Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Kharwas, the real thing

A Decadent Treat

'Kharwas' is the marathi name of a sweet steamed pudding made out of milk given by a cow or buffalo within a day after she has calved. Cheek (in Hindi), Junnu (in Telugu), Seem Paal (in Tamil), Geen (in Konkani), Bari (in Gujarati) or anything else you call it, it evokes great nostalgia among those who have had it before but cannot seem to find it now. The same thing sounds very different when referred to as 'bovine colostrum', but that is the name for it nevertheless. Steam cooked in a water bath, it has the consistency of cream caramel or flan without the addition of any external coagulant. There are references to such colustrum puddings and custards being made in Scandinavian countries, Iceland, Ireland, and in the English countryside (where it is sometimes referred to as 'Beestings'), and I wouldn't be surprised if several other cultures have such traditions too.

Kharwas: with sugar
Kharwas made with sugar

In lieu of using colostrum milk, there are recipes for puddings made out of things like condensed milk and eggs, flavored with cardamom, made to resemble the texture and flavor of the real thing. These were most likely created by resourceful Indian expats who were yearning for it but were unable to find it. I know I went through a phase when I was looking for it everywhere, and even thought of calling some of the dairy farms a few hours away from where I live. Those who have experienced the real thing and know the joy of it would agree that I wasn't being unreasonable.

More than a year ago I heard that Whole Foods carries colostrum milk, but since I prefer to shop at farmers markets or small stores, I don't go to Whole Foods unless I have to get something very specific from there. On one such trip after ages I ambled over to their dairy section, saw the colostrum milk container and bought it right away. When I paid at the checkout, I muttered under my breath how expensive Whole Foods seems to be getting by the day, but it was only when I read the line items at home that I found out that it was only the colostrum milk that cost a bomb and it wasn't the store that was getting pricier. A pint of colostrum milk cost nearly as much as three gallons of regular milk, to put it in perspective, but I hadn't checked the cost when I bought it. That makes it fairly extravagant compared to standard grocery items, but this is an occasional treat. Besides, I hadn't eaten kharwas in so many years that the price wouldn't have stopped me anyway.

Right away, I got a recipe from my mother, which said to add sugar or jaggery to the milk, some cardamom powder, and then steam it like dhoklas. I faintly recalled that as a child I liked the version with sugar and did not like the one with jaggery, but knowing my taste now I was willing to bet which version I would like better this time. So first I had to test out both versions, and I tried half of the milk with sugar and the other half with jaggery. The outcomes were quite different both in taste and texture. In terms of the texture, the jaggery version was a winner because it was firmer, while the sugar melted and created more water, but also made the result slightly lacey, as can be seen from the photos. As for the taste, no prizes for guessing.

Kharwas: with jaggery
Kharwas made with jaggery

The aspect of humane practices towards animals surfaces in relation to using bovine colostrum for human consumption, but since the product I bought comes from an organic dairy farm that cares about their animals, I feel very confident that they are not selling it only for profit, and whatever they sell is what is leftover after the calves are taken care of.


Serves: 3-4 small dessert sized portions

2 cups bovine colostrum milk
1/2 cup (more or less to taste) grated jaggery, brown sugar, or granulated sugar
2 green cardamom
a few strands of saffron, optional

Dissolve the jaggery in the milk. Remove the seeds of the cardamom and finely powder them in a mortar and pestle. Add the cardamom powder and saffron to the milk.

Pour the milk in a container that will fit in a pressure cooker or other large pan, with enough water in the outer pan for steaming. Cover with a lid and steam for 15-20 minutes. If using a pressure cooker do not put the weight (whistle) on. Let cool completely or chill it in the refrigerator for a few hours before eating.

Kharwas: steamed
Kharwas: Steamed and Cooled


shriya said...

Colostrum milk is my favvvv one. Its been a while I tasted it. Your recipe made me take a trip down the memory lane. Love the recipe. It must have tasted really good. I wish I could get this milk here. :-(

ms said...

Cant say I have ever eaten anything using bovine colostrum milk, the recipe is intriguing. Next time I hit Whole foods , ill buy this milk and try it out. Nicely put together post.

musical said...

Punjabis also have something similar, called bowli :).

Uma said...

Looks yum! I never knew this. Thanks for introducing such a lovely recipe.

Meera said...

I lllooovvveeee Kharvas! It's been ages since I have eaten it. Actually I didn't know whole foods carry colostrum milk. Now I will search it on every shelf of their dairy section!! Thanks for the information!

evolvingtastes said...

shriya, are you in the U.S.? Do you have Whole Foods or something like that, or a health food store near you? You could find out if they stock it.

ms, thanks for your comment. Let me know how it goes.

musical, aur bataao, do you do the same thing or is there a difference?

Uma, I though junnu was popular in Andhra.

Meera, glad to be of help.

sra said...

Ah, you're unleashing a huge bout of nostalgia - it's becoming rare in India too! The most common recipe in our parts is to make it with jaggery, pepper and cardamom, but I've seen my gran make a salty version too!

