July 7, 2022
NEW DELHI – Red-ant chutney:It is common for us to ‘flip out’ when we come across a red weaver ant. We prefer to stay away from them, and coming in direct contact with them is simply out of the question. On the contrary, there are several tribes in the eastern part of India who use red weaver ants as a main ingredient to make ‘kai chutney’. The chutney is also referred to as “chapra” in local dialect. The chutney is widely savored by members of tribes based in Odisha, Chhatisgarh and Jahrkhand and is revered like an elixir.
Researchers have found several health benefits associated with its consumption and the chutney is now being proposed for a Geographical Identification (GI) tag.
The recipes prepared from red ants have remained intact within the closed-quarters of certain tribes and rural areas of India. Recently, the food was discovered by people from other sections of the society and many enthusiasts were enticed to research more about it. Food researchers claim that the kai chutney made of red ants is indeed a super-food.
Although red ant is considered to be poisonous as the ant-sting is painful and it leaves a visible red bump on the skin, surprisingly the ant can also be eaten as a food. Some tribes even eat it in raw form. There is a typical method of ‘hunting’ or collecting the ant. Also, the method to prepare the chutney is also passed down through generations.
Collecting the Ants
The task of collection of the ants is an arduous one. The ants have to be pulled out of their hives. Female ants and eggs rest inside the hives, while the outsides of these hives are guarded by male ants. The person collecting the ants is constantly stung by the male ants. Enduring extreme pain and turmoil, the harvester collects these ants for further processing. The flavor of the chutney is fiery and spicy.
Preparation of chutney
The collected ants are thoroughly washed along with their egg and larva. They are placed in a mortar and pestle and other ingredients are added. These ingredients include garlic, ginger, green chillies, coriander and salt. All the mixture is turned into a paste. Sometimes, the mixture is cooked to enhance the taste. Commonly, the chutney is served with bread made of ragi.
Acclaimed health benefits
Red ants have been eaten by several tribes since generations and they are claimed to possess several health benefits. Kai chutney made of red ants is believed to be a great remedy for cough, flu, difficulty in breathing, cold, fatigue and several other ailments.
The ants and their eggs also contain formic acid, which is known to fight bacteria in the human digestive system. The chutney is known to contain optimum amounts of zinc, calcium and protein, which is considered to be very good for the overall immune system of the human body.
GI tag for red-ant food
There are several researches that are being conducted to better understand its benefits. The studies are also aimed at providing validation to the claims associated with the chutney. Scientists are also pushing for a GI tag for the food item made of red ants. If the GI registration is finalized for such food items, it would mean a great opportunity for the tribal population. It would serve as a step forward towards streamlining the breeding, collecting and commercial use. It would not only create employment opportunities, but would also garner widespread recognition for the tribal population.