Lotus seeds, commonly known as makhana is mainly cultivated in Bihar, Assam and West Bengal with Bihar accounting for more than 85 percent of the total production in India. Also known as gorgon nut or foxnut, this superfood thrives in the agro-climatic conditions prevailing in the districts of Madhubani, Darbhanga, Sitamarhi, Saharsa, Katihar, Purnia, Supaul, Kishanganj and Araria of Bihar.
It is estimated that the total area under makhana cultivation in India is around 15,000 hectares with an annual produce of 1,20,000 MT of which 40,000 MT of makhana pop is realized after processing. Cultivation and processing of makhana is a highly taxing and labour-intensive activity which involves the painstaking manual collection of seeds, drying, roasting and popping, storage and grading.
According to government records, around 3500 MT of makhana is traded every year in Madhubani alone. Makhana (Euryale ferox Salisb.) is the edible seed of an aquatic plant commonly known as prickly waterlily. They grow mainly in stagnant fresh water pools, ponds, paddy fields and tanks. The seeds that are round in shape with a hard black shell are collected from the water during August to October.
The yield of makhana is found to be more in shallow water bodies (1800 to 2200 kg per hectare as against 1200 to 1500 kg per hectare in deep pools). The raw makhana is cleaned and washed thoroughly. They are then sundried and stored away from direct sunlight and rain. The seeds are graded based on size, colour and fullness.
They are then subjected to the process of roasting. They are kept at room temperature following which they are roasted again. The roasting process is very important as it removes the hard shell to expose the edible seed. Separation of the seed and the shell is done and then packed as per requirements. The last process is the grading of the makhana pop.
Makhana is used in the preparation of many local delicacies like biryani, curry, kheer, namkeen, halwa, seviyan and others. Flour made from makhana is used as a substitute for arrowroot as a thickener in food preparations. Popped makhana, instant makhana kheer, makhana powder, makhana porridge, makhana baby food, makhana barfi, makhana bread, makhana bakery goods and others are now seen on shelves in domestic and international shops.
It has been found that makhana bran can be used as an ingredient for poultry feed while the hard shell can be used as fuel. ICAR Research Complex for Eastern Region, Patna has recently developed its first variety of makhana under the name of Swarna Vaidehi.
Makhana is a tasty snack rich in minerals, protein, potassium, calcium, fibre, magnesium, iron, zinc and kaempferol. It is known to reduce the risk of heart disease, cure insomnia, control blood pressure, release stress, aid in weight loss and others. Makhana has immense health benefits and more incentives for the farmers and secondary processing units will go a long way to increase the production in the makhana clusters of Bihar.
Written by Lakshmi Subramanian
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