Early in October last year, Tripura Chief Minister Biplab Kumar Deb introduced home-grown bamboo rice to the world. Branded as Tripura Bamboo Rice, it came just weeks after Deb had launched healthy and nutritious snacks, bamboo cookies, a local delicacy made by mixing bamboo shoots and wheat flour on the World Bamboo Day. These two products were a shot in the arm for the state that is one of the significant producers of bamboo in the country, apart from putting the spotlight on the lesser-known aspect of bamboo. For the uninitiated, bamboo rice comes loaded with nutrients and is a healthy alternative to rice and wheat.
Tripura native and bamboo rice producer Samir Jamatia, who is armed with a certificate in Non-Timber Forest Products on Bamboo Technology Production from China, explains how it is unlike rice and wheat. “It is grown out of a dying bamboo shoot. When the bamboo shoot breathes its last, it flowers into a rare variety of rice seeds known as bamboo rice. The harvesting of this rice is a major income source for the tribal communities living in the state. It was a staple food of the local communities here in Tripura for long.”
Bamboo is a perennial grass that flowers once in its lifetime while bamboo shoots can be harvested after two years of planting it. The collection and selling of seeds and bamboo shoots are an excellent economic proposition for the locals. “The slew of measures undertaken by the incumbent government has provided employment opportunities to the local youth, boosted their production, and provided marketing opportunities for our products,” extolls Jamatia.
Eat it right
The bamboo shoots are usually eaten as vegetable components in curry or soup by mixing with fish or meat and as a pickle. Bamboo rice can be cooked and consumed just like regular variety but has a nice, chewy taste and is very similar to unpolished rice, adds Jamatia. Mumbai-based nutritionist and certified diabetes educator Soleha Shaikh says, “The edible bamboo species produce interesting food products from the shoots like pickle, beer, wine, etc. Bamboo rice is not the same as rice that we eat. It is aromatic, short-grain rice produced from bamboo seeds. The pale green seeds have a sticky texture and leafy bamboo flavour.”
The pharmaceutical preparations of bamboo shoots such as bamboo salt, bamboo vinegar, bamboo extracts help control diabetes and keep the cholesterol level within the normal limit. “Various parts of this plant such as leaf, root, shoot and seed possess anti-inflammatory, anti-ulcer, anti-diabetic, antioxidant, anthelmintic and astringent activity. Its seeds (often referred to as bamboo rice) have shown statistically significant anti-diabetic activity like the standard glibenclamide,” she adds.
Bamboo rice is also known as Mulayari and called ‘Moongil Arisi’ by the tribals of southern India. The rice is a rich source of various nutrients such as carbohydrates, proteins, amino acids, fibre, vitamins and minerals. “It has a low glycemic index compared to other rice varieties, so it is a good option for those with diabetes. It is low or no-fat, so a healthy substitute for overweight and obese people. It is rich in vitamin B complex which can be beneficial for pregnant women and loaded with calcium and phosphorous which can be a remedy for those suffering from joint pain," says Dr Shweta Mahadik, Clinical Dietician, Fortis Hospital, Kalyan.
Health in a bowl
Anumeha Gupta, who is currently training to be a nutrition and lifestyle coach, stumbled upon bamboo rice seven years ago at an organic market in Bengaluru. She’s been a bamboo rice eater ever since then. “I was desperately looking for ways to cure my PCOS naturally, and bamboo rice has since then become an exciting addition to my diet. Its low glycemic index helped me regulate my hormonal imbalance, and I’m also impressed by the myriad other health benefits it offers,” says Gupta.
However, taxiphyllin, a cyanogenic glycoside present in raw shoots, can have a harmful impact on human health. “While bamboo rice is rich in nutrient reserve, its fresh shoot could be equally dangerous for the body. It contains a toxic chemical known as taxiphyllin which is a cyanide compound. Consuming it raw and uncooked may lead to severe food poisoning. So, it is safe to consume only when cooked properly,” warns Dr Farah Ingale, Director, Internal Medicine, Hiranandani Hospital, Vashi.
The only other constraint is the high cost, adds Jamatia. “This variety rice will knock your socks off but it comes with a price tag. A kilogram costs Rs 5,000 and above,” he quips.
But the cost factor doesn’t act as a spoiler for Gupta, who is completely charmed by its versatility. “It keeps my diet varied and interesting. I use it as a protein-rich substitute for rice and wheat and satisfy my sweet cravings; it makes for a rustic dessert when soaked overnight, mixed with banana and jaggery and steamed in a banana leaf,” she says, adding bamboo rice will gradually acquire mainstream status, and that will work as a catalyst to a healthier India.
Shaikh couldn’t agree more with her. “The medicinal properties of bamboo rice makes it a smart choice for those with health issues. And in the coming years, it will capture a good share of the Indian grocery market.” The bottom line of the long story is to be rice wise and eat it right.
Benefits of Bamboo Rice
· Decreased Constipation and Colon Cancer Risk because it is rich in dietary fibre.
· Lowered Risk of Cardiovascular Disease because the high fibre content also reduces the bad cholesterol levels and maintains blood pressure levels.
· Optimized Brain and Nerve Health because it is a phenomenal source of B complex vitamins.
(By Dr Shweta Mahadik, Clinical Dietician, Fortis Hospital, Kalyan)