Kai Chutney, Mayurbhanj and mission GI tag

Besides the tribals of Mayurbhanj, the red ant chutney is famous among the indigenous people of Bastar in Chhattisgarh as ‘Caprah’, and it becomes ‘demta,’ a tribal delicacy in the Chaibasa area of Jharkhand

Diwash Gahatraj September 18, 2022 11:51:50 IST
Kai Chutney, Mayurbhanj and mission GI tag

Red Weaver Ant. Image courtesy Muhammad Mahdi Karim/Wikimedia Commons

Kai Chutney of Mayurbhanj, is aiming to make a big leap from the remote tribal villages to the global food tables as the dish has applied for a Geographical Identification (GI) registration.

Red weaver ants, scientifically called Oecophylla smaragdina, are abundantly found in Mayurbhanj district of Odisha throughout the year and are also sold in the local bazaars wrapped in leaves of saal tree. These ants live in trees and have a unique nest weaving behaviour using the leaves of host trees. People often keep a safe distance from red weaver ants as their sting inflicts sharp pain and reddish bumps on the skin but in Mayurbhanj, which has a huge number of Adivasi population these ants are quite a delicacy. Eaten raw or in the form of a chutney, these ants are an important part of the tribal culinary habit.

“Larval and adult stages of the ants are preferred for the chutney which is ground with green chillies (dhanua lanka) and salt on a sila pua, a flat stone and a cylindrical grinding stone,” said Nayadhar Padhial, a PWD engineer from Baripada who is promoting kai chutney as a ‘super food’ for a long time. Padhial belongs to the Bathudi tribe. A popular tribe of the region who are known to eat the chutney for centuries if not more.

Touted as ‘superfood’ the weaver ant is known to boost immunity due to its high protein and vitamin content.

“For generations many indigenous people of the district have been eating kai chutney as a remedial cure for cold and fever. It is also eaten for its ability to improve eyesight,” said Jagannath Patra, a scientist from Mayurbhanj Krishi Vigyan Kendra.

Patra added that the paperwork and research for the GI was initiated early on but due to the pandemic it had to wait for more than two years.

Benefits of Entomophagy

Entomophagy refers to the human consumption of insects or bugs.

For centuries, humans have harvested the eggs, larvae, pupae and adults of certain insect species from forests or other suitable habitats, for the purpose of eating them. The farming of edible insects has traditionally occurred in Asian countries but in recent years, is becoming more common in other parts of the world.

Considering the world’s growing population and the increasing demand for the production of ‘traditional’ meat, edible insects may be considered a more common source of animal protein in the future. Breeding insects could also offer environmental advantages because of low greenhouse gas emissions, water pollution and land use impacts.

Bugs are a rich source of fibre and protein and as per the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), they are great for human and planetary health.

Entomophagy is not new for Asian and African cultures but the line between taboo and ‘disgust factor’ of eating creepy crawlers to the Western world is slowly getting blurred. According to media reports, the European Union is investing more than $4 million to research entomophagy as a human protein source.

Internationally, entomophagy has evolved from the ‘eww factor’ and few food entrepreneurs have taken it to the next level of the gourmet food category. For instance, Protein pasta which is made with cricket flour and cricket chips are getting a space in the food markets of the Western world.

Besides the tribals of Mayurbhanj, the red ant chutney is famous among the indigenous people of Bastar in Chhattisgarh as ‘Caprah’, and it becomes ‘demta,’ a tribal delicacy in the Chaibasa area of Jharkhand.

Bug eating is also popular in the northeastern part of India, Nyishi and Galo tribes of Arunachal Pradesh are known to eat dragonflies while in Manipur, in some years, when the bamboo blooms heavily and is attacked by large swarms of Udonga montana, these bugs are fried and eaten by few communities.

Meanwhile, Padmashri Dr Rajni Kant who has been working on Intellectual Property Rights and GI for decades feels, “There may be issues in future with the registration process as Kai Chutney is also popular in other tribal belts of the country. It would be crucial on how the facilitating body of the dish represents the product to the officials in Chennai, where the dish would be evaluated on several aspects like sustainability and historical evidences.”

According to the GI Registry official website, they have asked the Odisha University of Agriculture and Technology, the body which has registered the application to fulfil few deficiencies in the application of Kai Chutney.

Another indigenous product from Odisha-Koraput’s aromatic Kala jeera rice is also in queue for a GI push with the help of NABARD and the state government.

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