Assamese Cuisine totally depends upon the ingredients that are available in our surroundings and hence totally nature-dependent. Assamese recipes are harmonized with seasonal produces and often include dishes that help us to maintain a healthy lifestyle. One of such natural produce is the banana tree. The banana tree is an integral part of Assamese culture and cuisine. No Assamese rituals are complete without banana leaves. Assamese people have always known the health benefits of banana tree parts and we have been using them extensively.
Assamese rural life is unimaginable without banana trees. Almost every household has a koloni/kolbari or banana garden where different types of bananas are planted and nurtured. Forget the health benefits of a banana tree, bananas are a good source of income. Mere 10-12 banana trees can give you good money if you can treat them well. There is an Assamese saying that goes,
তিনিশ ষাঠীজোপা ৰুবা কল,
মাহেকে পষেকে চিকুনাবা তল ।
পাত পছলা লাভত পাবা,
লংকাৰ বনিজ ঘৰতে পাবা ।।
Which means, Plant 360 banana trees and nurture them at every fortnight: You will get the whole chest full of gold at home along with banana leaves and posola for free.
Banana leaves are used in community feasts in villages in lieu of disposable plates which makes us Assamese very eco-friendly and sustainable with nature. It is interesting to note that not a single part of a banana tree is discarded in Assam. From its flowers to roots, everything of banana trees is beneficial to human body. Let’s take a look at various usages of Banana tree parts.
Health Benefits of Banana Tree Parts
Banana flowers are called koldil in Assamese. They are a good source of iron and calcium. The tender flowers are often cooked as fries or in a potato-lentil based gravy. It can also be eaten as fritters.
Banana stems are called posola in Assamese and they are one of the most popular delicacies of Assamese Cuisine. It is cooked as gravy with or without small fishes. You can also make a posolar khar with it. The health benefit of banana stems is that it removes excess uric acid from our bodies and maintains it at a normal level.
Banana fruits are one of the most favorite fruits in the world. Assam houses many indigenous species of banana which yields tasty fruits. Some of the local species of bananas which are found in Assam are maalbhog, baratmoni, ketekikhunda, manohar, jurmoni, aathiya kol, Seni Champa, jahaji etc. Bananas are full of antioxidants, nutrients like potassium, magnesium, copper, manganese, protein, carbohydrates, water, vitamins etc. Bananas help to moderate blood sugar level, improve digestive health and help to lose weight.
As I mentioned earlier, Assamese people often use banana leaves to eat meals. Banana leaves contain chlorophyll and the food consumed on it helps to mend any internal damage of our digestive system. It can also be used as first aid if you cut somewhere. Just make a paste of banana leaves and treat your cut with it. Assamese cuisine use banana leaves extensively to make dishes called patot diya. It is a method of cooking where you cook fish/vegetables wrapped in banana leaves.
Kalakhar or Khar is one of the unique things that truly signify Assamese Cuisine. Kharkhowa Axomiya, as we fondly call ourselves, means Khar eating Assamese. Khar is produced from the ashes of burnt banana stems or banana peels of aathiya kol (M. Balbisiana).
The procedure to make khar
Kolakhar making process is very traditional. The first step of making khar involves collection of a matured and healthy tree of aathiya kol. It is then cut into pieces and sun dried for 10-15 days. After complete drying, the pieces were burned into ashes and sieved. After collecting the ashes, pure water is filtered through it. The modified water is called khar.
Health Benefits of kolakhar
Khar is used as food additive in Assamese cuisine widely. Various vegetables are cooked using khar which marks the first dish of an Assamese thali. It is known to cleanse your stomach curing digestive disorders. Use of kolakhar as soaps and detergent for washing clothes and hair is a well-known practice in villages. Kolalhar is traditionally used by farmers to kill leaches and cure as well as prevent certain cattle diseases.