GI Tagged Assam's Chokuwa Rice: What Makes It So Special?
Image Credit: Chokuwa rice, Image Source: finediningindian

During my first visit to Assam in 2021, I could experience the food habits of the locals closely. The everyday Assamese meal has a profuse use of rice and a lot of green leafy vegetables. Rice of different kinds is used to make dishes from pithe and steamed delicacies to beer. This state is famed for a few of its indigenous rice variants. These are not found anywhere else in the world. The aromatic Joha rice, Bora, Red Bao, and Chokuwa are the most well-known types, which have been farmed here for decades. Let's focus on Chokuwa and why it caught my attention. This rice got the Geographical Indication (GI) tag too. This unique kind of Assamese semi-glutenous winter rice, known as "Sali rice" in local parlance, has been grown since the dawn of time. It is described as a 'unique gift of nature. You will understand the justification for this moniker as you scroll down. 

Decoding chokuwa

Waxy rice refers to glutinous varieties categorised as Bora and Chokuwa based on their amylose concentration. Grains with high and moderate amylose content are devoured as staple foods in this region. On the contrary, low amylose Chokuwa rice variants are picked to prepare niche products such as komal chaul or soft rice. It is a whole grain, a ready-to-eat product that requires no cooking and can be consumed after soaking the rice in the cold to lukewarm water. The rice with low amylose content is a unique traditional variety of 'soak and eat' rice grown exclusively in Assam and consumed by the troops of the powerful Ahom dynasty.

Cooked chokuwa rice, Image Source: Twitter

Unique climatic condition produces Chokuwa

Chokuwa rice types are classified as winter or sali rice (June – July to October – November season). Tinsukia, Dhemaji, Dibrugarh, Lakhimpur, Sivasagar, Jorhat, Golaghat, Nagaon, Morigaon, and Sonitpur districts grow these photosensitive and long-lasting crops. The mountainous terrain and subtropical climates of a warm, humid summer and chilly, dry winter favour the cultivation of Chokuwa. Likewise, the acidic soil rich in phosphorus, potassium, organic matter, and nitrogen, and continuous rainfall from June to September are some of the agro-ecological characteristics of Assam that facilitate Chokuwa rice development.

Husked chokuwa paddy, Image Source: Wikimedia

One would be amazed to know that the farmers rely primarily on information passed down through generations while selecting a place for production, implementing procedures, protecting against pests, and preparing various products from Chokuwa rice. Komal chaul is made from this rice after it has been boiled, dried in the sun for a day, and de-husked.

Popularity and uses

Rural Assam consumes a lot of Chokuwa rice, and various native dishes are created for social and religious rites, feasts, and festivals. It is widely in use to prepare quick meals. This parboiled rice has roughly 12 - 17 per cent amylose, whereas other types include about 20 - 27 per cent. It is also used to make tasty rice powder and flakes, which are prevalent among locals.

Komal chaul jolpaan, Image Source: poris_kitchen@Instagram

Komal chaul is referred as magical rice, as it needn’t be cooked. It has properties letting one just soak and eat. It can be kept for an extended period. It's typically served with sugar or jaggery, milk or curds, salt or pickles. At times bananas and curd are mixed to prepare a filling and healthy breakfast. This type of rice, fittingly dubbed "magical rice," has enormous local and worldwide market potential and may be skilfully promoted as a convenience food. Or it can also be used for the Indian soldiers stationed at high altitudes or extreme climates with limited access to the mainland.