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HomeIndiaGovernanceBengal wins GI tag, but not 900-year-old custody battle over Rasogolla

Bengal wins GI tag, but not 900-year-old custody battle over Rasogolla

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This may not be the last word in the not-so-syrupy confrontation with Odisha as the GI tag has only been given for the “Banglar Rasogolla”

The rasogolla, or rather news about it, is back on the tip of our tongues as the two-and-a-half year GI custody-battle over the iconic sweet dish has finally been decided in favour of West Bengal, leaving Odisha with a bitter after-taste.

West Bengal was awarded the GI or geographical indication tag for the rasogolla on Tuesday.

A geographical indication (GI) is a label used on products that have a specific geographical origin and possess qualities or a reputation that are due to that origin. This has multi-fold implications at both an economic and cultural level.

GI tags create a monopoly of authenticity, allowing West Bengal to prevent a third-party from using the name ‘rasogolla’ to refer to any other product that does not meet their set standards.

The use of the word ‘Darjeeling tea’ and its logo for example are also protected under a GI sign, including 13 others that West Bengal possesses under its umbrella. As of April 2017, Karnataka is the Indian state with the highest number of GI tags for its unique and individual products, clocking in at 39.

The origins of the rasogolla

Rasogolla is a spongy sweet created out of chhena or cottage cheese which is then dunked in syrup. The production of cottage cheese in India can be traced to Portugese settlers in the 17th century who “broke” milk with acids, a practice that had been considered taboo by the Aryans.

This new material gave the Bengali sweetmakers a novel ingredient to work with.

Most food historians like T.K. Acharya credit the Bengali rasogolla to Nabin Chandra Das who created them in 1868. His grandson had then in the 1930s mechanised the process which led to the birth of canned K.C. Das rasogollas earning fame and global reputation.

Odisha contested this history, claiming that the ‘pahala’ variant of ‘rasagulla’ has been given as offering in the Jagannath Temple since the 12th century and predates the Bengali ones.

Pahala is situated outside of Bhubaneshwar and produces an orangish coloured rasagulla. Some theories even suggest bourgeois babus of Kolkata may have employed Odiya cooks who brought the recipe with them.

It is now assumed that cruder forms of the rasogolla have existed before Nabin Chandra Das’s discovery.

Food historians, committees, and experts in both the states have been sending in reports and ‘evidence’ to support their own versions of the history of rasogolla for the last few years.

West Bengal had contended for the GI tag claiming that the taste, process, colour, and syrup of the Bengali variant of rasogolla was very different from the Odiya one and was a cultural marker for the state. The GI tag given to West Bengal was however only for “Banglar Rasogolla”.

Thus the debate over the origin of the rasogolla/rasagulla still has not had a sweet ending.

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