This fiber rich Palm sprouts snack or panam kizhanghu (பனம் கிழங்கு) as it is called in Tamil is one of the forgotten traditional snacks for children.
Name of this food in other languages : Kuchi Kizhangu (Tamil ) | Thegalu (Telugu) | Gengul (Kannada) | Tadgola (Marathi)| Tarlas (East India)
These drought resistant tress that can withstand hot and arid weather are dwindling at alarming rates in our country. These Palm trees (pana maram / panai marams) used to be the life line for many in villages. No wonder they are reverently called “karpaga vriksham” (miracle tree ) and are the official trees of the state of Tamil Nadu.
Even now many poor village women earn additional income for their family because of this tree. Much like the coconut tree, every single part of this much beloved tree is useful for man. In places with hot and dry summers where other trees cannot survive, these palm trees act as wind breakers to protect houses and paddy fields. They are used as fences for paddy fields and planted on both sides of the road.
The fruit of this tree called nungu (நுங்கு) is consumed to cool the body. I have always been awed that God provides people the necessary plants to sustain themselves in their local weather conditions. This tree that grows in arid climactic conditions can retain moisture in its trunk and its nungu fruits that look like white translucent jelly / slimy balls help the locals cool their body and protects them from dehydration. It is a yummy fruit that is mildly sweet and very refreshing and is usually sold by road side vendors. A must try if you are passing through dry villages during summer.
When cut open, nungu looks like this and it is scooped out and served to the customer.
Here is a closeup picture of palm fruit which is also called ice apple, sugar palm.
It is usually served in a disposable bowl made using the palm leaf that is also called panai olai or pana olai or பனை ஓலை.
This video shows how nungu is scooped out and consumed.
Once the nungu is consumed, the shell is turned into a toy for kids like this.
Girls are having a nungu vehicle race (nungu vandi). I have played with this when we had gone to south Tamil Nadu to visit family members during summer vacations.
Palm leaves are woven to make thatched roof, fences and also cute little boxes. Even today in some places in Tamil Nadu, snacks are sold in these boxes. One of my favorite snack items is called “chillu karupetti”. It is nothing but jaggery with ginger added to it. It is an excellent aid for digestion and jaggery is a much healthier alternative to sugar. My grand mother from whom I got my middle name used this chillu karupetti as the sweetener for her coffee.
Before the invention of paper, the leaves of this tree were used to write. We still have many prehistoric writings on palm leaves (olai chuvadi) in our history museums. I am sure many of us must have seen astrologers consult these when predicting the future of their customers.
The tree trunks are used as pillars or beams for houses. It is also used to give strength to the roof. The mid spine of the branches are also used for making huts. The leaves are woven into mats by women in villages. This was a thriving small scale industry providing supplementary income for village women until the advent of plastic mats. Brooms are made from the spine of the leaves and coir is another by product from this tree.
This video (in Tamil) shows how a lady earns money weaving things with palm leaves and one of them is the hand fan (panai olai visiri) that still provides relief from our hot Indian summers when power failures abound. In this video, you can also see how palm leaves have been woven to make a partition or temporary wall.
Toddy (called kallu in Tamil) that has been banned officially (still a thriving business though), is fermented juice that is harvested from this tree. The unfermented juice is called padhaneer and is very tasty and extremely cooling for the body. It has a sweet taste and an aroma that matches its taste. I have tasted this – hey I meant the unfermented version. This padhaneer (பூந்துணர் சாறு or பதநீர்) helps the body cool and heal faster when a person is suffering from chicken pox.
To collect this palm juice, someone has to climb up to the top of the tree, make small incisions on the embryo flowers and then tie mud pots under that. The juice trickles drop by drop and get collected in the mud pot. Many trees are drained simultaneously since the amount harvested from one tree in a day is around 250 ml. Climbing to the top of the tree is an art that only very few can master. It is a strenuous job and is a matter of life and death and many have fallen to their death. A loop of coir is tied around the ankle and it helps the climber grip the tree trunk as he climbs up the tree. (A video attached below has some very nice close up shots of this process).
Another very important product made from palm tree is jaggery. It is made from the juice from this tree called padhaneer. It is a very long process and takes whole day to cook it and then pour it into moulds.
I have witnessed jaggery being made from scratch. We (city bred kids) used to complain and whine about the heat and the inconveniences of spending vacations in a village. Now when I look back, I am glad our dad dragged us around. We hated those unplanned detours he would take to meet one of his cousins. Or may be it was pre-planned and hidden from us kids. Now if I think about it, his cousins were never surprised and were indeed expecting our arrival. hmmmm looks like we were duped. Way to go dad!. Oh don’t forget those lectures he would manage to pack into the walk around that village / small town and no amount of resistance from us could deter him.
Got kids? Drag them around I say.
They will come along kicking and screaming but when they become parents they will thank you for that.
Here is a video that describes the whole process.
There are many villagers whose lives are still entirely dependent on this tree that takes almost a decade to grow and mature but is now unfortunately cut in a few minutes carelessly. A few years back I read in the newspaper that one govt official went to great lengths to make sure these trees were protected when roads were expanded. A few adjustments had to be made and many trees were saved. Hats off to him for preserving these hardy trees that survive for years without rain and still preserves the water table in arid places.
To prevent this article from becoming too long, I am stopping with this. So coming back to our recipe – Panai kizhangu snack for kids. ha ha ha finally.
So here is a lady selling some traditional food items and panam kizhangu / palm sprout is one of them. In this picture you can also see her selling gooseberry, guava, custard apples, mangoes and jujube fruits (elantha pazham)
This is how panam kizhanghu looks like.
Peel it and wash it with water.
You can see the amount of fiber in this
Turmeric and salt is applied to it and then steam cooked. You can also add a teaspoon of turmeric and salt and pressure cook it like shown below.
Since this is a hard fibrous item, it will require about 5 to 6 whistles in the pressure cooker.
If it is not soft, keep it for a few more whistles making sure there is enough water till it is soft and breakable with hand.
Allow it to cool till you can handle it with your hands.
If you can notice, there is a groove. Using a knife, split open along the groove and you can see a white color spine. Remove and discard the spine. It is too fibrous and cannot be consumed.
Now you can break the sprouts with hand (preferable to cutting with knife) like so. While breaking, you will also be removing the excess fiber on the surface.
Eat it just just like you would eat sugar cane. Enjoy this healthy traditional after-school snack.
This can also be dried under the sun and then pounded into a powder to extend its shelf life.
One sad thing I noticed about all the videos attached here is that they had very few views compared to silly videos that go viral (when a celebrity sneezes). Please share this article with your friends so these videos get more views. I am sure it will encourage folks who made them. This is the least we can do for folks who took the time to make these educational videos that are preserving history for future generations. At the rate our cities are expanding, we might not have palm trees in a few decades.