Assam is home to many indigenous rice varieties commonly called as ‘unique gifts of nature’ that are not found in any other part of the world. The most famous varieties are the aromatic Joha rice, Bora, Red Bao and Chokuwa that have been grown here for centuries.
The rice varieties which exhibit glutinous properties are termed as waxy rice and are classified as Bora and Chokuwa based on the amylose content. The rice varieties with high and intermediate amylose content are consumed as staple foods here while the low amylose Chokuwa rice varieties are used to make specialty products like the komal chaul (soft rice) which is a whole grain, ready-to-eat product that needs no cooking and can be consumed after soaking the rice in cold to lukewarm water. The low amylose content rice is a rare traditional variety of rice of the ‘soak and eat’ type grown exclusively in Assam that was consumed by the soldiers of the mighty Ahom kingdom.
Chokuwa rice varieties belong to the winter or sali rice type (June – July to October – November season) which are photosensitive and long duration crops (160 days) grown in the districts of Tinsukia, Dhemaji, Dibrugarh, Lakhimpur, Sivasagar, Jorhat, Golaghat, Nagaon, Morigaon and Sonitpur.
The hilly terrain, subtropical climatic conditions of a warm humid summer and cool dry winter, acidic soil rich in phosphorus, potassium, organic matter and nitrogen and consistent rainfall during the months of June to September are some of the agroecological features of Assam that favours the growth of Chokuwa rice.
Most of the cultivation is done during the sali season (winter season) using traditional methods of puddling, preparation of nursery using the wet method, field preparation and ploughing, transplantation to the main field, use of organic fertilizers and irrigation. Harvesting is done during the months of November- December.
Panicles are selected for the collection of seeds for the next season. Threshing of harvested panicles is done using age-old methods followed by cleaning and drying in the sun till the moisture level is about 12 – 13 percent. The seeds are stored in toom (a container made of bamboo covered with straw) after sufficient drying and cleaning.
Farmers rely heavily on knowledge passed down generations while selecting the site for cultivation, methods implemented, protection against pests and diseases and in the preparation of various products from Chokuwa rice. Komal chaul is prepared from Chokuwa rice by boiling the paddy, drying it in the sun for a day and then dehusking.
The average grain yield is about 2.5 tonnes per hectare though the actual area under cultivation is not known as this rice variety is grown with staple rice varieties. Chokuwa rice is widely consumed by rural Assam and many local delicacies are prepared for social and religious ceremonies, feasts and festivals. It is used extensively for instant preparations. This parboiled rice has about 12 – 17 percent amylose content as compared to other varieties which have about 20 – 27 percent. Rice powder and rice flakes are also prepared from Chokuwa rice that are very tasty and preferred by the locals.
Komal chaul can be preserved for quite some time and is normally had with either sugar or molasses, milk or curds, or salt and pickles. This class of rice aptly called ‘magical rice’ has immense potential in the domestic and international markets and can be cleverly marketed as a convenience food.
Chokuwa rice was granted the Geographical Indication Tag (GI) in 2019.
Written by Lakshmi Subramanian
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