What is Makhana and how it is produced?
Makhana is a nutritious and healthy superfood, a very commonly used ingredient in Indian households for over 100 years. This white ball is also known as Phool Makhana, Popped Lotus Seeds, Popped Water Lily Seeds, Gorgon nut or fox nut. This is produced from an aquatic crop that has large floating leaves that produce bright purple flowers on the surface of the pond.
Though traditionally distribution of Makhana is limited to subtropical and tropical regions in Southeast and East Asia, its business is in demand in India, Korea, Japan, China, Russia, United Kingdom, and Bangladesh as well. Now, Makhana is popular all across the world. Makhana cultivation is difficult and intense.
Makhana Cultivation & Harvesting:
Lotus seed or water lily plants germinate from the leftovers of the previous season. December-January is the phase of sprouting and early leaves arrive on the pond surface during January and February. After two months, the whole water surface gets covered with huge thorny leaves floating on the surface. Flowering starts in April which maximizes during May.
After this, the lotus seeds or water lily flowers stay afloat for a couple of days and then submerge into the water. Fruiting starts from the mid of May, and on average, a plant yields around 450 to 700 grams of seeds. The fruits burst inside the water, and the seeds float for a few days before they drown to the bottom of the pond. After fruiting, the huge leaves are cut down or left to decay in the soil as they enrich the soil. The seeds that are scattered at the bottom of the pond are collected manually during August and October. Harvesting is carried forward by diving deep inside the water, a process that is yet again a strenuous task.
Since Lotus seeds are accumulated at the bottom of the pond, they are covered with many contaminants like dirt, seashells, mud, plants, etc. This makes the cleaning process very crucial for obtaining high purity seeds. The final product's quality depends upon this process so this certainly cannot be overlooked.
Cleaned lotus seeds are then sun-dried up to 31% moisture content for the ease of temporary storage and moisture content. Storage of lotus or water lily seeds poses a problem for the harvesters as it cannot be stored for long at ambient conditions. Sprinkling water at regular intervals is necessary to keep the nuts fresh.
Lotus or water lily seeds are then graded between 5 to 7 grades according to their size. Grading is important because it facilitates uniform heating of each nut during the roasting process.
Makhana Roasting & Popping:
The sun-dried nuts are usually heated in cast iron pan or earthen pitcher by placing them on fire and maintaining continuous stirs. After this process, the moisture content of the seeds reduces to around 20%, and they are kept for tempering in pots/basket for 45-72 hours.
Popping and roasting are the most difficult operations of makhana processing. Polishing of makhana is done immediately after popping as it may absorb moisture and make polishing difficult afterward. Polishing provides more whiteness to the popped makhana. They are then graded differently, like Rasgulla, Thurri, and Samundha, and are packed in gunny bags.