Known for its pungency, lakhori is Uttarakhand's home-grown favourite
While researching about unusual spices from Uttarakhand, I came across yellow chillies or lakhori chillies or simply lakhor. With a sense of heightened curiosity, I talked to H C Joshi, managing director of Divine Agro Industries Limited, a company specialising in food from Uttarakhand. He sent me a generous quantity of lakhori. The pungency made me sneeze the moment I opened the bag. All he could tell me was that it was grown in Uttarakhand and was high in demand by namkeen (snack) manufacturers. To know more, I began a journey. Lakhori gets its name from the village where it is grown—Lakhouri situated on the Garhwal and Kumaon border. There are two types of lakhori—choti and badi (small and big). The choti measures 1.5 cm or less and the badi measures 2.5 cm to over 3 cm. It also grows in Nainital and Champawat.
According to Davender Singh Negi of the State Training Centre for Organic Farming, Ranikhet district, Uttarakhand, the state has 50-52 varieties of traditional chillies. Lakhori is the hottest, though its pungency has been on the decline in the last few years. It is grown like a commercial crop and many farmers do contract farming for spice companies. The chillies are plucked, and after the stalk is removed, it dried before it is sent to commercial establishments. Whatever is not sold is used in homes.
Despite its popularity, it has not been branded and it is sold largely as a generic product. Negi who hails from Kuri village, Tehri Garhwal, says, “A very interesting factor which we have witnessed is that when any other type of chilli is planted in this district, it soon acquires the property of lakhori. This is due to cross-pollination. Of course, there are exceptions, but in 95 per cent of cases, the other chilli crop loses its basic genetic characteristics and acquires that of the lakhori.”
In common parlance, lakhori is usually referred to as the one which is grown in large quantities, but no one knows where or how it is consumed since domestic consumption is very little. Intriguingly, its pungency or its SHU—Scoville Heat Units—is between 50,000 and 55,000. The Uttarakhand Organic Board helps farmers to cultivate as well as to market the crop. There are god-owns where the farmers can stock their products. Buyers from all over India descend to pick up the stock. The planting period for the chilli is May-June. The first picking starts in October and continues to December. After this, farmers convert the land to wheat farming. Many farmers work on a contractual basis with spice companies. It is much in demand in Andhra Pradesh, West Bengal and Tamil Nadu.
“The main qualities of lakhori are that it has more compacted seeds in comparison to other chilli pods and the tip of the chilli is not pointed. It is small in size and light yellow in colour. It is commercially preferred due to its pungency,” says Negi. It is very hot, so it is used in small quantities. The dried chillies are procured in large quantities by namkeen makers, who use it to flavour chips and namkeens.
Another factor which favours its use in namkeens is that the yellow colour of the chillies blends with the colour of the namkeen unlike red chillies―it does not change the colour of the namkeen. On the other hand, people in mountainous regions avoid consuming red chillies due to their belief that it is not good for their health. The yellow chilli is the right substitute. Nomadic communities also prefer to use these chillies.
“There has been a spurt in the monkey population in the hills. They tend to attack edible crops and plantations, especially fruits and vegetables. That’s why many farmers have taken to growing lakhori as monkeys do not touch it. Growing crops which are not eaten by monkeys is a safe option,” says Joshi. His company makes pickles out of fresh green lakhori chillies.
The taste of the dried chilli is akin to fresh chillies. Unlike the usual red dried chillies, it tastes refreshingly like fresh chillies and the pungency hits while chewing, and it is hot.
Lakhori has more seeds than other varieties and more powder is obtained after grinding. In comparison to the red chilli, the yellow chilli is good for digestion. According to a study, Chillies As Food, Spice And Medicine: A Perspective, chillies hold all the best properties for which it is considered a food. It has high levels of vitamin C (about twice that of citrus fruits). Even after cooking, it loses only 30 per cent of its vitamin C. Dried chillies have high levels of vitamin A too. It is also an effective agent against cancer.
I have used it to make podi or gun powder, which is consumed along with idlis and dosas in all south Indian homes.
(The writer is a Delhi-based freelance journalist. Among other things, she writes on unusual food)
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