Scented rice has always been a prized possession in regional economies since the days of yore. Different varieties of indigenous scented rice have been cultivated in different parts of India since ancient times. Both Charaka and Sushruta have extolled the medicinal values of fragrant rice in their respective treatise.
Ajara Ghansal rice grown in Ajara tehsil which is surrounded by Sahyadri or the Western Ghats has been titled as ‘King of Paddy’. This aromatic medicinal rice has been cultivated by families of Ajara for more than a century using traditional means. It is believed that Ghansal derives its name from ghan meaning aroma and sal meaning elegantly thin but I was unable to find more information on that.
Ajara Ghansal variety is cultivated in over 2,200 hectares of land spread over thirty-five villages. Seeds and panicles from the previous produce is carefully selected and stored for the purpose of sowing. The land is prepared in the month of June and involves an elaborate process of cleaning, ploughing and puddling. The land is generally burnt to remove insects from the paddy field. Ploughing of the land is done after the first rains in June followed by levelling and application of organic manure. Seeds are sown in a seedbed and transplanted to the wet field after germination.
Farmers say that the timing of sowing the seeds and thereafter transplanting must coincide with the first rains in June as it will determine the grain quality and yield. This variety is cultivated in the base of the foothills that has relatively low temperature, fertile laterite soil (Tambadi mati is rich in nitrogen, zinc, iron, copper, calcium and magnesium) and cool and dry climatic conditions that are extremely important during the stage of maturity for the development and retention of its aroma. Cultivation is done entirely on rain water that flows down from the hills and water from Hiranyakeshi River which is about 5 km from Ajara.
Manual harvesting is done in October – November using simple hand tools like sickles and knives. The rice is then threshed either by hand or machine. Harvesting is labour intensive involving cutting, stacking, handling, threshing, cleaning and hauling. Harvesting by hand helps in maximizing the grain yield and minimizing grain damage and deterioration.
Ghansal paddy seeds are stored after drying in a huge pot made up of clay and cow dung. Neem leaves are used to preserve rice and this method is also adopted to store seeds for the next sowing season. Ghansal rice is also polished using traditional methods to maintain the taste and aroma.
The most important trait of Ghansal is its heady aroma. Studies have shown that the aroma of this rice comes from a mixture of many compounds like alcohols, aldehydes, esters etc. and the high percentage of 2AP (2-Acetyl-1-pyrroline). This short-grain rice is either creamy white or brown in colour and has a firm non-sticky tender texture when cooked with zero chalkiness which makes it more palatable. This rice is commonly used in marriages, festivals and celebratory occasions. It is also used to make rice puff and rice bran oil and the paddy straws are used in mushroom cultivation.
This food is considered to be pure and nourishing and recommended highly as the first food for babies. It is an excellent source of Iron, Manganese, Magnesium and Vitamin B. Ajara Ghansal rice was granted the Geographical Indication Tag (GI) in 2015.
Written by Lakshmi Subramanian
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