Makhana or fox nut is widely grown in the Indian state of Bihar. This power packed nutritious food product belongs to the Nymphaeaceae family and has floating leaves and an emergent macrophyte. The beauty of phool makhana or prickly lily or fox nut is that it is largely grown organically across Indian states and other scattered pockets of the world. It is an organic food that does not require use of fertilizers or pesticides in its cultivation and harvesting.
Profiling of the Fox Nut Plant
|Plant Traits||Plant Attributes||Growth Conditions|
|Type of plant: Perennial & water based||Genus: Euryale||Required 6 or more hours of direct sun light|
|Leaf characteristics: Deciduous||Species: Ferox||Required clay, silt and sand soil texture|
|Form of plant: Oval||Family: Nymphaeaceae||Requires soil acid<6; Alkalinity>8|
|Use: seeds and fruits||Requires frequent standing water|
|Plant propagation: Seed|
|Place of origin: Northern & Eastern India, Russia, Far East|
The leaves of Euryale Ferox are floating, green and corrugated on the upper surface with deep purple at the lower surface. The leaves are supported by stout, prickly and porous ribs.
Life cycle of Makhana
Stage One: Cultivating Makhana
Makhana is cultivated in two systems:
In the traditional pond system cultivation process of this commercial crop includes first clearing the pond, then broadcasting the seeds, thinning of the over growth and filling the gaps, harvesting process and finally collecting the seeds. It is interesting to note that ponds that currently run under cultivate can do away with the broadcasting of seeds as saplings are automatically produced from the left over seeds.
In the field system of makhana cultivation, the selected piece of land area or field is well prepared in advance by properly nourishing the seedlings. This is done by spraying fertilizers. The ratio being 100:60:40 / ha, respectively, of Nitrogen, Phosphorus and Potassium application.
Thereafter, the field area to be cultivated undergoes two to three deep ploughing. The field is then filled up with water up to a height of 1.5 ft. and the seeds are sown around the month of December, every year.
It is important that healthy seeds are broadcasted and are uniformly spread in the entire land area or nursery plot. Farmers must also ensure that an optimum water level of 1 ft. height is maintained throughout the growing period of seedlings, i.e., from December to March.
After a gestation period of 3- 4 months, the grown seedlings are transferred from the nursery plot to the main field in the first two weeks of April and transplanted at a suggested distance of 1.20 x 1.25 m. This ensures proper growth and nourishment of seedlings.
Phool makhana or gorgon nut is easily to cultivate and requires minimum investment. This is due to the fact that new plants can germinate from the left over seeds from the last harvest. Expenditure is incurred while thinning out the over plant over growths, transplanting seeds into sparse areas, sometimes adding insecticides, if need be, and finally collecting dispersed seeds from the bed of the pond during the harvesting process.
Stage Two: Makhana Harvesting
In the pond and field system, the floor is swept by experienced fishermen, who then form heaps of sunken seeds that are scooped out from the bed of the pod with the help of a horn shaped split bamboo. Small nets are also used for collecting seeds that are smaller in size and also light weight.
These collected heaps of seeds are then thrashed by feet for removing any membranous cover.
The yield per hectare is more for makhana growing field system and also the harvesting cycle is shorter.
Stage Three: Makhana Processing
Makhana processing is a very interesting and tedious procedure. It is quite labor intensive and also requires specialized skill to obtain the right quality of popped makhana. Mostly makhana is processing by traditional methods and this was due to lack of availability of a good processing technology.
Makhana seed drying: Initially the seeds are dried under direct sun light for a few hours in the morning, so that the moisture content of the seeds reduces and reaches to about 31 percent. Water is also spread out for ensuring that the seeds retain their freshness and also have the optimum moisture content.
Makhana seed tempering: The seeds are pre heated and tempered. Seeds tempering is done for forty to seventy-two hours.
Makhana grading: During the grading process, the seeds are made to pass through different sizes of specialized sieves and are put into different grades to ensure uniform quality and size.
Makhana roasting and popping: Phool makhana seeds are made to undergo uniform heat transfer of the same size . These graded seeds are heated in special cast iron pans and also involves the right temperature and continuous stirring. Once the seeds begin to crackle, normally a dip test it done by taking out a handful of seeds, kept on a hard surface and hit with a special wooden hammer. The seed coat then breaks due to pressure and the expanded kernel pops out. Finally, the seed coat is removed manually.
With continuous research, government support and also entry of new players in the makhana market, a lot of advancement has been made in terms of technology.
The process of makhana popping has now been mechanized and includes the following procedures:
Threshing of seeds
Cleaning of seeds
Grading of seeds
Drying of seeds
Roasting of seeds
Popping of makhana seeds
This method was developed, made scalable and finally commercialized by ICAR-Central Institute of Post-Harvest Engineering and Technology (CIPHET), Ludhiana, a city in the state of Punjab.
The mechanized popping process has brough numerous benefits to the thousands of people and their families, as it saved them from difficult conditions and also turn around and improved their working conditions. In addition, mechanizing the makhana popping process has led to systematic method that ensures high and consistent quality of makhana that is fit for both domestic consumption as well as the international export markets.