Kolkata: ‘Anti-Corona Mishti’, ‘Immunity Sandesh’ and ‘Vitality Mishti’ — Kolkata’s unique sweet inventions themed on the Covid-19 disease have become a rage in the last few months among sweet-loving Bengalis at a time when West Bengal is witnessing a steep rise in cases every day.
Sweet makers in Kolkata say they came up with these unique offerings to enlighten people about the novel coronavirus, and that some of these sweets are made up of herbs and spices that boost immunity.
While health experts call these sweets “unscientific” and a “gimmick”, mishti-loving Bengalis can’t have enough of them.
Among the customers, however, there is a divide. While some say that these sweets are just sweets with no health benefits, others believe the mix of spices and herbs could boost immunity.
Amid such arguments and counter arguments, however, the fact remains that Covid-themed sweets — launched in April — are selling like hot cakes.
Popular sweet chains and their ‘corona sweets’
Speaking to ThePrint, R.K. Paul, owner of the famous Hindustan Sweets, an 80-year-old sweetmeat chain, said their ‘anti-Corona mishti’ is made up of herbs, which boost the immune system.
“We are the first in the industry to launch a product like ‘anti-Corona mishti’. Initially, it was not for sale and we had launched it in April to spread awareness. This mishti is made up of herbs that usually boost our immunity system.”
Priced at Rs 25 per piece, this special sweet, pink in colour, was shaped like the novel coronavirus with spikes.
The shop was initially giving out the ‘anti-Corona mishti’ for free to those customers who were buying sweets worth Rs 100 and above.
“Later we saw the public response to it. There was a huge demand for this particular product. So, we decided to make it a regular (selling) item,” added Paul. Hindustan Sweets owns 11 outlets in south Kolkata.
Every outlet now sells at least 250 to 300 ‘anti-Corona’ sweets every day. “Such is the craze,” Paul said.
Two other Covid-themed sweets — ‘Immunity Sandesh’ and ‘Vitality Mishti’ — offered by another popular sweetmeat chain in Kolkata, Balaram Mullick and Radharaman Mullick, have also become popular. Both are priced at Rs 25 apiece.
‘Immunity Sandesh’, the sweet makers said, is made up of 15 herbs and spices, and “Himalayan honey” instead of sugar or jaggery. It also has basil, yashtimadhu (licorice roots), bay leaves, turmeric, cloves, cardamom, cinnamon, nutmeg, saffron, and black cumin. It also doesn’t have any added colour.
Sudip Mullick, owner of the chain, told The Print, “Immunity Sandesh is our highest selling product. We sell something between 1,000 to 1,500 pieces every day across eight outlets. And this is when the market is going down. As the market picks, we will see more sales.”
He added, “The sweets are made using all important herbs and spices as it is described in our Ayurveda.”
Mullick, however, said they haven’t claimed that this sweet has any medicinal value.
“We do not claim anything, we never claimed any medicinal value. We use pure organic herbs and spices. And we are sure these work as immunity boosters. This is why we named the product like this.”
The shop’s other product, ‘Vitality Sandesh’, is meant to “boost strength”, said Mullick.
“It has 21 superfood like water chestnuts, soy milk, anjeer, cumin seeds, walnut, dates and organic ghee. Any healthy food is generally perceived as tasteless, but we want to make sure that a mishti tests like mishti. It should not taste like medicine. So we mixed and balanced our ingredients accordingly and took care of Bengalis’ taste buds,” he added.
Mullick said these sweets fall under their category of ‘Nutri Sandesh’, which means those having nutritional value.
Meanwhile, K.C. Das, the inventor of rosogolla in Bengal, said they will never get into such “gimmicks”.
“We sell good quality mishti and that is what our brand is known for. In fact, there are some guidelines for all sorts of food makers. We should not have such unscientific claims,” Dhiman Das, owner of the popular sweet chain, told ThePrint.
‘Just trying to market products’
Health experts, meanwhile, debunked the argument that these sweets would boost people’s immunity.
Dr Abhijit Choudhury, a veteran public health expert and gastroenterologist, told ThePrint all these sweets are “purely unscientific”.
“I would rather call it gimmick. It does not have any health benefits. Bengalis should treat them as sweets only. The sellers are just trying to find new ways to market and brand their products. That is about it,” he said.
“Every Ayurveda product, herbs and spices have a recommended dose. Tulsi, Aswagandha, flax seeds have immunity-boosting abilities, but these should be mixed in a proper dose. But that way, it will not test well. So, if not mixed proportionately, these do not have any benefits,” he added.
Khalid Saifullah, a member of the AYUSH Ministry’s task force in the East, echoed similar sentiments.
“The AYUSH ministry launched a formula with four herbs — tulsi, black pepper, cinnamon and ginger to boost immunity. But these are tried and tested. All other items like sweetmeats are just marketing strategies,” he added.
‘We eat mishti as mishti’
Kalyani Chanda, a professor teaching in a Kolkata college, said: “We are mishti lovers. So, when we buy any items, we never expect that this will shield us from any disease.”
She said she eats sweets because she likes sweets, and not as a medicine.
“We know how hard our scientists are working on a vaccine. So we eat mishti as mishti, and do not expect a vaccine out of it,” said Chanda, as she bought 10 pieces of ‘Immunity Sandesh’ from a Balaram Mullick shop.
Ananda Dutta, another customer at the same shop, ordered five pieces of the sandesh along with other items.
“We are regular customers. So, when the shop says that they have tried something new, some mix of spices and herbs, why should we discourage them? Finally, it is very tasty. If it passes on some health benefits, it is good. Even if it does not, we do not mind,” he added.