The consistency also depends on the day the milk was given - the first days' tends to be be hard, the next few, less solid.

Sometimes, when I find it at home, I freeze it the entire day, then bring it back on the overnight train journey and put it back in the freezer and make it when I want to.

I heard of someone trying to explain it as "pregnant cow's milk" - needless to say, it didn't appeal to those who asked.

Asha said...

Ginnu in Kannada, my ajji used to make this. I remember eating this long time ago!:)

Saswati said...

hi...your recipe made me very nostalgic....transportd back to time.we make this in orissa mom used to make s got a typical taste:)

Richa said...

i don't remember tasting the one with jaggery, gotta' chk that WF :)

kharwas always reminds me of those evenings spent at king cirle during Ganpati Utsav, so many vendors selling the kharwas wadi's, could not get enough of it ;)

Vanamala said...

OH this is nice!! my used to make this :)

Pooja V said...

Looks gorgeous. I am so fond of this that I can eat a whole batch at a time but its been a longgggg time since i have tasted this.

Pooja V said...

I dont mean to sound rude but I am a goan and proficient in Konkani so a small correction, We also call it cheek or Deekh and not geen.

Suganya said...

My neighbor in India would bring us this from her parent's place. It is very rich and tasty. But, ET, of late, I am feeling guilty of weaning the calf of its first milk, which as in the case of humans, is required for its lifelong immunity. Its just my thought.

evolvingtastes said...

sra, I was WAITING for someone to say they made a savory version of this. Tell more, if you know! Yes, the consistency does decrease within the first couple of days.

Asha, cool, I am so enjoying finding out that this was something made all over in some form or other.

Saswati, the taste of it is indeed not replicable. What do you call it in Oriya?

Richa, interestingly enough I have never eaten kharvas bought outside, only the one made at home. Even in the stores that sell it, it is such an unpredictable item that they have to announce on a 'paati' when it is available.

Vanamala, thanks for stopping by.

Pooja, thanks for the clarification, I appreciate it. Raaga refers to Geena Sandan and she is Konkani. There is a reference to in Rasachandrika too, and a couple of Konkani friends also agreed. I have heard cheek in Hindi and Marathi too, so by extension, perhaps it is used interchangeably in Konkani too. Oh, and it is indeed very more-ish - it is very easy to eat a whole batch at a time.

Suganya, your thoughts are perfectly right, and that is what I think too. However, I checked out the website of the dairy where the milk came from, and as I said in my post, this is a farm that sells the milk after the calves are first taken care of. So what they sell is only what is in excess on the first day, and the calves are not being deprived in any way.

sra said...

ET, it was just the milk and salt. Maybe some pepper, but I can't be sure. Nothing else. Not only was it a revelation, but I seem to remember my Gran serving herself some in a plate along with her rice - and being gobsmacked. I don't remember whether she actually mixed it up with the rice or just put it in her plate for convenience, but it was definitely salty - she, my dad and the others kept calling it 'uppu junnu' with a lot of familiarity - so I got the impression it was an old recipe, and not an innovation. This must have been about 7-8 years ago.

We have a lot of home-style/country-style sweet & savoury shops in Andhra, called Swagruha (or various versions of that) which sell traditional stuff, and once in a while this makes an apperance there. It's sold out in minutes, I'm told.

Come as it did from private homes, which raised just a couple of buffaloes/cows for milk and curds, I don't think the calf was ever deprived of milk. I've not seen it being sold commercially in India, but then I've never made an effort to find out.

musical said...

ET, the bowli i have had as a kid, was probably made by cooking the colustrum in a pan to thicken it, after adding elaichi, sugar etc, kinda' like how you make khoya. But because of the texture of colustrum, the end product is very grainy and chunky.

evolvingtastes said...

sra, thanks for all those little details. At our place the milk came from a dudhwallah who would come by in the area once in a while (so I am assuming that's when he had enough 'Cheek' to sell), and he always stopped by our place because he knew we would buy. Usually he bought it in a milk-can large enough for him to carry on the head, so I don't think it was a particularly commercial venture either.

musy, thanks again. I get the idea.

LogicGirl said...

This is very interesting. I have never tried colostrum milk before, me being rather unadventurous with food. But I think I'll stop by Whole Foods, and get one, so I can try this recipe. Probably will reduce the sugar amount as I don't like my puddings too sweet. Thanks.

Anonymous said...

It is the first time, i am visiting your blog, after Manisha of Indian Food Rocks left a comment in

Kharwas is called posu in Konkani and cheek is the colostrum milk. The doodhwalas speaking hindi too called it "cheek" in Mumbai.

Basically when you added jaggery the milk has curdled (due to salt content in the jaggery) hence the texture of kharwas was different in both your versions. Else if the jaggery was pure, it would not have happened.

Will try in whole foods.


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aneri_masi said...

