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Chak-hao, an indigenous black rice has been cultivated in the plains and hills of Manipur and Nagaland for centuries. This scented glutinous rice has an intense dark purple-hued outer bran layer which almost looks black, a distinctive fragrance and taste. The two varieties of Chak-hao namely Chak-hao Poireiton and Chak-hao Ambui are used largely for community feasts and ceremonial purposes.
Chak-hao is a sticky rice, nutty in flavour and turns deep purple when cooked. The dark colour is due to the high concentration of anthocyanins while the stickiness is attributed to a low amylase content and high amylopectin content. The texture of black rice is a bit heavier as compared to other varieties of rice.
Though there is little information available on the origin of this famous black rice, historical documentation suggests that this rice has been cultivated in erstwhile Manipur since 33 CE. This rice is cultivated using organic methods and the use of pesticide and chemical fertilizers is strictly avoided.
Chak-hao takes longer time to cook due to the presence of the fibrous bran layer and higher crude fiber content. The mild nutty taste and special aroma is due to the soil conditions and agro-ecological conditions of Manipur. It has a rich source of Vitamin B, Vitamin E, iron, calcium, manganese, zinc and polyphenol.
The two great qualities of Chak-hao are its distinctive deep purple colouring and fragrance making it an extremely desirable specialty rice and it is a little wonder that this tasty black rice was awarded the Geographical Indication Tag (GI) earlier in 2020.
Chak-hao has also been used by traditional medical practitioners as the rice has several healing and nutritional properties. The bran hull (outermost layer) of black rice contains one of the highest levels of anthocyanins found in food. It has anticarcinogenic properties and its bran soothes inflammation due to allergies, asthma and other diseases.
Chak-hao kheer is a popular pudding in these regions and the water in which the black rice is boiled is used to wash one’s hair as it is believed to make the roots strong.
Written by Lakshmi Subramanian
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