Food & Culture

Anatomy of a dish: Gulab jamun

Made from sugar, spice and all things nice, these bite-sized sweets are the hit of many a Diwali feast.

By Georgie Meredith
In many South Asian cultures you'll find gulab jamun – those sweet, bite-sized spheres of heaven – at weddings, birthdays and festivals, where they're cooked and displayed en masse in large, round pans. They're made from a milky, deep-fried dough, which is bathed in sugar syrup perfumed with cardamom, saffron and rose water.
Originally a medieval Persian creation, these celebratory sweets are now a much-loved mithai, or dessert, in many South Asian cuisines. They're also widely eaten during Diwali, or Deepavali, the Festival of Lights which is celebrated over five days in November by Hindus, Jains, Sikhs and Newar Buddhists around the world.
The colour of the gulab jamun is usually a rich amber hue, but can turn almost black from caramelisation, depending on the style
in which they're made. Topped with crunchy nuts and sometimes served with ice-cream or creamy kulfi, these doughnut-like treats will have you finding any excuse to celebrate.

The dough

Gulab jamun dough is made from khoya – milk that's been simmered down to a slightly dry, crumbly solid. Mixed with a touch of cardamom, some flour, baking powder and warm milk, it's then kneaded until smooth, and fried in oil or ghee.

The syrup

Gulab jamun would be nothing without the wonderfully fragrant floral syrup in which it's steeped. Sugar, cardamom and rose water are the key ingredients here, along with kewra – an oil extracted from pandanus leaves – and saffron.

The garnishes

You might find gulab jamun adorned with silver leaf, almond or pistachio slivers and dried rose petals. It's occasionally served
with a scoop of vanilla ice-cream, too.

Where to find them

These little sweets have been on the dessert menu at Tonka in Melbourne since day one. You'll also see them in the colourful display cabinet at Taj Indian Sweets and Restaurant in Sydney's Harris Park.

Want to make gulab jamun at home?

Adelaide's Parwana Afghan Kitchen has shared their gulab jamun recipe, which co-owner Durkhanai Ayubi says are a lighter, creamier take on the dessert. Tonka's recipe for gulab jamun, meanwhile, adds smooth ricotta to the dough.
  • undefined: Georgie Meredith