Nothing beats the spicy-warm flavor of morning chai accompanied by biscuits — but it’s not just any type of biscuit. I’m talking about the one and only Parle-G. What is Parle-G, you ask? For those unaware, Parle-G is only the world’s best-selling biscuit according to the Nielsen Corporation, surpassing products like Oreo and Chips Ahoy. Often associated with tea time, the crunchy, crumbly and sweet biscuit is well-known throughout India. Easily identified by its yellow-striped packaging and famous plump Parle-G baby imprinted on the front, it is estimated that around 16,383,600 individual biscuits are eaten every hour and over a billion packets are sold each month. While the puzzle of the real Parle-G baby’s identity remains unsolved, Parle-G’s cultural impact in India is no mystery. The brand itself has been a symbol of Indian resilience throughout the years.
Established in 1929, Mohanlal Chauhan founded the Parle Gluco company based on Swadeshi movement ideals. The pro-India independence movement was based on non-cooperation and relied on a shift to Indian-only produced goods as a form of civil disobedience. Chauhan decided to create his own business so Indians would not have to rely on imported British products. It also didn’t help that British-made biscuits were more expensive and exclusively for the wealthy.
After initially manufacturing orange candy and toffee, Chauhan decided to pivot his business to creating biscuits and in 1938, the company produced the first Parle Gluco – the snack now known by billions as Parle-G. Over the years the company has evolved, gradually rolling out more diverse products. In 1941, the company expanded to make Monaco, a salty cracker. In 1956, they unveiled Cheeslings, and in 1972, created Krackjack. Even recently, in 2017, the company introduced Parle Platina, a premium biscuit.
Regardless of the different commodities put out by the Parle Gluco company, one product remains iconic: Parle-G. The power of Parle-G is real. Chances are if you grew up in an Indian household, you have encountered the product multiple times and may even have them stashed in your pantry right now. The product is the essence of comfort and screams childhood. I loved coming home after a hard day of work in second grade to some Parle-G, milk and “Wizards of Waverly Place.” Whenever I went to the local Indian store with my parents, I would ask for some Parle-G (or Thums Up, another one of my childhood favorites). Every time, I would get the same answer from my parents: “If you can pay for it yourself.” The next time I would go, that’s exactly what I’d do. After my nine-year-old self scrambled together a whole $10 from loose change and forgotten birthday money, I triumphantly approached the cashier with twenty Parle-G packets along with a poorly-hidden pompous smirk smeared across my face.
Parle-G’s influence can be seen through the story of New Delhi-native Swastika Jajoo’s grandfather, who suffers from severe dementia. As her grandfather lay ill in the hospital bed, eating through feeding tubes, Swastika tried to stay enthusiastic. Even when the doctors lost hope of any recovery, Swastika still asked him what he wanted when he recovers and comes back home from the hospital. His answer was clear: he wanted to “eat Parle-G biscuits and drink chai,” a tradition he had done every day for decades. After a miraculous recovery, that’s exactly what her grandfather did. The Parle Gluco company even sent the family a large 2.3-kilogram crate filled with Parle-G!
Since its creation, the popularity of Parle-G continues to spread. As India’s economy grew throughout the years, so did Parle-G. Even though the company had to lay off around 10,000 of its 100,000 employees back in 2019 due to an economic slowdown caused by the COVID-19 shutdown, the company is now as strong as ever, selling a record number of biscuits during the midst of the pandemic.
The biscuit has become so popular that even high-end restaurants are starting to incorporate the product into their desserts. Popular establishments like Farzi Cafe, which has locations all over the world, and Mumbai’s 145 began serving Parle-G cheesecakes and Parle-G Eatshakes, or the “Edible Milkshake.” Hundreds of recipes can be found online to make desserts like Parle G Cookie Butter or Parle-G Biscuit Swiss Rolls. Despite the evolution and complex uses of the Parle-G biscuit, the brand’s goal remains simple and consistent: to sell affordable healthy “original gluco biscuits.” Even though I was born and raised in America, I can still feel the impression the biscuit has left on the Indian community. And while there is no right way to be South Asian, it feels validating as an Indian-American knowing that I share something so culturally significant.
MiC Columnist Deven Parikh can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.