Taste of tradition: Why Udangudi’s palm jaggery needs a stamp of recognition

Nahla Nainar

The latest utility for a GI tag for palm jaggery produced in Udangudi, Thoothukudi district, has refocussed consideration on this historical, pure sweetener that was as soon as exported to Malaysia, Singapore, Sri Lanka and Britain.

Commonly used as a kitchen ingredient and a element of Ayurvedic medicines in southern India, in its heyday, Udangudi jaggery was traded in almost 500 retailers within the close by market cities of Madurai and Tirunelveli.

“Udangudi palm jaggery (additionally identified domestically as Udangudi panangarupatti) is a product of its distinctive topography. Due to low rainfall, the red-dune sand on this space has much less moisture. So the sap of the palmyra timber is extra viscous. And not like different areas, the place the earthen pots to gather the sap are coated with industrial lime to stop fermentation, right here seashells dissolved in water are used because the liming agent. This offers the jaggery a salty aftertaste,” says Usha Raja Nanthini, affiliate professor and head, Department of Biotechnology, Mother Teresa University (MTU), Kodaikanal.

The tutorial is a key member of the staff together with R Srinivasan, secretary, Tamil Nadu State Council for Science and Technology, and Tirunelveli District Palmyra Products Cooperative, that utilized for GI certification for the normal product earlier this month.

Palm rising has been prevalent on this coastal area particularly among the many Nadar group, as soon as related to the Chola rulers within the 12th Century, once they migrated down South.

The palmyra forests made toddy and non-alcoholic palm sap (padaneer) tapping a key career in Thoothukudi district, and information seen by the GI tag candidates additionally point out the export of Udangudi palm jaggery on March 7, 1526, by a Portuguese dealer by means of the previous Kayal harbour.

An period of remixes

At current, Udangudi palm jaggery employs round 10,000 households in a cottage business that’s utterly reliant on handbook labour.

“Unlike coconut trees that start bearing fruit within four years, palmyra needs at least 15 years to become useful to the farmer. The trees that are being tapped today are all above 20 years’ vintage,” says Winston Prabhu Immanuel, a 37-year-old palmyra farmer and jaggery producer based mostly in Udangudi.

Getting a GI tag can be most useful to folks like Winston, who arrange his web site udangudikarupatti.com to complement his family-run retailer after jaggery adulterated with cane sugar crystals began flooding the market in recent times.

Railway with a syrupy previous

  • “After the profitable marketing campaign to get a GI tag for the malai poondu (mountain garlic) grown in Kodaikanal final 12 months, I used to be keen to seek out a related product that wanted certification to protect its originality,” says Usha Raja Nanthini, affiliate professor and head, Department of Biotechnology, Mother Teresa University (MTU), Kodaikanal. “Being a native of Kanyakumari district, I felt Udangudi palm jaggery would be appropriate.”
  • With the assist of MTU vice-chancellor Videhi Vijayakumar and registrar A Suganthi, Usha spent three months researching the origins of this jaggery. “We realised that though it is called Udangudi palm jaggery, the manufacturing is spread out in 10 to 15 villages around here,” says Usha.
  • According to her analysis, the Pandyan-era port metropolis of Kulasekarapattinam (roughly 5 kilometres from Udangudi) grew to become the centre of the British sugar firm East India Distilleries and Sugar Factories (EID) Parry, which used palm jaggery syrup because the chief uncooked materials of its confectionery plant at Nellikuppam.
  • In the early 1900s, the corporate shifted operations completely to Kulasekarapattinam to cut back the manufacturing price. The jaggery made right here was being exported to Britain, says Usha.
  • As commerce elevated, an unique 46 kilometres-long Kulasekarapattinam Light Railway (KLR) line was laid to gather and transport palm sap and labourers to the manufacturing facility.
  • For villages that have been off the KLR route, EID Parry constructed cement tanks to gather the sap. “The enterprise was flourishing until the Indian Independence movement strengthened in the South. The factory was closed down in 1946 due to anti-British sentiment,” says Usha.

While real Udangudi palm jaggery prices ₹380 to ₹400 per kilogram, the remixed ‘originals’ are priced between ₹140 to ₹150 per kilogram. “Going online has helped us find new customers, but the business is still focussed on offline trading,” says Winston, who sells round 100 kilograms of jaggery monthly at his retailer in Udangudi, principally to natural drugs makers.

Tapping the sap

This 12 months’s lockdown has hit manufacturing primarily as a result of of the restriction on inter-State motion of labourers. “Palm tree climbing is a traditional skill that has died out in our area; we have been using climbers from Kerala for tapping the sap during the months of March to August, which has not happened this year due to the lockdown,” says Winston.

A climber can scale as much as 30 to 40 of these towering palms in a day, first to position the earthen pot on the shaved meristem on the apex of the tree the night earlier than, after which again the subsequent morning to gather the sugar-rich sap.

“Climbers can collect up to 500-1,000 litres on a good day. The juice is boiled in a wide-mouthed iron skillet, on an open fire stove, with dried palmyra branches being used as firewood,” says Winston.

The syrup is diminished to a thick liquid after almost 5 hours. “One needs to monitor this step carefully, because overcooking can burn jaggery,” he provides.

The sizzling syrup is poured into coconut shells, with a giant muslin sheet performing as a strainer. Once cooled, solidified jaggery comes away simply from its mould in a semi-circular dome.

Fresh jaggery is crumbly, and dissolves sooner than older inventory, says Winston. “Storing the jaggery isn’t easy, because it melts quickly in the heat. So we build loft-like sheds and ensure that the jaggery mounds are kept at room temperature there until they are ready for sale. Even then, after six months, a 5000 kilogram load will weigh only 4500 kilos, because of the loss of moisture,” he says.

Workers making ready karuppatti (palm jaggery) at Anthoniyarpuram in Thoothukudi. Photo: N. Rajesh/THE HINDU

Fight for authenticity

What can a GI tag do to enhance Udangudi palm jaggery? “Udangudi jaggery is getting adulterated with other varieties and being sold as the real thing,” says Srinivasan, of the Tamil Nadu State Council for Science and Technology.

He provides, “a GI tag will help the cooperatives from 15 villages in and around Udangudi that are involved in the production of the jaggery. It will be a mark of standardisation.”

But it might not be the one factor that may revive flagging gross sales, as will be seen within the case of Kerala’s Marayur sugarcane jaggery that earned a GI tag final 12 months. While the tag ensured a worth of ₹70 per kilo, apart from bulk orders from international patrons and luxurious accommodations, insufficient advertising and the lockdown led to prices getting slashed to ₹58 per kilo. Jaggery makers from Tamil Nadu have been unable to journey to Marayur, as a consequence of which many sugarcane fields have remained unharvested.

With inputs from Giji Ok Raman

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