You may have seen this white ball on your plate. Remember when you had dal-makhani or makhana kheer at the wedding. This white ball looking nut is very nutritious and healthy. Let’s dive into the world of the ocean full of knowledge now,
Gorgon nut or fox nut, commonly known as makhana, is an aquatic crop with large floating leaves, producing bright purple flowers. Botanically it is known as Euryale Ferox and it belongs to the family Nymphaeaceae.
The distribution of Makhana is limited to tropical and subtropical regions of South East and East Asia. However, it occurs in a wild form in Japan, Korea, Bangladesh, China, and Russia. Cultivation of Makhana is highly cumbersome, labor-intensive, and involves human drudgery while sweeping the bottom of the water body for seed collection. It is followed by the processing of raw seeds, which is an equally painstaking activity.
Cultivation and Harvesting of Makhana
Makhana plants germinate from the leftover seeds of the previous season. Sprouting takes place by December-January and the early leaves appear on the pond surface during January- February. During April-may, the entire water surface gets covered with huge, sprawling, and thorny leaves, which float on the surface of the water. Flowering begins in the month of April when the temperature is around 30 degrees Celsius and maximum flowering occurs in the month of May.
Makhana flowers stay afloat for two days and then submerge inside water. Fruiting begins by mid of May On average, a plant of makhana yields around 450-700 gm of seeds. Makhana fruits burst inside water during May-July and the seeds float in water for a day or two and then settle at the bottom of the pond. In local parlance, makhana seeds are called Guri. After fruiting, the gigantic leaves are cut and thrown out or left to decay, which enriches the soil health through the addition of organic nutrients. The scattered seeds at the bottom of the pond are collected manually during August – September. Harvesting of makhana seeds is done by diving deep inside the water. The process of collection is strenuous involving a thorough sweeping of the entire bottom floor of the water area. Sweeping of the floor, making heaps and their retrieval requires several dives inside the water that makes the job really painstaking.
The most important and crucial part of makhana processing is washing. Makhana seeds are covered with many specks of dirt like muds, seashells, tangled plants, Cleaning is a very cumbersome process the quality of the finished product depends upon the cleaning so, this process cannot be overlooked.
The cleaned nuts are sun-dried to an extent of around 31% moisture content for ease of transportation and temporary storage. The storage of gorgon nuts poses problems to the growers, as they cannot be stored for a longer period at ambient conditions. It is necessary to sprinkle water at regular intervals during the storage of nuts to keep them fresh.
The sundried nuts are then categorized into 5 to 7 grades according to their sizes by means of a set of sieves. Grading of gorgon nut facilitates uniform heating of each nut during roasting.
Roasting & Popping
The sun-dried nuts are generally heated in an earthen pitcher or cast iron pan by placing them over the fire and stirring them continuously. After preheating the nut, moisture content reduces to approximately 20%. The pre-heated seeds are kept for tempering in basket/pots for 45-72 hours. Tempering of seeds facilitates the loosening of kernels within the hard seed coats.
Roasting and popping are the most painstaking operations of makhana processing. Makhana seeds are heated in iron pans over the fire at 2905 degree Celsius to 340 degree Celsius surface temperature with continuous stirring. When a crackling sound is heard, 5-7 roasted seeds are scooped quickly by hand and kept on a hard surface and sudden impact force is applied on them by means of a wooden hammer. As the hard shell breaks, the kernel pops out in expanded form, which is called makhana
Polishing of makhana is done immediately after popping since popped makhana may absorb moisture and render polishing difficult. It is done by rubbing the action of makhana pops among themselves in bamboo baskets. Polishing facilitates more whiteness and luster to the makhana. After polishing, makhana is graded into 2-3 grades namely Rasgulla, Samundha, and Thurri. The graded makhana is then packed in gunny bags