Not given its due

Though it is present every­where, peo­ple tend to miss the su­per­food kulfa

Down to Earth - - CONTENTS - ANITA TIKOO MATANGE

The Kulfa plant is not given im­por­tance de­spite be­ing a su­per­food that is abun­dantly avail­able

LAST SUM­MER, I found a kulfa plant grow­ing pro­fusely at the base of a wall near my house. Since it was not likely to es­cape the mali’s (gar­dener) weed­ing hands much longer, I pulled it out and car­ried it home to cook. When I took out the plant from the pa­per bag, I found hun­dreds of rat­tling seeds that I planted in my gar­den. Now I have a pro­fu­sion of plump kulfa avail­able at home to en­joy.

Kulfa (Por­tu­laca ol­er­acea) is na­tive to In­dia and has been a part of Asian and Mediter­ranean di­ets for a long time. Ma­hatma Gandhi is known to have favoured it in his raw food diet. Known by var­i­ous names— luni bhaji in Ut­tar Pradesh, nonia in Mad­hya Pradesh and nunar in Kash­mir—this suc­cu­lent herb with its mildly sour leaves is cul­ti­vated and con­sumed widely across the coun­try. In Greek and Turk­ish cuisines, it is com­monly used in sal­ads and is an im­por­tant in­gre­di­ent in fat­toush, the colour­ful salad pop­u­lar all over the Mid­dle East.

Medic­i­nal bounty

All parts of the plant—leaves, stems, flow­ers and seeds—are edi­ble. The sour taste in kulfa comes from malic acid, which hi-

des an in­ter­est­ing at­tribute of this plant. As an adap­ta­tion to arid con­di­tions, the plant keeps its stom­ata closed dur­ing the day. It uses the cras­su­lacean acid me­tab­o­lism or the cam path­way to fix at­mo­spheric car­bon diox­ide (CO2) dur­ing the night. The leaves trap CO2 and con­vert it into malic acid. Dur­ing the day, this malic acid is bro­ken down to pro­vide CO2, which is then con­verted to glu­cose. That’s why kulfa har­vested in the morn­ing is likely to be more tart—by as much as six times—than that har­vested in the after­noon.

Kulfa is, in fact, a won­der plant full of vi­ta­mins and mi­cronu­tri­ents. It is a rich source of di­etary fi­bre, min­er­als, and vi­ta­mins A, B com­plex, C and E. The lev­els of vi­ta­min E and beta carotene found in kulfa are six times more than what is found in spinach or car­rots. Just like spinach, kulfa has high lev­els of ox­alates and those sen­si­tive to ox­alates or those with kid­ney stones should avoid con­sum­ing it in the raw form. Cook­ing, how­ever, neu­tralises the ox­alic acid to a large ex­tent. The plant has more omega-3 fatty acids than any other leafy veg­etable.

It also has high lev­els of al­pha li­noeic acid (ala) as well as eicos­apen­taenoic acid (epa)—es­sen­tial fatty acids found only in fish oil and some al­gae. The hu­man body con­verts ala to epa, but cer­tain med­i­cal con­di­tions, in­clud­ing al­ler­gies, limit the hu­man body’s abil­ity to metabolise epa from ala. The trace amounts of epa found in wild kulfa are more than those found in any other known plant-based source, so its sig­nif­i­cance in veg­e­tar­ian di­ets and for di­a­bet­ics can­not be un­der­stated. The high level of potas­sium found in kulfa aids me­tab­o­lism and im­proves di­ges­tion. The slight mu­cilagi­nous na­ture of the plant nour­ishes the skin and the soft tis­sues in the eyes. A poul­tice made from the leaves can be ap­plied di­rectly on the skin to soothe bug bites.

Mul­ti­ple choices

The thick, slightly sour leaves of kulfa taste good in sal­ads and can be added to juices. It can be also sautéed or steamed. Kulfa has high amounts of pectin that helps thicken soups and stews. You can eat it raw or cook it lightly to de­rive the max­i­mum health ben­e­fits. Kulfa seeds can also be sprouted and eaten as a mi­cro­green, but for that, the seeds picked from the wild are prefer­able.

You can gather the seed cap­sules from the plants late sum­mer when the seeds are ma­tur­ing, but just be­fore the cap­sules burst. Store them in a pa­per bag where they will burst and re­lease the tiny black seeds. Th­ese seeds must be planted in soil rich in min­er­als (and not peat moss) to en­sure that the plant too is rich in th­ese min­er­als.

This com­mon weed grows freely in gar­dens and even through the cracks of walls. It cov­ers the ground and cre­ates a moist mi­cro­cli­mate in gar­dens and its deep roots make nu­tri­ents and mois­ture avail­able to other plants with shal­low roots.

The hardy plant needs lit­tle wa­ter, which makes it highly drought-tol­er­ant and easy to grow. It be­longs to the same genus as the or­na­men­tal Por­tu­laca gran­di­flora grown for its colour­ful flow­ers. It is a pity that a plant that should be re­garded as a su­per­food is treated as a weed by many of us, which is ev­i­dent from the var­i­ous names given to it—duck­weed, fatweed and pig­weed. (The au­thor is a prac­tic­ing land­scape ar­chi­tect, an eco­log­i­cal plan­ner

and a food blog­ger)

Kulfa has more omega-3 fatty acids than any other leafy veg­etable. The lev­els of vi­ta­min E and beta carotene in this plant are six times more than what is found in spinach or car­rots and it aids in di­ges­tion

The thick, slightly sour leaves of kulfa taste good in daals, sal­ads as well as in juices PHO­TO­GRAPHS: ANITA TIKOO MATANGE

Kulfa is a com­pan­ion plant as it cov­ers the ground and cre­ates a moist mi­cro­cli­mate

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