It is customary for those who visit Tirunelveli, a city in Tamil Nadu, to purchase a packet of halwa from one of the thousands of shops selling the hot and gooey sweet. While there are various ways to make this dish, Tirunelveli is well-known for making it by extracting milk from wheat, adding sugar or jaggery, cashew nuts, and cooking it until it reaches a thick consistency.
In 2014, to make this native sweet available across the country, Sam Selvaraj (32) a resident of Sankarankovil, a district neighbouring Tirunelveli, launched Melting Foods India along with his parents. He aimed to purchase the sweet from famous stores and distribute it through various channels.
“To decide on which halwa I should distribute, I purchased the sweet from 20 different shops and conducted some in-house research to understand its shelf-life, quality and taste,” says Sam, adding, “I left each of them in their respective packing for 15 days, and most of them went bad within five days and some within three days. The ones that survived for a week, developed a white-coating which shows the presence of excessive dalda, a low-cost substitute for ghee. And, the texture for the others changed from soft and gelatinous to rock-hard.”
As he could not finalise on a manufacturer even after his self-conducted research methods, he decided to manufacture his version of the halwa using good quality raw materials.
Making the halwa
To make the authentic Tirunelveli-style halwa, Sam and his father, Selvaraj G, started to look for cooks.
“Initially, we found one halwa-maker in our native but his recipe and method of preparing the halwa was not the authentic kind. Though, he was kind enough to take the criticism we offered and referred us to another cook named Ramayya, also known as ‘Master’, who has worked with shops in Tirunelveli for 35 years to make the halwa,” says Sam.
Master was used to preparing the halwa using dalda and copious amounts of sugar. But, after Sam explained that he wanted to refrain from dalda, using only the necessary amount of sugar, nuts, refined oil, and other ingredients, his ways changed.
Keeping up the promise to use only good-quality raw materials, Sam says, “While many shops use wheat flour to make the halwa, we use Samba wheat to extract the fermented milk. The cashews used in the sweets are of W240 quality that is procured from Madurai and we also use unadulterated ghee.”
By 2015, the product was ready for sale and in 2016 Sam even sent it to NABL labs in Chennai and Bengaluru to get its official certifications regarding health benefits. The halwa is now certified as a product that has zero trans fat or ‘bad fat’ and has a shelf life of up to 30 days.
Titus Issac, a resident of Madurai, Tamil Nadu, who is working as a research scholar, is now a big fan of Melting Foods India’s Halwa. He says that whenever one of his relatives visits him from Tirunelveli, he asks them to bring him a packet of the Iruttu Kadai halwa — a popular store that is known for its Tirunelveli halwa.
“One time, I was craving the sweet but had no way of purchasing it. So I looked online for a place that delivers authentic Tirunelveli halwa and came across this product which claimed to be an authentic, healthier version of the halwa. Its taste is a little different from what I am used to but still delicious indeed. Since there is pan-India delivery I have recommended it to others who long for these traditional snacks,” says Issac.
Selling halwa overseas
To ensure the product has a longer shelf life and was visible to customers at supermarkets, Sam ensured he used the right packaging.
“I took the advice of Ajay Raghav, a popular designer who has made packaging for big brands including Horlicks. He suggested a shape that looks like the package is melting — a five-layered polypropylene packaging that is lined with silver foil,” says Sam, adding that he markets the products across various stores and ships it internationally as well.
Till date, they have sold over 1 lakh packets of their zero-trans fat Tirunelveli Halwa and have several distributors within the country and outside, including Canada, USA, Singapore, among others.
In Tamil Nadu, Sam’s products are delivered within one day and orders can be placed through their website. If you are living in any other state, the order can be placed over Amazon, and if you live in another country you can place an order here.
Edited by Yoshita Rao