A study on koozh as a street food in the city has recommended the use of underutilised species such as millets to provide food and nutritional security for the urban poor.

A survey among sellers and consumers of koozh on the streets of Chennai by a team from the M.S. Swaminathan Research Foundation and Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation, revealed that koozh stalls in the city were of recent origin; 83 per cent of the stalls came up in the past seven years.

On an average, 14 per cent stalls reported 150-200 consumers, 22 per cent had 100-150 consumers and 45 per cent stalls, 50-100 customers a day.

An analysis of the data found the consumers to be mostly truck drivers, haulers and daily wage earners from Madhavaram, Koyambedu and Tambaram areas, said V. Arivudai Nambi, Principal Scientist (Biodiversity), MSSRF, and one of the authors of the study. Maria Phillip and K. Muniyappan are the other authors.

The sale of koozh is at its peak between 7–10 a.m. and customers found the drink satiating their hunger and believed it had a cooling effect on their bodies. A major area of concern was the use of unsafe water by 89 per cent of the sellers, who relied on public tap water for diluting the cooked koozh. As koozh falls under the high risk foods with the potential for supporting multiplication of pathogens, there is a need to provide paper or earthen cups to reduce contamination.

About 95 per cent of them sold only ragi koozh, though sorghum and pearl millet can also be processed into koozh, as consumers preferred ragi for the ‘cooling' effect. Data revealed that 43 per cent of the sellers were those who migrated to the city from Tiruvannamalai and Dharmapuri districts in summer.

The consumer profile reflected that 45 per cent earned below Rs.5,000 a month and 36 per cent between Rs.5000 – Rs.10,000, which corroborated the earlier data that consumers of koozh were largely labourers. Many customers who drank koozh also consumed alcohol as there was widespread belief that it helps in reducing the ill-effects of alcohol.

“Millets can be used as an ideal pathway to achieve nutritional security of the urban poor,” says Mr. Nambi. Promoting millets in urban environs would also be an income generating activity and contribute to conservation and cultivation in rain-fed tracts.

Keywords: street food

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