Even though ‘chulli’ or wild apricot grows abundantly in the districts of Shimla, Kullu, Chamba, Sirmour, Kinnaur and Lahaul-Spiti of Himachal Pradesh, it is primarily identified with Kinnaur. Chuli oil or otherwise locally known as ‘Gutti ka tel’ is extracted from the kernels of wild apricots in almost all the households for domestic consumption.
The Chulli trees are moderate in size, hardy and grows well at elevations of 1200 – 3500 metres above sea level. These trees are called divine by the locals as they grow abundantly in the wild solely under the care of the universe. They neither require irrigation nor manure or fertilizers or any regularized farming technique. The fruit is harvested between May to July and is highly perishable.
The kernels of stones/pits of apricots are taken out and dried in the sun for 2-3 days. The dried kernels are then put into a stone mortar and pounded repeatedly with a pestle into a thick paste. The paste is then put in a cauldron and heated at a high temperature. Small cakes are made out of this hot paste. Each cake is then placed on the edge of the mortar and pressed down till the oil oozes out flowing into the mortar. The oil collected in the mortar is then stored in either metal or earthen pots called ghagri.
The oil cakes are crushed into small pieces and dried in the sun for a couple of days and subjected to the process again to extract the remaining oil. The oil cakes are used as cattle food by the locals in the hilly regions.
Chulli oil is high in Vitamin E and deemed excellent for the skin because of its healing properties. The oil is commonly used for cooking as well as homemade liquor. Local dishes include apricot chutney, juice and pulp that is enjoyed with indigenous food grains. This efficient usage of the kernels of the stones/pits of the wild apricots to extract oil, to make local delicacies as well as cattle food is ingenious. It is probably because chulli oil is known to very few people outside of Himachal that it is yet to make a real splash in the cosmetic market and as a health food.
Himachali chulli oil was granted the Geographical Indication Tag (GI) in 2019.
Written by Lakshmi Subramanian
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