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Horticulture/Fruits & Vegetables
Fruit from Kashmir’s sweet waters
Collector’s job: Women harvest water chestnuts in Dal Lake; entire families are involved in cleaning and processing them.
Famed for its apples, cherries, peaches and plums, Kashmir is now turning into a major producer of the less-known water chestnut.
As the name indicates, this small rectangular fruit grows wild in the sweet-water lakes of Kashmir. But a large chunk of it, an estimated 4-5 million kg a year, comes from the Wullar lake, providing livelihood to nearly 40,000. The sweet and aromatic fruit grows under the floating leaves and drops off when ripe; it is then scooped out using a net.
Towards the end of the 19th century, the erstwhile British rulers had leased out several lakes in Kashmir for water chestnut cultivation.Family on the job
Collection of water chestnuts is a painstaking job and involves the entire family. The thorny edges of the water chestnut add to the trouble.
The fruits are collected twice a year — during winter and summer. At Wullar lake, one can see families camping in boats during the four bitter winter months from November to early March.
Habib Dar, 55, of Banyaari Sharki village in northern Kashmir has been harvesting water chestnuts for 40 years now. “We painstakingly collect them during four harsh months in rain, snow, wind and other difficulties. Although the income is low it nevertheless meets our needs and we don’t know anything else to do,” he says.
After collection from water, the water chestnuts are sun-dried, baked, skinned and cleaned. They are eaten like a fruit when fresh, made into curries when they are halfway mature and turned into flour when completely mature and dry.A ‘fast’ food!
The chestnut flour is particularly sought after by those who fast during the Navratri festival as it is a good alternative to cereals, which are avoided during this period.
The Singara Barfi, a sweet made from water chestnuts, is equally popular. “There are some companies making Singara Barfi, which has high demand during Navratri,” says G.N. Ahanger, Chief Executive of the Agro Food Processing Emporium (AFPE), adding that the quality of Kashmiri water chestnuts is superior to those grown elsewhere.Other uses
Water chestnut is a good source of potassium, vitamin B and antioxidants. Its kernel contains a high level of protein (up to 20 per cent), starch (52 per cent), tannins (9.4 per cent), fat (up to 1 per cent), sugar (3 per cent) and minerals.
Milk suppliers use its powder to make milk creamier. It is also used in preparing ointment for treating elephantiasis, rheumatism, sores and sunburn. Water chestnut is said to relieve indigestion, work as a diuretic, relieve hypertension, and cure sore throat, haemorrhoids, cough and cold.For diabetics
Of late, water chestnuts have been found beneficial to diabetics and this has led to a surge in demand and more research into its uses.
With low calorific value, high vitamin and fibre content, the water chestnut is seen as an ideal diabetic food.
AFPE in collaboration with the Central Food Technological Research Institute (CFTRI), Mysore, and the Central Drug Research Institute (CDRI), Lucknow, has manufactured biscuits from water chestnuts that are suited for diabetics.
Trials are on and the biscuit is expected to hit the market soon. They have been supplied on an experimental basis in select areas of Baroda and Chennai. Company officials say the initial feedback has been positive.Growing market
AFPE is the largest dealer of water chestnuts in Kashmir and currently supplies in bulk — both in the raw form as well as powder — to several factories across India.
The company is building a plant at Lassipora industrial estate for large-scale manufacture of water chestnut biscuits and hopes to market this exclusive Kashmiri product at the global level.
It sees a growing demand for these biscuits, especially among diabetics, whose numbers are increasing the world over.
“Nowhere in the world has such a product been made, and I am proud that it is coming from Kashmir,” says Ahanger.
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