The famed Harmal chilli derives its name from the area of cultivation, Harmal which is a coastal village in the Pernem taluk in North Goa district. Elders in the village say that this chilli has been grown extensively in the traditional way for about 150 – 200 years. Each and every household is in some way or the other actively involved in the cultivation of this renowned spice. Harmal chilli also known as Harmal Mirsank in the local language was one of the many varieties of chilli introduced by the Portuguese 400 years ago.
Harmal chilli is very unique in size, pungency and colour and has a non-wrinkly skin texture which is attributed to the soil characteristics and hot and humid climatic conditions. The tropical climate with good annual rainfall and temperature between 20 – 34 °C is very conducive for cultivating this type of chilli as the warm and humid weather is useful during the plantation and growing period and the dry weather is useful during the maturation period. The lateritic soil which is slightly acidic is rich in minerals like Iron, Manganese and Copper which also supports the growth of chilli.
Generally, each farmer practises seed conservation by individually selecting quality fruits in terms of size, colour and appearance. These selected fruits are then dried in the sun and stored in plastic wrappers in airtight copper vessels which are opened only when the seed sowing commences in the next season. The land is prepared in December and nursery beds are raised for seed broadcasting. The farmers are very particular that the land is tilled well and irrigated thoroughly. The seeds are then covered with a thin layer of soil and the entire bed is covered with dry coconut palm leaves. These are watered regularly and cow urine and garlic paste water is sprayed to protect the seeds from an insect attack. The seeds take about 12 – 15 days to germinate and are transplanted after 40 – 45 days.
The farmers say that any improper planning will lead to a poor-quality produce which will greatly affect the pungency and colour of the chilli. Weeding is highly recommended followed by earthing using traditional tools like kudal. Fertilizer is mixed in dry ash or dry cow dung and applied in the root area of the crop which has the right amount of moisture as the soil in this region is neither too dry nor too wet.
The chilli is ready for harvest when the fruits are well ripened and partially withered on the plant which is normally in about 3 – 3 1/2 months. Harvesting is done either early morning or late evening and the fruits are carefully plucked by hand to prevent any breakage. The fruits are kept in the open overnight for it to get the required maturity and colour. They are then washed and dried out in the sun for at least 7 – 8 days. It is essential to dry it properly if it is to be stored in airtight containers. The average yield is about 1 – 1.5 tons of dry chillies per hectare.
Harmal chilli is grown in the rabi season as an irrigated crop after the Kharif paddy. The chilli has a distinctive reddish brownish colour with a thin outer skin and good quantity of seeds and therefore, good quantity of chilli powder. This chilli has good keeping quality and can be stored for a longer duration. It is packed with minerals like potassium, magnesium, calcium and sodium and has an average pungency of 28, 200 SHU with an ASTA colour of 48.8 ASTA units.
This chilli known for its medium to high pungency is used in almost all Goan food preparations like Chicken Xacuti, vindaloo and Recheado masala to mention a few either in whole or blended with other spices.
Chilli is a valuable crop for the farmers in Goa and a great source of income. This particular chilli is in great demand in Goa and was granted the Geographical Indication Tag (GI) in 2020.
Written by Lakshmi Subramanian
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