The Dreamiest Desserts Start With These Two Flavors

In Japan, you can buy Kit Kats that taste like green tea. In Canada, Lay’s potato chips can be ketchup flavored. And now, a kesar pista Snickers bar has arrived in India.

Kesar pista, or saffron and pistachio, is a familiar combination for South Asians. It features heavily in several traditional desserts like kesar rajbhog — saffron-flavored, nut-filled milk balls — or kesari burfi, fudgelike saffron confections often studded with pistachios.

And during Holi, the festival of spring — March 18 this year — many celebrants will sip thandai, a chilled, sweetened milk that’s stained golden yellow with saffron and often has a pistachio garnish.

Kesar pista is popular for a reason. The ingredientsblend brilliantly, tasting even more luxurious, floral and complex together.

“Whether you look at the south, whether you look at the west, whether you look at the north, you will find this unique combination of spice and nut,” said Varun Kandhari, the director of marketing for Mars Wrigley India, which introduced the new candy bar in December. “It’s a very delicate flavor.”

Sonal Ved, a Mumbai-based food writer, said saffron and pistachios both came to India from other parts of Asia. Credit…Sara Hylton for The New York Times

Neither saffron nor pistachios are native to India — saffron most likely came from the Middle East, and pistachios from Central Asia and the Middle East, said Sonal Ved, a Mumbai-based food writer and the author of “Whose Samosa Is It Anyway? The Story of Where ‘Indian’ Food Really Came From.”

Saffron and pistachio “are contrasting, but they are also complimentary,” Ms. Ved said. “One has color and aroma. The other has body, or creaminess, and texture.”

A number of traditional South Asian desserts, like those pictured here at Tewari Brothers Mithaiwala in Mumbai, feature saffron and pistachio. Credit…Sara Hylton for The New York Times

The pairing’s use in dessert was well documented during the Mughal Empire, when kesar pista kulfi was served to royals, according to “A Historical Dictionary of Indian Food” by the food historian K.T. Achaya.The flavor also appears elsewhere in Asia, in Persian dishes like sohan, a saffron brittle topped with pistachios, and bastani, an ice cream typically scented with saffron, pistachio, vanilla and rose water.

Mr. Kandhari said that, if the kesar pista bar sold well in India, Mars Wrigley would consider taking it to other countries. (He declined to share current sales figures for the bar.)

The flavor lends itself well to traditional desserts, he said, and “equally works well when you look at some of the contemporary desserts.”

Dessert shop owners in the United States know this to be true. Here, you’ll find saffron and pistachio cupcakes, brittle, ice cream and doughnuts. This is how kesar pista could become even more mainstream, Mr. Kandhari said. “What led to matcha becoming very popular across markets was it was used across different formats.”

Saffron and pistachio is a popular flavor at Mardi Gras Homemade Ice Cream in Columbus, Ohio.Credit…Jessica Phelps for The New York Times
Mita Shah, the owner of Mardi Gras, said she makes more kesar pista ice cream than any other flavor to keep up with demand.Credit…Jessica Phelps for The New York Times

Mita Shah, the owner of Mardi Gras Homemade Ice Cream in Columbus, Ohio, has had a kesar pista offering on the menu since 2000. She called it “the king of ice cream.”

“Pistachio has its own flavor, and saffron enhances that flavor,” she said.

In the last few years, kesar pista ice cream has become the No. 1 seller among both Indian and non-Indian customers. It feels nostalgic to those who grew up enjoying Indian sweets, she said, and intriguing to those who have not.

Once they try kesar pista, Ms. Shah said, “they get hooked.”

Recipe: Saffron Pistachio Blondies

Follow NYT Food on Twitter and NYT Cooking on Instagram, Facebook, YouTube and Pinterest. Get regular updates from NYT Cooking, with recipe suggestions, cooking tips and shopping advice.

Back to top button