Oh man, I am feeling SO nostalgic!!!
My maama used to have buffaloes a long long long time ago (they lived in the village then, and did farming and stuff), and I remember eating "bari" every once in a while. sniff...sniff...I want to go to Maama's house now!

evolvingtastes said...

Aneri_masi, welcome here! I knew this post might trigger nostalgia among some. Fresh bari from the farm - wow.

Sangeeta said...

Thanks for the wonderful recipe. Its very interesting to know that you can get the milk at whole foods. I want to try this as my husband just loves it. Just one question I had was does it stick to the bottom of the bartan(vessel). Or should we do something to avoid that. Again thanks..

evolvingtastes said...

Hi Sangeeta, welcome to my blog. If kharwas is steamed in a steel bowl/vessel/pan that is kept inside the pressure cooker, I have never seen it sticking to the pan, so that should not be a problems at all. I hope you can find it in your local Whole Foods - I heard from some people that it wasn't found in their area.

Santosh said...

Hi there,

I agree with Pooja V, i too am a Goan and can vouch for "Cheek/deekh", i think the whole confusion stems from the fact that Konkani is spoken differently in places other than Goa ;-). Pooja and the others will agree with me here when i say that although there are a lot of similarities between the konkani spoken in Goa and our southern counterpart(Karwar, Mangalore) there are a lot of differences too !!!

evolvingtastes said...

Santosh, thanks for those details!

Anonymous said...

Unfortunately the Whole Foods near me does not sell colostrum milk. After reading this blog I rushed there but in vain. I'll keep my search alive and hopefully I'll find it one of these days.

Anonymous said...

Very well written blog!! It brought back lots of memories of eating delicious kharwas and also of the "sweet" people which have left this world for heaven.

I live in the US and after searching for almost a year finally I found raw colostrum in my local specialty food / grocery shop. I paid a fortune, $10 for a pint. But I am not complaining. A well made "kharwas" is 10 times better than any dessert in the world.

When I was a kid a milkman used to bring milk every morning. Once in a while (if I remember correctly it used to be around monsoon time), he used to bring "cheek" in a very small container. When he brought it, you had to buy it. You could not say "NO", because he used to offer it to only select few customers. The "first day" cheek is the best and you could actually add some milk to dilute it before cooking.

I also remember a middle age lady who used to home deliver kharwas. She had a unique model of business. She used to source the cheek from local dairies. She had several customers spread all over the city. All her customers were acquired through referrals. So on a given day she used to visit customers in a specific area and she would sell it all within couple of hours. Then she would not return to same customers for almost 3-4 months. So whenever she used to visit, everyone used to buy. She used to bring the kharwas in those shiny stainless steel dabbas. The kind we used as "misalanyacha dabba", or to save chapatis / rotis.

All these memories have turned me philosophical. I sometimes feel that now days people find life boring and monotonous because we have lost these small informal connections. We used to have so many people in our life and they made it interesting. When I go to India, I still try to stop by and talk to guys who run paan / cigarrette shop just outside my building, the laundry, the flour mill, the medical shop, the bhajiwali, the tailor, the stationary and general merchandise shop, the wadapav shop, paanipuri wala, and many more. Today we have replaced all of these folks with the checkout clerk at the departmental stores who don't recognize any faces.

Sorry for ranting, but I just relived few years of my childhood.

evolvingtastes said...

Anonymous, thanks for stopping by and sharing your stories and memories!

nakul said...

Just had some authentic Mozzarella Cheese from Naples and that made me think of my favorite milk product; Kharwas (Mozzarella is second favorite).

evolvingtastes said...


SharathChandra said...

shriya , richa, uma, meera, asha, saswati, vanamala, pooja etc etc, thank you so much for your comments, I love this, It is called Junnu in telugu and very popular, They are using it for healing in foreign countries, Love you All !

Ashish Gala said...

Kamadhenu Colostrum Powder (Kharwas) available in Mumbai at

Natraj - The Eats & Needs Store,
Shop No 6, Neelkanth Gardens,
Govandi East, Mumbai - 400088.
#022 - 25585111

Ann said...

My dad loves it and I bought it often from Chitale bandhu near my house (I live in Pune, India). They always ran out of it very quickly - you can only get it in the evening and never as much as you want. That's because it has a very short shelf life so they don't risk ordering more, otherwise it spoils. Well, as far as depriving the calf is concerned, yes it's a reality. All milk is cruel. All male calves are separated from the mother and left to starve. The female ones are injected with hormones and artificially inseminated over and over to induce multiple pregnancies to boost milk output. I gave up milk altogether after seeing this cruel monstrosity. But I continued buying it for my dad for a few months. Now I have stopped completely. Let my dad buy it if he wants to, but let me not be the one to support this. I won't even wear leather anymore. Kharwas is not the only evil. They only give milk to the female calf because she joins the milk production line, the male calves never get a single drop of the milk, they starve to death. Do your research, it is 100% true and this is done in all countries including India.

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