Assam is widely considered to be one of the origins for rice and has one of the most interesting rice cultivars in India. Rice is grown in about 25.3 million hectares of land in Assam with an average production and productivity of about 3.8 million tonnes and 1540 kg/ha respectively. There are four divisions of rice cultivars grown in Assam namely Sali (winter rice), Ahu (autumn rice), Boro (summer rice) and Bao (deepwater rice).
These broad classifications have unique traits like stickiness, high starch content, waxy, non-waxy, aroma, flavour etc. Among the different categories of rice, the scented rice variety is extremely popular and valued highly for its aroma and taste. Assam has a diverse gene pool of aromatic rice cultivars that differ in intensity of aroma, durability, grain size and shape, yield per hectare, production potentialities etc.
The aromatic rice of Assam is a renowned class under the Sali rice known as Joha. This class of rice extracts a premium price in the market and is often used in the preparation of local delicacies as well as kanji (gruel), pulao, biryani and kheer.
Interestingly, Khorika Joha has been mentioned in detail by Kaviraja Madhava Kandali in the 14th century Assamese version of the Ramayana (Saptakanda Ramayana) which is believed to be one of the earliest written scriptures in Assamese language. According to this text, Ravana was at his wits end when all his attempts to rouse his younger brother Kumbhakarna from his deep slumber failed. Ravana used every trick he could think of to wake him up with one of them being a heap of delicious food made from Khorika Joha placed near his nose to tempt his senses.
It would appear that the Joha rice cultivars have been grown in Assam for centuries. The state is surrounded by hills in all the directions. The subtropical climatic conditions with warm humid summers and cool dry winters coupled with acidic soils rich in potassium and phosphorous with moderate quantity of organic matter and nitrogen and annual rainfall of 2431.9 mm of which 1500 mm occurs during the Sali season is conducive for Joha rice cultivation.
There are at least 47 germplasm of Joha namely Ahu Joha, Arab Joha, Baberi Joha, Badshabhog, Bokul Joha, Bangali Joha, Bhaboli Joha, Bhugi Joha, Chuban Joha, Kon bogi Joha, Chufap Joha, Kon Joha I, Goalporiya Joha I, Kon Joha II, Goalporiya Joha II, Kon Joha III, Govind bhog Joha, Kolari bhog, Joha, Krishna Joha, Joha bora, Kunkuni Joha, Kamini Joha, Maniki madhuri, Boga Joha, Kalgira, Manipuri Joha, Boga tulasi, Kapow Sali, Nepali Joha, Bogi Joha, KD ML 105, Rampal Joha, Bhugri Joha, Keteki Joha, Ronga Joha I, Boga maniki madhuri, Khorika Joha, Ronga Joha II, Bor Joha, Kola Joha I, Tulasi bhog, Borsali Joha, Kola Joha II, Tulasi Joha, Cheniguti Joha and Koli Joha.
Kola Joha, Badshabhog and Keteki Joha have the strongest aroma attributed to the high concentration of a compound named 2-acetyl-1-pyrroline. Joha rice cultivars are famous for its aroma, superfine kernel, good cooking qualities and excellent palatability. It is in great demand abroad due to its inherent scent, taste and grain type.
Joha rice is the most preferred class of rice for eating and farmers of the state invariably grow this class of rice for their consumption on special occasions. The varieties of Joha rice are rarely grown exclusively for commercial purposes due it its low productivity and yield and poor resistance to pests and diseases.
Joha rice is grown in only about 5 percent of area in Assam with an average yield of 1 to 1.5 tonnes per hectare as it takes longer time to mature (120 to 160 days). Joha rice is grown in relatively marginal lands and often late in the season. Traditional practices are only adopted as the farmers believe that its aroma is retained only through these methods.
This homegrown rice of Assam is very nutritious, rich in amino acids, calcium and iron and high on starch and proteins. This rice also has curative and medicinal properties.
This indigenous rice of Assam received the Geographical Indication Tag (GI) in 2017.
Written by Lakshmi Subramanian
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