Delicious and crispy makhanas are a nutritional snack! Ever wondered How does Makhana Grow in India? This detailed article will reveal all the details!
Belonging to the Nymphaeaceae family, Makhana is a perennial plant classified as an aquatic crop. It grows in stagnant water like ponds, swamps, and wetlands in the tropical climatic areas. It produces edible seeds or makhana that find extensive uses in Indian cuisines.
A single plant can produce up to 80-100 makhana seeds. This aquatic plant bears a purple flower at the prickly stalk, with flattened, rounded green leaves that float on the water surface. Let’s have a look at How does Makhana Grow in India.
Botanical Name: Euryale ferox
Other Names: Prickly waterlily, Foxnut, Gorgon nut, Makhana, Prickly lotus
Where Does Makhana Come From?
In India, makhana cultivation occurs in West Bengal, Bihar, Manipur, Tripura, Assam, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, and UP. But, Bihar alone is the largest producer of Makhana, with 90% of overall production worldwide.
How Does Makhana Grow in India?
Traditional Pond Cultivation
This is one of the most common cultivation that takes place in India. In ponds or swampy wastelands, the seeds are sown from the seeds left from the previous harvest. The depth of the pond can be around 4-6 feet and must have stagnant water. No need for techniques like seedling transplant or seed sowing in traditional cultivation.
Many research institutes are working towards the feasible farming of Makhana. The agricultural water fields are prepared with 1-2 feet depth. The makhana seedlings are initially prepared like other nursery plants and transplanted in the water field between February to April. Applying pesticides and fertilizer are much easier in fields, which is not the case with pond cultivation.
The most tedious work in makhana cultivation is the harvesting. It calls for the collection of seeds from the mud lying at the bottom of the pond or field. In the case of field cultivation, the harvesting is much feasible as the field’s height is only 1 foot. But, the pond requires skilled laborers.
From August to October, the skilled divers, known as Mallah, perform this job during the morning, between 6 to 11. They need to hold their breath for some time and dive to the bottom of the pond. They fetch the mud from the base using palms and make heaps near bamboo poles known as Kaara. Mallahs collect the smaller seeds floating on the water using nets. The divers later filter the seeds from mud using bamboo screens called Ganjaa.
Processing of Makhana Seeds
Sun Drying and Storing
The seeds are dried under full sun exposure to evaporate the moisture. It releases up to 31% of the moisture. Then the makhana can be temporarily stored for max 20-24 days. In between, is it sprinkled with water to maintain freshness.
Sun-dried seeds are divided from 5 to 7 grades based upon their size. Cultivators use a set of sieves for this purpose. This classifying of seeds ensures better heating and roasting.
The seeds are heated on an earthen or cast iron pan at 250° C – 3000° C temperature. It requires continuous stirring and heating for 4-6 minutes.
Heated seeds are stored at a dry place for 3-4 days. They naturally lose the inner edible part of makhana (kernel) from the outer hard shell.
The seeds are again heated in the pan at 2900° C to 3400° C temperature. They are put in a single layer and continually stirred. In around 2 minutes, the seeds start popping. Then, after putting on the ground, using a wooden hammer processor, beats the seeds to separate and extract the kernel from the hard coating.
The kernel or Makhana are rubbed against a bamboo basket for imparting whiteness and crispiness.
Grading and Packaging
Then, further grading of kernel or makhana occurs according to the sizes and packed into gunny bags for storing and transporting.
Limitations of Traditional Cultivation
Harvesting and processing of makhana is a tedious task and asks for extreme labor work. Due to the lack of proper technology, the processing is manual. While processing, the heating may cause skin burn. Whereas during harvesting, the diver has to hold his breath, and the mud enters into his eye or ears, causing skin problems.
Note: Many research centers like ICAR RCER are developing new methods for convenient harvesting, processing, and Makhana Farming in India.
Benefits of Eating Makhana
People relish makhana by stir-frying it with ghee and sprinkling some salt and spices. The nutritious makhana contains many minerals and vitamins, including vitamin B1, carotene, iodine, iron, phosphorous, potassium, and calcium.
Its regular consumption keeps the blood pressure in check. Furthermore, it keeps the digestion and arthritis problems at bay and aids in relieving insomnia.