Brewed since an ancient time, this native rice beer of Nagaland needs a revival
The Angami tribe, which has its main population centres in Nagaland's Kohima and Dimapur districts, prepares zutho or zu, a traditional rice beverage or beer. The traditions and heritage of this area are intertwined with this indigenous rice heady drink. It applies particularly to the Ao, Lotha, Angami, Khiamniungan, and Sümi Naga ethnic tribes of Nagaland. In fact, each tribe calls this rice beer by a different name and prepares it slightly differently.
Sticky rice is used to make zutho, along piazu, made from sprouted rice. After being soaked in water for three to four days, the unhulled rice is then partially drained. The grains are left to germinate, which can take a week or more. The weather or climatic condition is the decisive factor.
Using a mortar and pestle, the sprouted rice grains are pulverized into a fine powder which is called piazu. Red or white sticky rice readily accessible nearby is nicely washed and prepared. If rice is scarce or when food is scarce, millet is used. After then, it is spread out on a bamboo mat to chill. The rice is stirred well with the piazu before being added. The mixture is then let to ferment in a sizable earthen or wooden container.
In the summer, fermentation typically lasts four days, whereas it could take a week in the winter. To speed up fermentation in the winter, more piazu may be added. Some water is stirred into the homemade beer after the concoction has fermented. After filtering through a bamboo mesh, it is served in bamboo cups. This white, porridge-like beverage has a mildly fruity aroma and tastes sweet and tart.
Zu, rice beer, Image Source: Twitter
Celebratory and medicinal value
Typically, women cook this Angami staple beverage. It is, however, served to both young and adults. It is a part of all the significant Naga festivities. It was traditional for the bride's kin to send off the newlyweds with enough brewed rice beer during wedding feasts. After giving birth, a woman was fed enough Zu and chicken flesh. During child naming ceremonies, Zu sprinkled on the forehead was said to drive away evil spirits and omens. This rice beer was an addition to the traditional thirty days of sorrow served in fresh leaf cups in memory of a deceased man. Just like weaving, skilled gardening, and cooking, mastering the craft of brewing was necessary for a woman to be competent in marriage.
Zu is thought to provide medical benefits that can help lower blood pressure, lower fevers, enhance digestion, and give one more energy.
Ironically, Zu or Zutho is losing its prominence by day. Several misconceptions have also developed around it. But, if the veterans are to be believed, this native rice beer is worth a revival and full glory.