What Is Hokh Syun, The Kashmiri Way Of Sun-Drying Vegetables?

If you’ve visited Kashmir, you couldn’t have missed out on the many fruit orchards that are dotted along the valley. The region is known for its abundant fruit orchards, particularly apples, apricots, and cherries and these fruits are usually preserved with natural sun-drying techniques so the fruits can be used all around the year.

Hokh Syun is a centuries-old technique employed to preserve fruits for consumption throughout the year, especially during the harsh winter months when fresh produce is scarce. In winter the valley stands quite arid so the people of Kashmir hold on to this dried cuisine as part of their tradition, so in a way, it’s their way of planning their food for difficult seasons. To begin the process, ripe fruits are carefully selected and washed thoroughly to remove any dirt or debris. They are then sliced or halved, depending on the type of fruit, to ensure even drying and to facilitate the removal of seeds or pits.

These prepared fruits are laid out on large, flat trays or screens, preferably made of bamboo or wooden frames with mesh bottoms. These trays are then placed in direct sunlight, typically on rooftops or open fields, where they are exposed to the natural heat and light of the sun.

Throughout the drying process, which can take several days to weeks depending on the weather conditions, the fruits are turned to ensure uniform drying and to prevent mould or spoilage. In some cases, protective coverings such as mesh screens or cloth may be used to shield the fruits from insects or debris while still allowing airflow.

There is another way Hokh Syun can be approached. Some households slice the veggies into very thin slices to thread them into garlands and hang them up on walls and on the roof to dry in the sun. These veggies were brought indoors after sundown to protect them from dew which can lead to fungus.

As the fruits dry, their moisture content gradually decreases, resulting in a concentrated flavour and a chewy or leathery texture. Once fully dried, they are carefully inspected for quality and sorted according to size and appearance. These fruits are usually stored in jute bags or cloth bags in the kitchen, usually on the walls so they have enough ventilation. The most commonly stored vegetables include dried brinjal (Wangan Hachi), Ale Hachi (dried gourd) and Gogji Aer ( dried turnips).

Sun-drying fruits effectively removes moisture from the fruits and inhibits the growth of bacteria, mold, and other microorganisms that cause spoilage. This preservation method extends the shelf life of fruits and vegetables, allowing them to be stored for longer periods without the need for refrigeration or chemical preservatives. It also preserves the natural nutrients present in fruits. Vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants are retained during the drying process, ensuring that dried fruits remain a nutritious snack or ingredient. 

Plus, it also makes the produce more flavourful. As moisture is removed from the fruits during sun-drying, their natural sugars become more concentrated, intensifying the flavour and sweetness. For fruit growers and farmers, sun-drying provides a valuable opportunity to generate additional income by preserving excess harvests and selling dried fruits year-round. It allows farmers to capitalize on seasonal abundance and reduce waste by utilizing fruits that may be unsuitable for fresh consumption.