The most famous chilli of Goa is the bright red Khola chilli that grows exclusively on the hill slopes of Canacona taluka in the district of South Goa. Also known as Canacona chilli, this variety derives its name from the mountain village Khola where it is grown.
According to historians, chillies were introduced in Goa by the Portuguese somewhere in the 1500s. Gradually, chillies came to be named after the place where it was cultivated and graded as per usage, pungency, colour etc. Locals say that their ancestors were the first to produce this particular type of chilli that is used in the preparation of the lip-smacking Goan papads. It is widely believed that this chilli has been cultivated in this village for at least 120 to 150 years if not more.
Canacona chilli cultivators follow the traditional organic practices implemented by their ancestors. This chilli grows well along the slopes of the mountains as well as on the rocky plains of the village. The proximity of the village to the Arabian Sea, well-drained loamy soil rich in iron, manganese and copper and nutrients, low temperature and high humidity prevailing in the month of July and the hot and humid weather conditions during October renders it its distinctive brilliant red colour, pungency and taste.
This rainfed crop is grown in the kharif season using a unique method of green manuring that helps to prevent soil erosion during heavy rains. The field is prepared in May and the chillies are propagated through seeds which are first sown in nursery beds. Cow dung manure is mixed into the soil and dry coconut leaves are spread out to protect the seedlings. They are transplanted after 5 to 6 weeks generally timed to the first monsoon showers.
Once the seedlings have attained a firm grip in the soil, the roots are covered with the leaves of the locally available trees to prevent soil erosion due to heavy rain, to act as a mulch and a natural fertilizer (green manuring). The crop is ready to be harvested in about 3 to 4 months (August to September). The fruits are plucked by hand either in the early hours of the morning or in the late evening. This is done on every alternate day in a regular pattern.
The chillies collected are washed and spread out in a thin layer and dried in direct sunlight. They are then ready to be stored or packaged or sold in the market. Normally the women farmers make value-added products like the famed recheado masala, green chilli pickle, raw mango pickle, red chilli sauce, Goan papads, Khola chilli powder and Khola chilli flakes.
The entire village community is actively involved in the cultivation of chilli which is the primary source of income. The average yield of chilli is estimated to be around 0.5 to 1.1 tonnes of dry chilli per hectare. The farmers are very keen to preserve the ancient ways of cultivating this chilli to retain its taste, colour and pungency.
This chilli is medium pungent in taste, has an attractive red colour and is widely used in the preparation of local delicacies. It has a thick outer smooth skin which enhances its shelf life and reduces breakage. Khola chilli is approximately 5.6 to 7.4 cm in length and about 1.2 to 1.4 cm in diameter. This long chilli has a pungency of 17,100 SHU, an ASTA colour of about 34.3 and capsaicin content of 0.11 percent.
This native chilli is used for edible or food grade red colour because of the high content of the pigment Capsanthin which lends it its bright red colour. Khola chilli is rich in potassium, manganese and magnesium.
This indigenous Goan chilli received the Geographical Indication Tag (GI) in 2020.
Written by Lakshmi Subramanian
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