Wednesday, July 17, 2019

Char - Thy Seed is The King

Without doubt the char seed is the most coveted seed in India. Used as garnish and condiment the seed is also called chironji in Hindi. The astringent almond flavour taste acts as a neutralizer in extremely sugary concoctions. It is sprinkled straight or often roasted before use in Kheer, Penda, Halwa and other Indian sweets. 

The tree (buchnania lanzan) is called char in Hindi and it used to grow widespread in the jungles before denudation. I remember the super delicious sweet and sour fruit we used to collect few kilometers from our residence in Jabalpur. The savory fruit bearing trees are not available any more as they have been run down by urbanization, but the flavor remains in my memory bank. 

Like many other fruits from fruit bearing tree in India the delicacy was sold in local markets during the ripening season in dry summers. Not anymore, I hardly see them being sold in local bazaars as the production has gone down and now the seed is most precious commodity described as minor forest produce. Minor Forest Produce usually collected by the forest depatment are subject to trade in all our reserve forests except the PAs. The locals are employed in collection of minor forest produce thus according them with means of sustenance in the remote locations. 

The main beneficiaries are the locals but like the tendu patta or bidi leaf  (melanoxylon dyspros) the availability has become scarce and chironji is one of the most expensive commodity in the country.  The tree belongs to the Mango Family and the fruit is robust rounded about 10 mm in diameter reddish purple in color. Apart from taste it should be rich in antioxidants and minerals - to be ascertained.      

Char Trunk

The nearly squarish shaped extrusions on the trunk makes it easy to be identified.

The tree is found in Sal Forests, Dry Deciduous Mixed Forests as an associate and never abundant as in a grove or forming a canopy . It ranges up to Sub Himalayan Tract and down into Deccan.  It is found in the tiger reserves of Central India as well as the reserve forests.

The fruits ripen in dry summers and the kernel contains the seeds which have made it economically viable as an income source for the locals.
Uday works as a senior naturalist and blogs on tiger conservation wildlife, biodiveristy and environment.

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