Food

Bamboo’s pandemic offerings: leaf tea and muli cookies

Bamboo leaves tea

Bamboo leaves tea | Photo Credit: The Hindu

Huge swathes of Neriamangalam forests in the hills of Idukki are awash with golden bamboo blossoms. This rare phenomenon occurs once in a human lifetime, between 40 to 50 years, and is often associated with oncoming famine. By March, entire groves in the range will die leaving behind tons of bamboo rice, which is gathered, stored and eaten by tribals as survival food.

Last year the rare phenomena had occurred in the forests of Wayanad and Tony Paul, CEO and Trustee of NGO Uravu, says the tribal hamlets in the area would have stored at least two to three tons of bamboo rice. “People rush to buy bamboo rice, as it is highly nutritious and has medicinal properties. Now a superfood, bamboo rice is not cultivated or farmed. It is a natural phenomenon and hence its production is limited. The price ranges from ₹500 to 1000 per kg,” says Tony adding that bamboo as food is least explored as its other applications are commercially more viable.

But the pandemic provided time for experimentation and new recipes were developed.

“We utilized the lockdown to make bamboo cookies,” says Abhinab Kant, head of Bamboo and Cane Development Institute(BCDI) in Agartala, Tripura. Made using Muli bamboo (Melocanna Baccifera), a variety that comprises 80 % of the bamboo plantations in the State, the biscuits are made with bamboo shoots. Abhinab talks about the setting up of a commercial bakery during the lock down to produce cookies. This was an incubation activity of their organisation, NECTAR (North East Centre of Technology, Application and Research). “Bamboo shoots are harvested when they are still tender and soft; no hard fibres are formed yet. These are boiled and ground to a paste, which is added to wheat flour. It is cookies fortified with bamboo paste.”. He also speaks of canning bamboo shoots, for the first time in the country.

Abhinab points out that bamboo shoots are seasonal and grow between the months of May to September. All bamboo shoots hitherto available in India are imported, either from China, Vietnam or other Southeast Asian countries. He is now overseeing the setting up of a bamboo shoot canning centre and is optimistic that, by middle of 2022, bamboo shoots canned in Tripura will be available in the market. “It is important that the bamboo shoot is available round the year. We are avoiding the addition of any artificial preservatives,” he says. Bamboo pickle made with shoots is another common product, according to him.

During the same time, Shree sisters, Akshya and Dhwani of Silpakarman, created a bamboo leaves tea under their New Delhi-based company, Tad Udyog Pvt Limited. The brand was launched online in December 2021, and in stores in Bengaluru. “Though we have been researching the product for a few years, it was in 2020 that we successfully created the blend.” “Bamboo leaf is very rich in Silica and forms part of the brew.Describing a complex method of collecting nine varieties of bamboo leaves, washing and sun drying them, she says “it is all done manually. The blend is a mix of these leaves in equal proportions.” The sisters engaged migrant labourers who had returned home to Tripura during the lock down to pluck, dry, sift and roll the leaves to make granules. “Our core business is to make handicrafts and utility items with bamboo. We have been researching on bamboo leaves tea and developed it under guidance from experts at IIM Bengaluru and IIT Guwahati. The migrants were not skilled at making handicrafts; so we were able to use them thus and bring out the first patented blend,” says Akshya. Called Be You Tea, the leaves are packed in paper and placed in a bamboo bag. A 50gm pack is priced at ₹449. The tea can be had both cold and hot, with milk or black. “As it is a rich source of Silica, which is good for hair skin and bones, many add the brew to flour while making chappatis or bread,” she says.

Meanwhile in Udaipur, Gomati district, Tripura, bamboo technologist Samir Jamatia too used the time to experiment with bamboo leaf tea, cookies, ice cream and in vegetables “like it is used in Southeast Asian cuisine.”

Bamboo rice

One of the common traditional by-products of bamboo is the seed, which is used as rice. “For generations we have eaten bamboo rice in its most pristine way by steaming it. It is accompanied either by a chutney or a meat dish” says Samir. Abhinab also points out that the limited supply is reason why bamboo rice is expensive and used mainly by the communities who inhabit the forest. Akshaya agrees: “Once the bamboo flowers, that species dies. It has very high demand in pharmaceutical companies for experiments on its nutritional value.” She adds that tribes believe that eating it powers the body with nutrition for a whole year. It is also part of their folklore, she says.

According to her, whenever bamboo rice is gathered in the jungles, it is divided equally among the communities of the area. “A sweet dish with bamboo rice is a must but it is not made with milk, as in Kerala where bamboo rice payasam is common. In the North-East it is sweetened with fruits or vegetables.

Also Read:Tribal communities harvest bamboo rice

Prescilla Zinyu, an organic products entrepreneur from Nagaland, says that the bamboo rice tradition is almost lost as it was eaten during a famine, which is no longer common. “Bamboo rice was considered a survival food. Now that famines and wars are fortunately uncommon, the new generation does not know much about it.” She sources it from Kerala, which she says is seeing a revival.

Chef Anumitra Ghosh Dastidar, who founded Edible Archives to revive lost rice strains of India and showcases the range of indigenous rice varieties, first encountered bamboo rice while on a trek in the jungles of Eravikulam in Idukki, Kerala. She steamed it and ate it along with sambar. On another occasion, she had it with pork curry cooked with dalle , a sharp chilli from Sikkim. “The rice has a delicate flavour and it can be combined with something strong but not “masaledaar” or too spicy. This rice is unique in form, shape and taste. I would not like it to be popularized and made gimmicky,” she says.

Uravu, which participates every year at the annual Bamboo Fest in Ernakulam held by the Kerala Bamboo Mission, showcases a host of utility products and handicrafts, and a sought-after “payasam” counter. “Bamboo payasam is made using rice, milk and jaggery,” says Tony, who speaks of a parallel market that sells faux bamboo rice. Samir agrees that a lot of the bamboo rice in the market is artificial. As the rice itself is limited, it is reserved for experiments by practitioners of alternative medicines.

Everyone invested in bamboo shares stories of the unique connect the tribals have with the grass. Tony says he was surprised at the closeness tribes feel at the death of a bamboo. “A tribesman spoke about the loss of a bamboo as the dying of a family elder, of how it had provided them with shelter and means to survive. Even in its death, it has left them with food,” he says, adding that bamboo shoot is called the king of forest vegetables.


Our code of editorial values

  1. Comments will be moderated by The Hindu editorial team.
  2. Comments that are abusive, personal, incendiary or irrelevant cannot be published.
  3. Please write complete sentences. Do not type comments in all capital letters, or in all lower case letters, or using abbreviated text. (example: u cannot substitute for you, d is not 'the', n is not 'and').
  4. We may remove hyperlinks within comments.
  5. Please use a genuine email ID and provide your name, to avoid rejection.

Printable version | Feb 13, 2022 7:27:38 am | https://www.thehindu.com/life-and-style/food/bamboo-leaves-tea-muli-cookies-and-bamboo-rice-canned-bamboo-from-tripura/article38407044.ece