The great Kashmiri nut

It is slowly but inexorably spreading throughout the lakes of Kashmir valley.

Khalid Gul

ALI ABAS WANI

Come winter and you see markets with full of water chestnuts - a sweet and aromatic nut from Kashmir. Due to the sweet, tender and delicious taste, cooked water chestnut is one of the popular starchy desserts. Oxford dictionary defines ‘water chestnut’ as the crisp and white-fleshed tuber of tropical sedge used in oriental cookery. Water caltrop an aquatic plant with small white flowers produces an edible rounded seed with three large projecting horns known as water chestnut. Water chestnut (Trapa natans) locally known as Gaer is an aquatic angiospermic plant found commonly on the water surfaces of lakes and ponds. It is slowly but inexorably spreading throughout the lakes of Kashmir valley. Water chestnut kernel, triangular in shape, is covered with dark brown skin with small spikes at the top. The outer cover of the kernel is hard, making it difficult to peel off to obtain the white meat (edible portion) inside. Its main root system adheres in the muddy soils at the bottom of the pond and is connected with floating leaves by herbaceous stems in water body. In India it is grown mainly for human consumption either in the form of vegetable, dried to make flour to prepare flattened bread called chapatti or in the shape of sweet dishes in many kinds according to individual’s taste.
Importance of water chestnut in Kashmir dates back to times of Sir Walter Lawrence when the main crop of the valley was destroyed due to floods in 1893; the flour of Singhara (Water chestnut) saved people from starvation. Water chestnut is an important commodity in food industry because of its unique taste. In Kashmir it is mostly eaten like nuts, dry or roasted.  The fruit is used as substitute for cereals in Indian subcontinent during fasting days. The fruits are usually eaten raw at tender stage and sometimes after boiling and roasting. It compares well with other foods and is a good source of carbohydrates, proteins and essential minerals. The dark brown corms (whole fruit) are peeled before cooking or canning.
The nuts are considered by the natives of Punjab and North-west to have a cooling effect and useful against bilious infections and diarrhoea. It has been possible to isolate gallic acid from the Singhara nuts, which is used for the preparation of medicines against stomach cancer. Ethanolic extract of nuts has anti-tumor activity. According to Unani system of medicine it is appetizer and useful in chronic fever, thirst, pain, sore-throat, biliousness, bronchitis etc.
Water chestnuts are known to possess a remarkable nutritional composition, which makes them an excellent food source that can be a dietary staple. For this reason, they are set apart from all the other nuts. The best part is that they are free of any cholesterol and are almost fat-free. They are also gluten-free. They have a white and crispy flesh and small, rounded corms that can also be eaten raw. Water chestnuts are a popular ingredient in the Chinese cuisine.
Wular Lake, the largest fresh water lake in South Asia is the biggest producer of water chestnuts in the Himalayan state. Water chestnuts are cheaply available and can be promising with regards to the starch content and other nutrients. Efforts need to be taken to commercialize the extraction process and its sale in the market. Effective and judicious system will surely be a boon to the local populace engaged with the industry. 
Khalid Gul is a Doctoral Fellow in Food Process Engineering and Dr Ali Abas Wani is Sr. Scientist at Centre for Life & Food Sciences, Technical University of Munich, Germany. Authors have inter alia researched on water chestnuts and have a couple of publications on possible applications of water chestnuts in food industry. Feedback at fud.biopolymer@gmail.com  

Lastupdate on : Fri, 4 Jan 2013 21:30:00 Makkah time
Lastupdate on : Fri, 4 Jan 2013 18:30:00 GMT
Lastupdate on : Sat, 5 Jan 2013 00:00:00 IST




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