Introduction

Manipur is one of the eight Northeastern states in India and is known for many indigenous rice cultivars, variations and landraces, which are highly regarded for both their cultural and nutritional benefits. Chakhao, which means delicious rice in Manipur is the most widely known rice of Manipur for its aroma and deep purple colour, (Asem et al., 2015). In chakhao cultivars, the rice kernels can be coloured (black, amubi) or uncoloured (white, angouba). Those varieties of Chakhao rice with deeply coloured kernels are known as “Manipur black rice.”

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According to historical sources, black rice was only consumed as the Royal delicacy and the Meitei community used it only on special occasions and during religious festivals (Roy et al., 2014). The dark purple colour of the rice is due to the presence of high anthocyanin in the pericarp which has antioxidant properties. A growing number of health-conscious consumers are driving the demand for black rice, owing to its nutraceutical properties. The Government of India granted Manipur black rice Geographical Indicator (GI) designation in 2019, registering in the Geographical Indicator Registry under GI No. 602 in recognition of its exceptional nutraceutical quality. (Bhuvaneswari et al., 2020)

Black rice landraces

Farmers of Manipur cultivate various Chakhao landraces, such as Chakhao Amubi, Chakhao Sempak, Chakhao Poireiton, Chakhao Angouba and Ching Chakhao on small farms in limited areas that accounts for less than 10% of the holdings, particularly for sociocultural purposes. Among them, the majority of farmers produce Chakhao poireiton due to its higher yield and delicacy. According to local belief, the 12th Meitei King Poireiton Khunthokpa cultivated black rice for the first time in 38–18 BC at his capital, Poi, situated at the foothills of the Heirok range. Thus, the rice landraces received the name Chakhao poireiton. (Borah et al., 2018)

The height of Chakhao plants is about 136-166 cm tall. The kernel length of Chakhao Sempak, Chakhao Amubi, Chakhao Angouba and Ching Chakhao are considered long and Chakhao Poireiton is medium (Borah et al., 2018). In rainfed conditions, they are grown by seeding directly in the months of June and July and it is harvested in October and November. Compared to other rice varieties, they require less maintenance, weeding and labour input during production. The black rice landraces are more resilient to stress. Due to the high phenolic and anthocyanin levels present in black rice landraces, Chakhao has a defense system that can shield it from a variety of diseases and pests (Vagiri et al., 2017). Under normal conditions, black rice yields are often lower (1.3-1.8 t/ha) than hybrid and other conventional rice varieties (2-5.5 t/ha). The black rice varieties of Manipur are solely grown there and less information about them is known in other parts of India.

Medicinal use and its importance

Chakhao Poireiton is waxy and contains 76% carbohydrate, 7% protein, 4% fat and 2% amylose. Due to its high anthocyanin, phenolic and antioxidant activity, black rice extracts may be a source of phytochemicals that have antioxidant properties and may be beneficial as a component in nutraceutical or functional food items. It is used as medicine for people with diabetes. It is also typically given to pregnant women to ease the complication of childbirth. They contain more fibre, protein and antioxidants than white rice. Obesity and chronic dietary-related diseases like type 2 diabetes, cancer, cardiovascular disease, hypertension and celiac disease are on the rise globally. It naturally functions as a detoxifier and lowers the risk of heart disease, diabetes and obesity (Catherine & Bhagat, 2019). They are considered to be a healthy diet because of their rich fibre, anthocyanin content, anticarcinogenic and nutritional value. Anthocyanin can defend cells against radiation, biotic and abiotic stressors as a cancer-fighting substance. The inclusion of Chakhao in the daily diet will have significant beneficial effects on people’s health conditions and acts as an ideal dietary antioxidant source. (Panda et al., 2022)

Socio-cultural values of Chakhao

Chakhao has played a vital part in the sociocultural practices of the local Meitei community in Manipur since ancient times. It is utilized in a variety of ceremonies and food preparations. The black rice delicacy (Chak) is served as an offering to the gods and ancestors in Usob (death rites) and religious festivals and consumed as dessert in Chakumba (first rice-eating ceremony) by the Meitei People. It is also used as an important delicacy by the Rongmei community of Manipur during Nanu Ngai (Children Ear Boring Festival) in the month of February-March. Additionally, Chakhao has been employed by the ancestral healers of Manipur. They are sometimes used to make flatbread, puffed rice, puffed rice laddu, flakes, alcoholic beverages and a unique snack called Utong Chak which is made with bamboo sticks. Chakhao atingba, a traditional beer made from black rice is one of the favourite beverages among the people of Manipur.

