Tasting The Universal Delight Of The Paniyaram

A much-loved snack in the southern states of India, the paniyaram is not only simple to put together but can be made in various ways, from sweet to healthier versions.

Published On Feb 16, 2024 | Updated On Mar 07, 2024


Gingerly turning spoonsful of fermented batter simmering away in small moulds crafted on a cast iron pan while carefully checking if they have been evenly cooked is a weekly ritual in Sukhanya Raman’s household in Madurai.  “Paniyaram is a much-loved snack in our home and is not only a good way for me to use the left over dosa, idli batter but also sneak in veggies like beetroot, spinach and carrot which my children do not eat otherwise!” says the 41-year-old mother of two.  

Also known as Kuzhi Paniyaram in Tamil Nadu, Paddu, Guntapangala and Gulliyappa in Karnataka, Gunta Ponganalu and Ponganalu in AP and Telangana and Appe in Maharashtra, it is a dish that has universal appeal whether as breakfast, an evening snack, a lunch box staple or even as a festival offering.  “It is a traditional, versatile, vegan and gluten free delicacy originally from the Chettinad region served in both savoury and spicy forms” says Chef K. Kasi, senior master chef - Dakshin, ITC Windsor. 

The paniyaram at ITC Windsor

A type of savoury dumpling that is crisp on the outside and soft inside, Paniyaram is traditionally made from a combination of parboiled rice and urad dal (black gram) that is soaked, ground, and fermented. The ratio of rice to lentil is normally 2:1 although several variations exist. 


“Some variations may include the addition of grated coconut, toor dal, fenugreek seeds, or flattened rice (poha) to enhance the flavour and texture of the batter. The fermentation process helps in making the paniyarams light and fluffy,” says chef Soundar Rajan, chef de cuisine, Sheraton Grand Bengaluru Whitefield Hotel & Convention Center.  It is made in a special pan called appe pan or paniyaram kal or paddu tawa that has small round cavities into which ghee or oil is added before pouring the batter.  The moulds are filled up to three fourth allowing the cooked batter to slowly rise.  As one end turns golden brown, the dumplings are flipped over to ensure that they cook uniformly on both sides. 

Paniyaram at the Sheraton Grand Bengaluru Whitefield Hotel & Convention Center

Usually served with coconut or spicy tomato chutney, the batter for paniyaram is amenable to plenty of variations and experimentation too.  While it can also be made with left over idli or dosa batter, the addition of a small amount of idli rawa lends it a crispy texture.  “Kavuni Arisi paniyaram is a unique version that uses black rice along with urad dal which gives it a unique flavour.  Black rice is extremely rich in antioxidants which makes it a healthy option too,” says Chetan Bolar, executive chef, Bombay Borough. 


The addition of spices, vegetables and seasoning to the batter goes long way in enhancing taste and creates interesting variations.  “Khara or spicy paniyaram is one of the most common variations and includes the addition of chopped onions, green chillies and grated vegetables like carrots and peas,” says chef Agnibh Mudi, True Palate Hospitality Pvt. Ltd.  And in case you do not have fermented batter, fret not! “One can always use yogurt, rice floor, and semolina for an immediate fix instead of the traditional batter,” says Shiva Kumar Rajput, senior sous chef, Hotel Royal Orchid Bangalore. 

The sweet version of the paniyaram is as popular as the savoury one and is achieved by adding jaggery to the batter along with a hint of cardamom.  “You can also use ingredients like coconut sugar, desiccated coconut and also the puree of over-ripe banana” says Gaurav Paul, executive chef, Hilton Bangalore Embassy Golflinks. 

Paal paniyaram by Rajeswari Vijayanand

According to Rajeswari Vijayanand, food blogger at rakskitchen.net, there are several versions of sweet paniyaram including one with jackfruit pieces which are ground with the batter and Karupatti paniyaram that is made by adding palm jaggery to the batter.  “Paal paniyaram which is paniyaram soaked in home-made sweetened coconut milk is a famous Chettinad region speciality. Nei appam is an auspicious offering made during festivals like Janmashtami and Karthigai deepam.  It is made by using only ghee and the batter is prepared using raw rice, grated coconut, jaggery and a pinch of cardamom," says Singapore-based Rajeswari. 

If you are feeling adventurous and have kids at home, adding a spoonful of chocolate powder or even Nutella to the fermented goodness can make it a palatable dish for the little ones! According to Siddharth Renganathan, co-founder, Suvaii, the addition of khoya or even ground cashew paste with jaggery in the batter, lends the paniyaram an indulgent, rich, creamy texture. 

Jackfruit appe by Rajeswari Vijayanand

Given the versatility of the dish, there are plenty of ways to give paniyaram a healthy touch. “To ensure variety, I occasionally add coarsely ground peppercorns and soaked channa dal (Bengal gram) to the batter. While the former boosts immunity, the latter is a good source of protein,” adds Sukhanya Raman. Other variants include the addition of ragi, lentil flour or chickpea flour to make the batter wholesome. 

The addition of chopped nuts such as almonds, walnuts, or flaxseeds to the batter for added healthy fats, fibre and nutrients is a good idea for sweet paniyarams. “I use thinai or fox millet along with rice and wheat flour and grated coconut and jaggery for my sweet paniyarams to give it a nutritious touch.  You can also swap rice with multi-grains, add mixed lentils, use oats or quinoa and you get a healthier version of paniyaram," adds Rajeswari who documents most of her recipes on her Instagram as well. 


Paniyaram on a stick at Hotel Royal Orchid Bengaluru

Further, the dish amenable to playing with a plethora of contemporary ingredients and flavours.  “A fusion twist on the traditional paniyaram could involve infusing the batter with unexpected flavours like cheese and jalapeños for a savoury kick, or incorporating sweet elements such as chocolate chips and caramelised bananas for a delightful dessert version. Experimenting with global spices or fillings can offer a creative and delicious twist on this beloved South Indian snack,” says Prakash Majhi, executive chef, Falcon Café, Prestige Group. 

Pro tips for making the perfect paniyarams: 

• Ensure the right proportion of rice to lentils to achieve the ideal consistency for the batter.
• Allow the batter to ferment sufficiently. Fermentation not only imparts a nice tangy flavour but also contributes to the soft and fluffy texture of the paniyarams. Overnight fermentation is ideal.
• The batter should have a thick pouring consistency, similar to pancake batter. If it's too thick, the paniyarams may turn out dense; if it's too thin, they might not hold their shape and will turn out too soft.
• Heat the paniyaram pan well before adding the batter. Grease each cavity of the pan generously with oil before pouring the batter. A hot pan ensures even cooking and helps in achieving a nice golden-brown crust.
• Cook the paniyarams over low to medium heat to avoid burning the outer layer while ensuring the inside is cooked thoroughly. Covering the pan helps in even cooking.

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