Tilgul is an Indian candy made with sesame seeds and other ingredients traditionally shared on the eve of Makar Sankranti, a January 14 festival marking the beginning of the harvest season. Indians offer tilgul to family, friends, and neighbors while saying, “Tilgul ghiya goad goad bola," which loosely translated, means, “Eat this tilgul and share sweet talk.” Also called the Kite Festival, Makar Sankranti represents one of the few Indian events celebrated on a certain day of the year.
Sesame seeds represent a common herb during many Indian festivals and give the treat a crunchy texture. The seeds are toasted in a hot pan on low heat until they turn golden brown. Coconut and crushed peanuts are also browned separately to make tilgul. A form of sugar, called jaggery, is melted before ghee is added.
Jaggery comes from the concentrated juice of unrefined sugarcane with the molasses still intact. It can also be made from the sap of date palms, coconut palms, and sago palms. This dark brown sweetener tastes similar to brown sugar but retains iron, vitamins, and minerals.
Ghee is clarified butter free of solid milk particles and water. Cooks use this fat as a common ingredient in many recipes in Asia and India. Butter from the curd of yogurt is heated and stirred constantly until the water evaporates. Ghee is then strained through muslin cloth to remove any remaining sediment. It can be made from cow, goat, sheep, or buffalo milk.
Indian cooks grease their hands with ghee to form balls of tilgul. The mixture sets fast and might require reheating while making this candy. The combination of ingredients leaves a distinct aftertaste when eating this crisp treat.
Sesame seeds thrive in hot climates and add a nutty flavor to many foods. The black, red, or yellow seeds commonly appear on breads, but can also be added to stir-fry vegetables or pasta dishes. A spread containing sesame seeds can be made with mayonnaise and used with tuna or poultry. In India, these seeds are a staple when making tilgul and gravies.
Tilgul served during the Makar Sankranti festival, marked by the sun leaving the Tropic of Cancer and entering Capricorn, is one example of the prominence of sesame seeds during Indian celebrations. These seeds are added to bathing water or put on top of the head to erase sins. Certain rituals during the festival offer sesame seeds to deceased ancestors, sometimes by burning them or burning sesame seed oil. Many Indians believe eating this candy and other foods containing this herb might lead to spiritual advancement.