Zizira is always exploring Meghalaya's traditional foods. We go deeper in the intricacies of life and nature.
This time, we unearthed two amazing and forgotten traditional teas.
Cha hadem and Sha Sohdanei are teas our ancestors used to help keep their bodies strong and souls fresh.
- Cha Hadem or Corn Tea – made from the common corn or maize (Zea mays). Incidentally, Zea comes the Greek, meaning life-giver.
- Sha Sohdanei or Sohdanei Tea – made from the elephant apple fruit (Garcinia pedunculata).
Distinctive and refreshing taste apart, these teas have properties that are immune-system strengthening, which is what we need the most right now.
Corn Tea and How to Make It
Cha Hadem or Corn tea is one of the drinks loved by deep rural people of Laskein Block of Jaintia hills district, Meghalaya. Kong Airiwansuk Suchiang from the Block's Mawkaiaw village tells me how corn tea helps the farming community with the energy they need to work in the fields. During the maize season, they make what they call ka bran cha hadem from corn and jaggery and store it in bottles to have corn tea throughout the year.
To make maize tea, you'll need:
- Fresh corn on the cob, about ten will do. That'll give about 400 grams of corn. If you don't have corn with the cob don't worry, you can use the corn grains you get in shops equally well.
- 100 grams jaggery or gur.
- In a pot boil the corn along with the cob until done and soft.
- Take out, separate the corn from the cob and spread the grains on a tray. In case of corn without cob simply drain off the water and spread.
- Leave the corn to dry in the sun until there's no moisture has evaporated.
- Grind in a grinder to make coarse grains.
- In a kadhai or frying pan roast the grains until they brown evenly, stirring frequently with a spatula so that they don't burn. This should take about 15-20 minutes.
- Add the jaggery and brown further, stirring all the time so the corn and jaggery form one homogenous mixture. This should take another 5-10 minutes.
- Remove from fire and spread on a tray. When the mixture's cooled a little rub between palms or fingers so that the mixture doesn't become lumpy, i.e. it should be of flowing consistency.
- Bottle in an airtight container and store in a dry and cool place away from sunlight.
Making a Cup of Corn Tea
A level-teaspoon of the corn tea mixture (about 10 grams) is enough to make one cup of cha hadem.
Scoop the mix in a cup, pour in boiling water and let it stand for 2-3 minutes. Cha hadem is now ready to sip.
Alternately, you can scoop as many teaspoons of the mixture in a pot for as many persons. Pour the required water and bring it to boil. Brew for 2-3 minutes and serve.
Cha hadem is good enough to drink as it is but if you want, you can add milk. And if you like it sweeter you can add sugar or, better still, raw honey. The honey will lend its unique taste and goodness to the tea.
As for accompaniments the villagers of Laskein have it along with their healthy traditional rice cakes, yam or tapioca. But you can always have it with your regular cakes, croissants or cookies.
How does it taste? Well, it reminds one of Bournevita or Boost, somewhat!
Why Corn? … Nutrition and Health Facts
Maize or corn ranks third as the world's oldest, most popular oldest and powerful cereals crops, after rice and wheat. It's food and nutrition not for humans alone but for animals as well. What's more, it has astounding health uses as well.
Nutritionally, every 100 grams of maize grains contain:
- 72% starch
- 10% protein
- 4.8% oil
- >8.5% fibre
- 3.0% sugar
- 1.7% ash
There are also vitamins such as A, B, C, E, and K, and minerals like Calcium, Potassium, Iron, Manganese and Zinc.
Health-wise it helps as:
- Emollient against skin rashes and sore throat
- Anti angina
It also helps in urinary disorders and prevents neural-tube defects at birth.
The reason corn is healthy food in that it's rich in nutrients, bioactive compounds and phytochemicals such as phenolic acids and carotenoids that support and promote health and well-being. The bran and germ portion are especially rich in phytochemicals and fibre. It is also high on resistant starch which controls glucose and insulin response, promotes gut health and helps weight loss. Consuming corn reduces risks of developing life-threatening and chronic diseases such as cardiovascular diseases, type-2 diabetes, and obesity.