Chakhao is not commonly used as a staple diet as it requires more time to cook and has a rubbery texture when chewed because of its high fibre content. They fetch a premium price in local markets (INR 150-200 per kg), due to their cultural significance and health benefits, (Borah et al., 2018). Local agro-based startups and industries have begun producing and selling Chakhao value-added products such as Chakhao bread, Chakhao cake and muffins, Chakhao Bhujia, Chakhao gulla, Chakhao cookies, etc. at the local markets in response to the rising popularity of the product, not just in Manipur but also outside. Straw from black rice is used as feed to make traditional shampoo and traditional soda. They are favoured as thatching materials due to their increased length and toughness. Husk is another byproduct utilized in the preparation of farmyard manure and as feed for livestock.

Conclusion

Chakhao, an aromatic black rice from Manipur, India with a Geographical Indication (GI) tag is a great source of anthocyanins. It is one of the well-known traditional rice types which offers both health benefits and plays a key role in the socioeconomic practices of the local Meitei community. The anthocyanin pigment plays a role in both the plant’s defense mechanisms and human health. Chakhao production assists Meitei farmers in yield optimization in marginal areas and sustaining crop diversification, as it has agronomic benefits including less effort and no fertilizer application. Yet, there is a need to encourage breeders and agricultural scientists to focus on the yield and increase the productivity of black rice of Manipur. Chakhao can offer a promising area of research with goals of sustainable utilization of this staple crop to meet the dietary and nutritional needs for improving health and social status.

References:

1. Asem, I. D., Imotomba, R. K., Mazumder, P. B., & Laishram, J. M. (2015). Anthocyanin content in the black scented rice (Chakhao): its impact on human health and plant defense. Symbiosis, 66(1), 47–54.

2. Bhuvaneswari, S., Gopala Krishnan, S., Bollinedi, H., Saha, S., Ellur, R. K., Vinod, K. K., Singh, I. M., Prakash, N., Bhowmick, P. K., Nagarajan, M., Singh, N. K., & Singh, A. K. (2020). Genetic Architecture and Anthocyanin Profiling of Aromatic Rice From Manipur Reveals Divergence of Chakhao Landraces. Frontiers in Genetics, 11(October), 1–20.

3. Borah, N., Athokpam, F. D., Semwal, R. L., & Garkoti, S. C. (2018). Chakhao (Black Rice; Oryza sativa L.): A culturally important and stress-tolerant traditional rice variety of Manipur. Indian Journal of Traditional Knowledge, 17(4), 789–794.

4. Catherine, L. H. C., & Bhagat, D. (2019). Agribusiness prospects and challenges of black rice produced in North-East India. Journal of Rice Research, 12(1), 60–66.

5. Panda, D. K., Jyotirmayee, B., & Mahalik, G. (2022). Black rice: A review from its history to chemical makeup to health advantages, nutritional properties and dietary uses. Plant Science Today, 9(2), 1–15.

6. Roy, S., Banerjee, A., Pattanayak, A., Roy, S. S., Rathi, R. S., Misra, A. K., Ngachan, S. V., & Bansal, K. C. (2014). Chakhao (delicious) rice landraces (Oryza sativa L.) of North-east India: collection, conservation and characterization of genetic diversity. Plant Genetic Resources, 12(3), 264–272.

7. Vagiri, M., Johansson, E., & Rumpunen, K. (2017). Phenolic compounds in black currant leaves – An interaction between the plant and foliar diseases? Journal of Plant Interactions, 12(1), 193–199.

About the Authors:
1. Khumbaron Kiranbala Kabui
Research Scholar,
Centre of Excellence for Grain Sciences,
NIFTEM – Thanjavur – 613005, India.
2. K.A. Athmaselvi
Associate Processor and Head,
Centre of Excellence for Grain Sciences,
NIFTEM – Thanjavur – 613005, India.
Email ID: athmaselvi@iifpt.edu.in

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An editor by day & dreamer at night; passionately involved with both print and digital media; Pet lover; Solo traveller.

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