In the last few months, another black rice variety from Manipur is gaining popularity among Chennaiites. Though there are many Manipur rice varieties, the black rice ones called chak hao poireiton and chak hao amubi are the most sought-after rice varieties. Former cancer researcher Senthil Kumar Balu, who bakes desserts, recently made a fruit cake with chak hao poireiton.
“When I started baking with coloured rice varieties, I tried both black and red rice variants. Black rice in general has a lot of health benefits — it is rich in anthocyanin antioxidants and has wide functionality. One can bake cookies, brownies and cakes and make dishes like pudding, payasam and pongal with chak hao poireiton. This sticky textured rice is rich in fibre and it usually turns deep purple when cooked due to its anthocyanin content. This grain has disease-fighting antioxidants and prevents diabetes, cancer and heart disease,” says Senthil.
The literal meaning of chak hao is ‘delicious rice’ (chak — rice; hao-delicious). One serving of black rice offers a high amount of flavanoid phytonutrients, mineral content such as iron and copper.
It is also a good source of plantbased protein. “The two Manipur rice varieties are sticky and there is not much difference in taste. Consumption of black-pigmented rice detoxifies the body. These rice varieties are a great healthy option that can be added in your diet. I procure Manipur black rice varieties from Spirit of the Earth. Another rice that variety that is becoming popular is Bora rice from Assam,” he adds.
A lot of research has been done on how coloured (pigmented) rice, be it black or red, has more nutritional benefits when compared to white polished rice. Division of Biochemistry at the Indian Agricultural Research Institute in New Delhi has published a research paper on how the pigmented rice help in increasing immunity. City-based Spirit of the Earth that promotes heritage rice sells chak hao poireiton and chak hao amubi.
“People have understood that to fight any virus, they have to build immunity. There is an awareness and consumers are conscious of what they buy and eat. Since rice is a staple food, many are making a conscious decision to chose traditional rice varieties. Both chak hao poireiton and chak hao amubi look very similar, are extremely sticky and sleek in texture. They also have a natural sweetness,” says Jayanthi Somasundaram from Spirit of the Earth.
Their rice is cultivated in a village called Manjakkudi in Tiruvarur district. Jayanthi recollects that in the past one and a half years people have started buying black rice.
“People are aware that it is healthy — a lot of them are buying it to make kanji, salad, and some even consume the rice for meals. All kitchens should have some amount of black rice. One should try and include it once a week or once in 15 days in their diet. We are used to eating white polished rice and most of us don’t chew the rice. Pigmented rice has to be chewed. It might take time to get acquainted with the taste. Visit our website spiritoftheearth.in to know more about artisanal heritage rice varieties,” she adds.
In Manipur, these varieties were reserved for community feasts and ceremonial purposes. In some parts, a special snack called ‘Uton Chak’(rice cooked in bamboo tubes) is still served using the chak hao grain.