discussion with my sister recently. I told her excitedly that I was working on a healthy version for Gulab Jamun and was listing the pros and cons of each experiment. You know the drill – lower the fat and it is not as rich and satisfying; lower the sugar and you feel that something is not quite right. She honestly wondered if it was a big deal. “If you are going to eat Gulab Jamun once in a while, why not have the rich full fat, full sugar and be done with it?” While that is a very legitimate argument, I feel that discussing ideas to make it healthier helps us in these modern times, when we are just inundated with dense calorie foods everywhere.
A Little History (Sorry, Can’t help myself!!)
If you look back to the history of Gulab Jamun, it just involves 2 main ideas – Gulab (rose water) and Jamun (resembling a round fruit). So, as long as we have a round ball dipped in rose water syrup, we have technically made a Gulab Jamun :).
However, let’s consider the food science aspect of a traditional Gulab Jamun. We take Khoya (milk solids), deep fry them and add it to a sugar syrup. Given the hot weather in India, before refrigeration, Khoya (kova in tamil) will not keep for more than 2 days. Deep frying them removes most of the moisture and replace them with fat from oil or ghee. Suspending them in sugar solution is the perfect environment to prevent bacteria from forming. You could easily keep it for a week or more without wasting your excess milk production.
Fast forward to now, with refrigeration available, do we need to deep fry it? Can we not bake it? Can we not suspend it in a solution that is less sweet than the original thick syrup? Here are my results after 6 attempts at cracking this.
Can we get to making it?
First let us make the dough. Add the 3 ingredients – whole wheat flour (you can use maida instead, being the health wierdo that I am, I could not resist passing on 4g fiber, 4g protein), milk powder and whole fat greek yogurt to a bowl.
Knead it to make a dough.
Let it rest for a while and then make it into balls. Toss the balls in a little bit of melted butter or oil.
We want to bake it. But, here lies the problem with baking.
The baking surface always gets brown like this (shown from a test batch):
If you think of frying, there is heat attacking it from all sides equally.
How do we do that when baking?
To replicate that idea and to minimize the contact surface of the ball, I came up with this idea.
I used raw potato pieces as my base and used toothpicks to hold my Jamuns up in the air.
This resembles frying, but in the AIR…Say What?? Hold the phone!! I realize your mind is blown with the awesome state-of-the-art tools I employ in my kitchen!! I knew my engineering skills will come in handy one day to make guilt-free Gulab Jamuns :).
Ahem, Onwards with the recipe…
Once the time is done, take a piece out, cut it into half and check to see if it cooked all the way inside.
Meanwhile, have a syrup made with water, honey and rose water boiling.
As soon as the balls are done, take them out and boil them in the syrup for a minimum of 10 minutes to get it to absorb the juices.
Your Gulab Jamuns are done. Eat them while they are hot or store them in the refrigerator to eat them over time.
My recipe comes out to about 90 calories per Gulab Jamun, which is about 40% lower in calories compared to the original.
- Calories 89.3
- Total Fat 0.6 g
- Saturated Fat 0.4 g
- Polyunsaturated Fat 0.0 g
- Monounsaturated Fat 0.0 g
- Cholesterol 1.7 mg
- Sodium 11.8 mg
- Potassium 35.4 mg
- Total Carbohydrate 21.3 g
- Dietary Fiber 0.5 g
- Sugars 18.4 g
- Protein 1.4 g
You know what makes the Gulab Jamuns delish? – The rose water!!! Ok, so, I have recently been obsessing about authentic rose water, but trust me folks, the rose water in the syrup takes it to the next level. I am not the kind of person who would bother with an ingredient if it is not in my pantry. But, in this case, I urge you to please make the effort to find good rose water. It has zero calories, but the lovely smell and the intrinsic sweetness it adds to the syrup is worth hunting it down.
A “Melt in your mouth” version
The main recipe above makes sturdy gulab jamuns. It softens with the heat of the syrup and over time, but it does not make “melt in the mouth” ones. Why? The only fat for the recipe comes from the yogurt. So, it is a very low calorie dish, yay for that.
Now, in another trial version, I added 2 tablespoons of butter to the dough and reduced the yogurt to less than 2 tsp. That makes for a crumbly, melt in your mouth version. The taste is fantastic too. But, here’s the problem, my toothpick technique of holding it up in the air does not work once the butter is added. It crumbles down once it gets baking.
So, I had to bake it on the tray directly turning it manually every 5 minutes. This method really produces gulab jamuns that taste like the fried version spot on, but does not look the part.
This version will add 25 calories to each ball, making the calories 115 per Gulab Jamun compared to 150 for fried version. Still not bad!!
The ingredient list for the ‘melt in your mouth’ version is as follows:
- 1/4 cup whole wheat flour
- 1/4 cup milk powder
- 1/2 tsp Baking powder
- 1-2 tsp Greek Yogurt
- 2 Tblsp butter
Mix into dough and bake at 300F for 30 minutes, opening the oven every 5-10 minutes to change the direction of the ball contacting the baking surface. Follow the regular recipe for the rest of instructions.
It is your choice, which recipe you want to try. Try the fancy looking one for only 90 calories per ball. Don’t care for looks as much, try the buttery baked version. And if you have multiple family members, I can assure you, each one will pick their own favorite version as the winner.
That’s it for now!!
Happy cooking, and keep me posted if you try these recipes…
Would love to hear from you!!
Don’t want to waste your time with toothpicks??… Try this “Air Fryer” instead.