Celebrations are incomplete without sweets. When I was a child, I remember helping my mother make sweets for Ramadan. I felt the same joy when receiving homemade sweets from friends during Diwali or Christmas.
But as we grew up, it was no longer possible to endure the long processes to prepare these sweets. Except for a few specialities kept safe by our mothers (like Kheer, that my mother still makes), the art of sweet making has become commercialised.
Today, no one has the time to grind ingredients, soak them, pre-heat them, put in the right amount of ghee and end up with either a burnt pot or the perfect dessert.
Ask B Stalin, founder of MotherWay Sweets & Snacks, about his experience in buying sweets in the new age, and he’ll recount a bitter-sweet tale.
“I was going home, and wanted to buy sweets for my nephew,” begins Stalin, speaking to The Better India. “I wanted to buy the Kadalai Mittai that I had cherished as a child and remember so fondly, hoping to give my nephew the same relish I had once tasted,” he says.
Kadalai Mittai is a type of peanut candy, widely known as Chikki. Usually, a blend of roasted peanuts mixed in jaggery, Kadalai Mittai is a popular snack and was usually made in homes until the late 70s.
But as he looked for Kadalai Mittai for his nephew, he found that none came close to the one that he had tasted as a child.
“So I set out to make my own,” he says recounting the journey he began as a sweet maker.
Born in the town of Kariyapatti, Stalin grew up with a sweet tooth, cherishing the traditional sweets in Tamil Nadu. He passed his engineering degree in 2008 in Electronics and Electrical Engineering, and worked in R&D at an electronics bike manufacturer.
“The job wasn’t satisfying; I never really saw an output or a product of my work and I wanted to pursue something that would be meaningful,” he recalls.
He held that job for five years, and in 2013, quit to dedicate his time to the Cuckoo Movement for children, a non-profit devoted to educating underprivileged kids.
It was while returning from Cuckoo School that he stopped to buy sweets for his nephew, when the Kadalai Mittai hunt took place. He recounted his struggle to find the right sweets to his friends, who agreed with him about how sweets these days are no match to the ones from their childhood.
Stalin continues, “And since I wasn’t satisfied with my job, my friends suggested why not make a good snack.”
That stuck with him.
With that in mind, Stalin set to find what snack he could take into production. He travelled throughout Tamil Nadu for three months, trying to learn how different sweets were made.
He shares, “At the time, I just wanted to make a good snack, one that would be loved by all generations.” He continues, “But what I had learned from all the manufacturers was that this business was quite dull.”
And while it was all with good intent, Stalin was questioned about his pursuit and was even advised against it. GST had just been introduced, and there was some confusion about the different rates of taxation on different kinds of ingredients.
Sweet makers were and still are facing a lot of hurdles, but this didn’t deter Stalin. On his search, he came across an age-old, almost lost recipe of Kadalai Mittai.
“I had found that Kadalai Mittai was used to be made with Karupatti in the 1960s,” says Stalin.
Karupatti or palm jaggery, instead of being made with sugarcane, is made with palm sap, derived from palm trees.
Although Stalin hadn’t tasted a Karupatti Kadalai Mittai, he explains, “Back then, palm jaggery was easily available in every household, and it was used in at least two dishes each day.” With reduced use overall, the addition of palm jaggery in sweets too had declined.
Stalin planned to make peanut candy using Karupatti, but palm jaggery costs nearly four times as cane sugar, so the production cost would simply be unbearable. He was collaborating with the father of his friend Koodalingam, who also expressed his scepticism about using palm jaggery.
But Stalin was determined to bring back the authentic taste.
Koodalingam had almost 35 years of experience in the art of sweet making and told Stalin that the sweet industry had become polluted with preservatives.
He said the only way to return to the old taste was to make it i the old-school style–by hand.
With Koodalingam, Stalin brought a few expert sweet makers and all the ingredients, Karupatti being one. Having read the books of economists like J C Kumarappa, he was determined to not give up.
He started a Facebook page and documented his production. He noted the difference between cane sugar and palm sugar and began to garner attention.
“There were some failures in the beginning when we started to make the product, but after a few initial trials, it was beginning to pick up,” says Stalin. He adds, “I also concentrated on packaging where we made it out of environmentally-friendly options, which also looked pleasing.”
He had packaging in the town of Madurai and shipped to people in and around Tamil Nadu. He soon started a website, which received orders from all over India.
Today, MotherWay Karupatti Kadalai Mittai is being sold to over 200 retail shops in the country and has orders from abroad as well. Six permanent employees and other workers involved in the process are the pride of MotherWay.
MotherWay now not only makes Kadalai Mittai, but also offers variations with sesame and black sesame seeds, all made with Karupatti.
“We never wanted to make the process centralised with machines or units. Making it by hand brings a unique taste to the sweet,altogether,” says Stalin.
Stalin proudly says that he will keep his the promise of delivering authentic sweets that can be relished by any generation and hopes to satisfy not just his sweet tooth but those of many to come.
(Edited by Shruti Singhal)