The North Eastern state of Mizoram is a treasure trove of ginger diversity with as many as eight native varieties cultivated here since the ancient times. Ginger along with turmeric and chillies are important cash crops and widely used to prepare local delicacies as well as medicines.
Mizo ginger is grown in Aizawl, Serchhip, Kolasib, Champhai, Mamit, Lawngtlai, Saiha and Lunglei districts. According to the locals, Thingpui, Thingaria and Thinglaidum are grown in a large-scale of which Thingpui and Thinglaidum are extremely popular both within the state and outside. As Thinglaidum is small in size and extremely pungent, it is used in the processing of dried ginger which has varied industrial uses while the bold and less pungent light yellow rhizomes of Thingpui is used for table and domestic purposes.
Known as Sawhthing locally, Mizo gingers are renowned for their pungency, high content of gingerol (1.23 to 1.25 percent) and volatile oil (1.45 to 1.80 percent) with less crude fibre content as compared to the varieties found in North East India. Another type of ginger commonly known as black ginger having bluish black rhizomes commands a premium price in the market for its curative and medicinal properties and is grown by farmers for both commercial and self-consumption.
Farmers attribute the pungency and unique taste of these indigenous gingers to the agro-climatic conditions prevailing in Mizoram. Ginger is grown in the slopes up to an elevation of 2000 m as well as on the plains and under the shades of bamboo trees and others. Farmers have been using the age-old system of jhum cultivation preferring to use organic and indigenous means to cultivate their crops. After the traditional rituals are completed, ginger is sown in the fields prepared during the month of April.
The rhizomes selected from the previous year’s produce that are large, shiny and free from any spots are used. The ginger beds are covered with layers of fallen forest leaves, straw, grass and plant residue. This protects the rhizomes from rain and maintains the moisture in the soil.
Farmers do not use any type of manure or fertilizers or pesticides depending solely on the natural reserves available to them. Harvesting starts from November and continues till May but the farmers do not harvest the entire crop preferring to leave a portion in the land for the next cycle. This delayed harvest is also done according to the market demand.
The tender green rhizomes called as green ginger is harvested in the six month after plantation (rhizomes do not have any fibre). This green ginger is pickled or used to prepare candy. Ginger harvested is stored in either soil pits or in dry and covered sheds. The storage pit is either circular or rectangular in shape with a depth of 1.2 m. A thin layer of banana leaves is spread over the bottom of the pit and the harvested rhizomes are placed into this in layers. Another layer of banana leaves is placed on the top. A little soil is spread over this which acts as the final covering. The produce is cleaned and packed in gunny bags to be transported to the markets.
The organic Mizo gingers are sold locally as raw ginger, dried ginger, bleached ginger, ginger powder, ginger oil, ginger ale, candy, beer, wine, squash, ginger flakes and others. Locals use this ginger to prepare sauces, pickles, curry powders, bread, meat dishes as well as medicines. The pungent Mizo ginger is recommended to treat nervous diseases, nausea, migraines, rheumatic disorders, muscular pain, digestive ailments and others.
Oleoresin extracted from dried ginger is used in many industries. Dried ginger is used to manufacture soft drinks, ginger beer, brandy and wine. Ginger oil is used as a flavouring agent in confectionery, to make perfumes and certain medicated ointments.
Farmers cultivating the pungent Mizo ginger would benefit immensely from more processing plants, value-added products and marketing.
Written by Lakshmi Subramanian
* Photos are only symbolic (Taken from public domain/internet and any copyright infringement is unintentional and regrettable)