Locals say that Bhalia wheat that is largely cultivated in Bhal region of Gujarat derives its name from the Sanskrit word bhalah meaning forehead suggestive of the flatness of this region like one’s forehead. As bizarre as that may sound, the land is indeed extremely flat with barely any change in landscape or any sort of lush vegetation to speak of.
Bhalia wheat also known as Bhalia ghau or Dodh-kani (Daudkhani wheat) or Chasia wheat or Katha wheat however thrives in this peculiar geographical feature. This long-grain wheat (hence, the name Dodh-kani or Daudkhani) is about 1.5 times longer in length than the other varieties and does not need irrigation or rain water to grow but rather sustains itself on the moisture conserved in the soil and from the winter dew!
Bhalia ghau is cultivated in the regions of Ahmedabad, Bhavnagar and a part of Khambhat in the state of Gujarat. Locals say that this wheat was cultivated in Bhal for centuries without irrigation (conserved soil moisture). This wheat grows well in the rainfed heavy to medium black soil in Bhal and in the coastal areas.
The farmers construct a bund of 45 – 60 cm in height around the field to store the rain water received during the monsoon. After the cessation of the monsoon, the land gets the correct vapsa condition after which the land is harrowed using bullocks as it will maintain soil compaction. This process is repeated to form a fine soil layer called penh which acts as a soil mulch. Generally, sowing starts in late October moving into the first week of November. The wheat does not receive either rain water or irrigation after sowing but flourishes in these conditions.
Harvesting is done with hand sickles. Threshing is done using a mechanical thresher or by running a tractor over the crop. The grains are thoroughly dried before storage as storage life of the grain depends on its moisture content (less than 10 percent moisture is preferred).
This excellent variety of wheat is considered to be the best in Gujarat for its flavour and high protein content. The wheat absorbs less oil and water and also has greater resistance to pests because of its uniqueness.
Bhalia ghau is very hard and bold with vitreous texture and is extensively used to prepare semolina because of its high protein and carotene content (maximum natural yellow pigment) which has multitude of uses (pasta, macaroni, pizza, spaghetti, vermicelli, noodles and others).
Bhalia ghau is consumed in the form of bhakri and chapati. As Bhalia wheat contains higher soluble sugars, it is often used to prepare laddu, halwa, churma and thuli.
About 1.7 lakh – 1.8 lakh tons of wheat is produced across 2 lakh hectares each year. The farmers of Bhal region receive a much higher price almost 25 percent premium as against other wheat varieties and at least 40 – 50 percent higher than the ordinary bread wheat varieties.
The Bhalia wheat variety marketed as Gujarat Wheat (GW) – 1 was granted the Geographical Indication Tag (GI) in 2011 for its superior quality, taste and distinctive traits.
Written by Lakshmi Subramanian
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