Well, go ahead and try making cha hadem!
Sha Sodanei, Elephant Apple Tea
Sohdanei or Elephant Apple (Garcinia pedunculata Roxb) is a tall evergreen tree that's endemic to the south-eastern regions of Asia such as parts of Myanmar and north-eastern parts of India. The extremely sour fruit is very popular in Assam where they call it bor thekera and add slices of it, raw or dried, to prepare delicious fish, lentil or vegetable curries.
In Meghalaya, sohdanei is also valued for its culinary and medicinal uses. In season, the fruit is sun-dried and preserved, and one popular use of the dried slices is in making sohdanei tea. This tea is amazingly refreshing and so simple to make.
I've long known sohdanei or elephant apple is great for weight loss and dissolving stones like kidney stones, having heard about it from Bah Wadbor Mawlong, a Khasi traditional healer.
But it was from Bah Wanphai Nongrum of 'You and I Arts Café' that I learnt of its use as a heritage tea. To prepare the tea isn't elaborate but the drinking of it is if the gamut of tastes is what you're looking for.
Preparation and Ways to Drink
For a cup of sohdanei tea you'll need:
- Three dried slices, chopped to small pieces
- Water to boil
- Pinch of salt
- Teaspoon of sugar
- Teaspoon of honey
- Put the dried pieces in a pan, pour a little more than a cup of water
- After it boils leave the pan on simmer for 5-7 minutes
- Strain into a cup and start sipping, first by itself and then with a pinch of salt. Next, with sugar and last of all with honey.
I asked Bah Nongrum why the salt, sugar and honey. He replied, so you can perceive the different tastes as you drink the tea and savour the flavours as they come one after the other.
Here are the tastes you will perceive as you sip by stages:
- By itself – A singular, mild, acidic tang hits your tongue and palate. You might, perhaps, grimace a little.
- With a pinch of salt, stir and sip – the acid's now lost a little of its sharpness. You're aware of a warm, briny taste creeping in.
- Add the sugar – the flavour now takes on a sweet-saline note, but the acidic hint lingers. You find the taste gets pleasanter.
- Finally, add the honey – the taste now takes on a new dimension altogether. Take a sip, work it in your mouth, hold and decipher the mix of aromas. As the flavours blend, a warm feel invades your mouth, albeit retaining some of the original tanginess, but a new, indefinable fragrance now permeates the senses. If it's orange honey you'll feel the hint of floral scents. If it's multifloral, a bouquet of flowers, fruits, nuts or even wood will seem to swirl around, heady and addictive.
I must warn you however, sohdanei tea is an acquired taste. You may not like it at first but by and by, like me, you'll crave for this flavoursome tea.
Any Health Benefits?
It's health-enhancing as it is refreshing.
According to scientific research, the health benefits of elephant apple are quite a few, especially in serious health issues such as diabetes, gastrointestinal problems and obesity. It is a nontoxic source of antioxidants and can:
- Ameliorate hyperglycaemia, diabetes and diabetic complications
- Protect against oxidative stress-induced damage.
- Help reduce gastric, flatulence and other gut problems, and rheumatic pains
- Help prevent scurvy (anti-scorbutic)
- Help reduce weight in obese persons
Sohdanei has high of natural anti-oxidants and anti- aflatoxins - polyphenols, flavonoids and ascorbic acid – that help prevent coronary heart diseases, atherosclerosis and even cancer.
For people who struggle with weight problems, sohdanei tea might be a great boon. The fruit is a rich source of HCA (hydroxy-citric acid) which is a proven, natural anti-obesity agent.
But traditional healer Bah Wadbor has a word of warning: take this tea no more than twice a day.
We Don't Really Lack Choices in Teas
At Zizira we love to explore. That's how we stumbled upon so many of these amazing traditional teas that would have been lost to oblivion. As you can see each has a speciality and goodness of its own. But one thing is common, each is so simple to make yet so full of nutritive and health value, don't you agree?
If you like this story of traditional teas from Meghalaya, tell us what you think in the comments section. Or, maybe you have some traditional tea story to tell too?