Palmyra Sprouts Flour / பனங்கிழங்கு மாவு / ஒடியல் மாவு is a forgotten produce native to Tamil Nadu. It is grown from the seeds of the fruits of the magnificent Palmyra trees / பனை மரம். Palmyra trees are referred to as Karpagatharu (கற்பகதரு) in Sangam literature for the tremendous number of useful products the tree has to offer to mankind.
The Palmyra fruits / பனம்பழம் start falling from the tree after maturing in the month of July every year. The loud thuds from the falls scare a lot of birds elliciting a cacophony from the peacocks especially. It ends up catching our attention because it is a time when there is not major cultivation happening at the farm. It is a sign for us to start gathering them – after identifying a spot under a dense tree’s shade to sow them collectively.
My appa has taken the annual responsibility to collect palm fruits from all of the land that we own. At his age of 72, it is a wonder to watch him to be physically active carrying so much weight every time. I worry occasionally. But the tough upbringing in the village Kadayam that he experienced during his childhood in an age of minimal technology has ensured that he is fit at his core. He lets me know when he gets tired from carrying them.
Of course, the fruits start forming only if the inflorescence is not cut for tapping padaneer and fruit / நுங்கு aren’t harvested in the tender stage. So, these trees are skipped during our bi-weekly rounds.
For trees that are in common lands or in lands that are not actively managed, there is quite a bit of friendly and occasional not-so-friendly competition every morning among the village folk to get to the trees and collect the seeds that must have fallen the last 24 hours. Half of our farm is fenced – the bounds are clearly demarcated as a result – so we can collect these seeds at our leisure. Not too much leisure also, because the seeds start germinating with the right conditions of rain and soil within the first week. We want the seeds to germinate in the raised beds not here and there.
The fruits of the trees that are not protected from forest animals invite sloth bears and wild boars right away. A beautiful aroma is released when the fruits fall from the tall heights and break open. And these forest dwellers chew the fruit extraction the pulp leaving only the fibrous insides and seeds about. We care only about the seeds for Palmyra sprouts. So, we thank our forest friends for their service. Because, after the flesh has been sucked off all its moist pulp, the seed becomes much lighter in weight, making it easy for us to carry it back to the cultivation spot.
Sowing and cultivation
Fruits from the ~100 trees at our farm mature and fall at different months between July and October. Once sufficient number of seeds are collected, usually a batch of 500, a raised bed is made with sandy soil. The reason sandy soil is preferred is because the harvesting becomes much more easy when the soil is loose. The soil nutrition requirements for germination of the Palmyra seed are not much. So, often, in the absence of sandy soil, manufactured-sand (m-sand) that is used in construction is used to make the raised beds.
Sanmugasundaram, from Agasthiyarpuram, who has joined us at the farm for daily work after Seshaiyya’s demise last year made the raised beds along with some occasional help from others. After the raised beds of about a feet high are made, the seeds are placed on the beds densely next to each other. Some soil is then spread over the seeds to cover them up. North east monsoon arrives in Tamil Nadu by the time this activity is completed. So, there is no motorized irrigation or flood irrigation from ponds needed for the entire cultivation duration of 3 months of this crop.
During the festival of Pongal is when the harvest of Palmyra sprouts is done. Once harvested by men, it is either sold in the raw form. Or it is boiled along with salt and turmeric and sold in the boiled form in the streets and daily markets of villages and small towns.
The Making of Palmyra Sprouts Flour
Processing after harvest i.e. peeling, boiling, cutting and sun drying is done by the women from Agasthiyarpuram : Arokyam and Aaramathai. Check this video out for a summary of the processing 🙂
There is no mechanization / automation / involved from cultivation to harvest to processing of this product – zero, zilch, nada. Unlike grains such as rice which are now a lazy man’s crop, the making of Palmyra Sprouts Flour is a labour intensive process to collect seeds, make raised beds, harvest, peel, boil, cut, dry. It doesn’t need any tractor, fertilizer use or pesticide use in its 3 months life from seed cultivation to harvest to processing. So, it has a negligible carbon footprint – minimal greenhouse gas emissions. Most of the emissions are only from packaging and transporting it to you!
It is rich in fibre and has medium glycemic index – so it is a good addition in diets for diabetic patients, pregnant women and lactating mothers. A friendly warning : Palmyra Sprouts is an acquired taste, because of the mild bitter taste. So, our general recommendation for first time users of this ingredients is to use this in combination with other flours, batter, doughs.
It can be used along with millet flours to make porridge – with or without milk. Adding a sweetener, fruits and nuts rounds it up to a hearty filling breakfast dish. It can be added in small quantities to chapathi dough and idli, dosai batter to add fibre to your meals. Desserts such as barfi, halwa taste amazing especially when made along with another one of the tree’s produce – Palmyra Jaggery.
Available for sale from Vaanavil Farm
While Palmyra sprouts is available in villages of Tamil Nadu and in certain shops in the cities during winter. By processing it into flour, we wanted to make it accessible to more people and for more time by milling it and as a result extending it’s shelf life by a few months.
Only a couple of batches are produced every year in the months of January and February. So, only limited stock is available.
Some of you might wonder about the expensive price tag of the flour. Most of the price will be used to pay wages of the women and men who make this possible. And not to the petrol, tractor, fertilizer, pesticides companies which is usually the case with mass-produced, high-ecological-footprint food. Think of the price that you pay for good nutritious food to be a payment towards good health, compassionate economies and a lower carbon footprint.