A biscuit for health

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As entrepreneurship in Kashmir takes roots, a businessmen is in the process of manufacturing biscuits from water chestnuts. Haroon Mirani reports.

Water chestnut biscuits are healthy and useful for diabetics.

A Srinagar based company is set to manufacture water chestnut biscuits which are not only healthy but useful for diabetics too.

The Agro Food Processing Emporium (AFPE), in collaboration with Mysore based Central Food Technological Research Institute (CFTRI), has succeeded in initial trials for the manufacture of biscuits from water chestnuts of Kashmir.

The biscuits with extremely low caloric value are dream come true for diabetics. Water chestnuts are low on calories and high on vitamin and fibre. “Nowhere in the world has such a product been made and I am proud that it is coming from Kashmir,” says A H Ahanger, Chief Executive of AFPE. “With no sugar and energy content, the water chestnut is the best food for diabetic patients who have to fill their belly without taking any sugar.”

The biscuit developed in collaboration with Central Drug Research Institute Lucknow and CFTRI is undergoing trials and is expected to hit the market next year.

The biscuits have been supplied on an experimental basis to select locations in Gujarat, Baroda and Chennai. The company, Ahanger says, is getting a positive response for the product from every place.

The company has maintained high standards in the manufacture. It has adopted Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point (HACCP), a systematic preventive approach to food safety and pharmaceutical safety that addresses physical, chemical, and biological hazards as a means of prevention rather than finished product inspection. The company is also going for ISO certification.

To remove any possible contamination, the company employs Ultra Violet radiation. AFPE is the largest dealer of water chestnut in Kashmir. The company currently supplies water chestnuts as well as chestnut powder to many factories in India.

The company is building a plant at Lassipora industrial estate for the biscuit manufacture and hopes to take this exclusive Kashmiri product to international market.

The biscuit, which will be first of its kind, will hold a monopolistic value for Kashmir. The demand for such biscuits is expected to be high because of its value for diabetics.

There are around 25 million diabetic patients in India and according to industrial chamber ASSOCHAM, the number is expected to increase to 57 million by 2025. Globally, the number of such patients is expected to increase from 246 million in 2006 to 380 million by 2025.

Ironically, water chestnut is treated as a weed in the western world, which has prevented its exploitation for useful purposes. Water chestnut in India is sold either in the form of flour or sweets (Singara Barfi).

“There are some companies making Singara Barfi (Water Chestnut sweets) from water chestnuts, which has high demand during Navratra time,” says Ahanger. “Hindus have high regard for this kind of water fruit during fasting days of Navratras.”

Almost all of the raw material for such products is available in Kashmir. Water chestnuts are extracted in large quantities from Wullar Lake. According to an estimate, Wullar lake produces 4-5 million kilograms (approximately 4,000-5,000 tons) of nuts annually.

Ahangar says that water chestnut products have huge potential in India and if exploited properly, it can become a major industry for Kashmir. Water Chestnuts also have high content of Iodine, which is helpful for thyroid patients. “There are around 80 crore Hindus in India and abroad. Imagine how much business we can do with such products which have high religious value too,” says Ahangar.

Buoyed by the market demand for such products, AFPE is also working on the manufacture of snacks made from water chestnut and lotus stems. They have also succeeded in making diabetes tea and are proving a tough competition to a similar tea from Himachal Pradesh.

Quality of Kashmiri water chestnuts is among the best in the world and world over scientists are eager to work on it. According to R W Pemberton of US-based Invasive Plant Research Laboratory, the water chestnuts in Kashmir, with its unique characteristics are important for scientific investigations.

“Large population of these chestnuts are isolated from the rest of temperate Asia by the Himalayan Mountains. There is a diverse fauna of these chestnuts in the warmer areas of India and some of these species might be adapted to the colder climate of Kashmir, makes an exciting field of study,” writes Pemberton in his paper.

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