In the shad­ows

De­spite hav­ing im­mense nu­tri­tive and medic­i­nal prop­er­ties, the rice bean is a lesser­known pulse CHITRA BALASUBRAMANIAM

Down to Earth - - CONTENTS - free­lance jour­nal­ist. Among other things, she writes on un­usual food)

De­spite its nu­tri­tive and medic­i­nal prop­er­ties, rice beans are not widely known

WHEN I re­cently vis­ited the Kisan Mela at the Pusa In­sti­tute in New Delhi, I met Soumyadipta Roy of Lu­nar Agro Prod­ucts from Tin­sukia, As­sam. I had in­ter­acted with him ear­lier for an ar­ti­cle. “I am try­ing to pro­mote naga dal,” he said. He took me to his stall and pointed to a bas­ket of beans, which looked like ra­jma, but was few shades paler. Rinita Thiyam of Green Foun­da­tion, Imphal, who was also at the mela, said it was rice beans.

Roy, an erst­while pi­lot, has been work­ing in re­mote ar­eas of the North­east to pro­mote agro-prod­ucts. He was mar­ket­ing the rice beans for Paul Longsaola, who owns the brand Poumai. She works out of a small town called Se­na­p­ati in Ma­nipur. Usu­ally the beans are avail­able only in the lo­cal mar­ket as it is not known out­side the area. Due to lit­tle aware­ness, Roy had to dis­pose of about 2 met­ric tonnes of this rice bean as there were no buy­ers.

The bean has a num­ber of va­ri­eties, which are dif­fer­ent in colour and size. It is known by dif­fer­ent names— rice bean (Vigna um­bel­late), climb­ing moun­tain bean, mambi bean, orien-

tal bean and chakhawai in Ma­nipuri. In Nepal, it is called masyang, and in Ut­tarak­hand, it is known as

nau­rangi dal. But the size of the dal from Ut­tarak­hand is very small as com­pared to the size of the bean from the North­east.

“Nau­rangi sug­gests that this crop has nine colours of grains. In Ut­tarak­hand, it is usu­ally cul­ti­vated under the multi-crop sys­tem in medium to high al­ti­tude hilly ar­eas where other pulse crops fail to grow. It is a ro­bust species of pulses which can tol­er­ate drought as well as ex­ces­sive rain,” says Deven­der Singh Negi, who heads the State Train­ing Cen­tre for Or­ganic Farm­ing in Ma­jkhali, Ranikhet dis­trict, Ut­tarak­hand. It is also re­sis­tant to grain pests and has a longer shelf life. “The plant spreads over the ground with high den­sity of leaves and vine. Thus, it con­trib­utes to soil con­ser­va­tion as it pro­tects the soil from the di­rect ex­po­sure of sun and rain and re­tains mois­ture,” says Negi.

The rice bean is said to have orig­i­nated in Asia. It is found in In­dia and central China in the wild. It was in­tro­duced in Egypt by the Arabs. It is now be­ing cul­ti­vated in Asia, the US, Aus­tralia and trop­i­cal Africa. In Mada­gas­car, the flour of dried ger­mi­nated rice bean seeds is given as food to chil­dren. Longsaola says, “Plant­ing usu­ally be­gins in July and har­vest­ing is done in October-Novem­ber. The time to plant and har­vest varies from area to area.”

Nu­tri­tive ben­e­fits

Lo­cal peo­ple be­lieve the taste of the bean gets bet­ter with in­creas­ing al­ti­tude. Prob­a­bly that is the rea­son the North­east is a trea­sure trove of beans un­known to those liv­ing in the plains. A study by the Na­tional Bureau of Plant Ge­netic Re­sources, New Delhi, says it is one of the best va­ri­eties of pulses as it has a high amount of pro­tein and amino acids such as tryp­to­phan and me­thio­n­ine. The bean is used both as a food as well as fod­der for an­i­mals. A study pub­lished in the Jour­nal

of Food Sci­ence in De­cem­ber 2012 says the rice bean is an un­der­utilised legume and is nutri­tion­ally richer than other beans of the fam­ily. It can cure men­strual issues and epilepsy and has anti-in­flam­ma­tory prop­er­ties. The seeds are also rich in fi­bre.

The cook­ing of rice beans is sim­i­lar to ra­jma. But un­like ra­jma, it does not ab­sorb spices eas­ily. The bean has a bland taste. The seeds are ver­sa­tile and can be used to make the south In­dian dish, sun­dal, with the usual sea­son­ing of mus­tard seeds, green chill­ies and co­conut. In cer­tain Nepalese com­mu­ni­ties, rice bean forms an in­te­gral part of mar­riage cer­e­monies and hence it has cul­tural and re­li­gious sig­nif­i­cance.

Thiyam told me there are sev­eral tra­di­tional Ma­nipuri recipes that use the rice bean. Apart from be­ing used to pre­pare singju (salad), eronba (chut­ney) and kang­soi (veg­etable stew), rice bean is also cooked as a soup and rice bean curry. Usu­ally, lit­tle or no spice is added to the boiled beans. It is also teamed up with fish and meat and spiced up with only raja mirchi or bhut

jolokia. Rice beans in Ut­tarak­hand are used as a stuff­ing in paran­thas.„ (The writer is a Delhi-based

Rice beans are nutri­tion­ally richer than other beans of the fam­ily. It can cure men­strual issues and epilepsy and has an­ti­in­flam­ma­tory prop­er­ties

The rice bean is a ro­bust species of pulses which can tol­er­ate both drought as well as ex­ces­sive rain

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