The diversity of indigenous aromatic rice types found in India is staggering to say the least. Scented varieties are broadly classified as basmati and non–basmati. Some of the traditional rice varieties categorized as non–basmati are in fact far superior in both taste and fragrance to basmati rice.
Ambemohar that literally means mango blossom in Marathi is one of most famous non–basmati rice types grown exclusively in the Maval region of Pune district. The rice thrives in Mulshi taluka that is surrounded by the Sahyadri. According to locals, this rice has been cultivated here for centuries and was served during the famous feasts and celebrations of Peshwa Baji Rao. The soil is acidic with a pH of 5.5 to 6.7, rich in iron and aluminium and either red to reddish brown silty in nature or black clayey in nature.
Farmers use good-quality seeds from the previous year’s produce. Preparation begins after the first rains in June. This is a rainfed crop and water flowing down the hills as well as water from the Mula and Mutha rivers that flow through Mulshi help in maintaining the water level and dampness in the soil which is imperative for the cultivation of rice.
Ambemohar rice crop grows up to a height of 6 feet. The cultivation period is 140 – 160 days. It is manually harvested using simple hand tools like sickles and knives. The rice is stored in an open place after harvesting. Great care is taken to store the rice panicles to prevent any water from damaging the inner grains. The rice is threshed either by hand or machine.
Ambemohar is white in colour with small round grains. This short-grained rice has a unique sweet taste and an aroma that is very much like the mango blossom when cooked. This rice is soft in texture, easily digestible, with about 70 percent starch and takes less time for cooking. It is rich in potassium and Vitamin B Complex.
This traditional variety is used for religious and marriage ceremonies. The cooked grains have a tendency to break easily and stick together. It is used to make local delicacies like patoli, kurmure chikki (made from puffed rice and jaggery), bhatachi pej (kanji or gruel of rice and milk), batter for idli and dosa and others. The rice bran is used for oil extraction and mushroom cultivation.
Ambemohar has had its share of troubles over the years as it is low-yielding, requires greater investment and labour and is highly susceptible to pests and diseases. A hybird Indrayani was developed from Ambemohar and is now cultivated by marginal farmers. Ambemohar – 157, Ambemohar – 159 and Ambemohar – 102 have been developed as pure line selections from the original gene pool and are cultivated by farmers in small pockets for self-consumption and special occasions.
Ambemohar received the Geographical Indication Tag (GI) in 2016.
Written by Lakshmi Subramanian
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