Khar Dwi: a popular ingredient of Assam’s culinary world

There is a certain ingredient in the North East of India that is used for cooking but is very unusual for people who may not have tried it ever in their lives. Introducing the Khar Dwi from Assam. Now this is basically ash water also known as liquid alkali for many reasons that we will be exploring in this piece.

Initially used for its effects similar to what baking Soda does in terms of cooking; the khar has many uses as of now. In Assam Khar dwi is also popularly known as Kalchi. Now you would be thinking why in someone’s right mind would someone drink ash water? Or what is the ash made of? No worries we will get into it step by step

What product is used to make the khar (ash)?

To make the ash, one does not use just any plant available to them, which would be a big mistake. What one can use are plants that have a high level of potassium or sodium content. In most cases, the ash is made of the Banana bark because of the high potassium content. Not just any banana tree is used, only a particular kind makes the healthiest khar dwi.

There is a banana tree variety called the “bheem banana” scientific name Musa Balbisiana, which is a special variety of banana found in the state of Assam. Every part of this Banana tree, can be used to make khar. Right from its roots, to the bark, to the leaves to the peel of the banana fruit can be used to make good quality khar.

How to make khar dwi at home?

To first make the khar and later the dwi or water, there is a total of 8-9 steps lets go through them one by one so that you can make the khar anywhere in the world.

  1. Choose the part of the bheem banana tree that you want to use to make khar. This decision will be more dependent on where you live than which part you’d like to use. Many people, to whom the entire tree is not available, use the peel of the bheem banana itself. To those whom this banana tree is available in the surrounding, you can gently cut one layer of the many layered bark of the bheem banana tree and use that.

  2. Now if you have chosen to use the bark, you have to cut the bark into many really thin stripes. If the bark is a thick one, what you can do is split the stripe into two so that the inner flesh is visible to you and now you have two stripes of the same size. This is done because before you can make khar out of the leaves, it has to be well dried.

  3. After you have split the leaves into thin strips, find an area that receives maximum sunlight throughout the day and hang these stripes on the string so that they start to dry. The entire drying process should take about 2 to 3 weeks depending on how much sun you get in your area. You have to make sure the stripes have completely dried and all of them are brown in colour or completely dry.

  4. By now your stripes should have dried completely and should be ready to make the khar first. You have to find a clean tub to burn these stripes in. in a clean metal tub put the stripes in; and using a matchbox light a fire. Let the whole thing burn down to ashes in the tub.

  5. We now have clean black ash that is ready to be made into Khar Dwi. Now crush the ashes with a clean hand so that it becomes powdery. Set that aside.

  6. In a bowl add two cups of water and add all the powdery ash into the water. Stir the water a few times till it turns dark.

  7. Now you can simply strain the water from the bowl into a storage container using a tea strainer. The blakish liquid is your khar dwi, one of the most potent alkali solutions.

  8. While cooking, you can use a table spoonful of this ash water for a group of 4 people and not too much because that will then affect the flavour and the smell of the dish.

  9. You can store all the remaining khar dwi on a shelf for about 6 months straight and still now spoil the khar dwi.

What are the benefits of drinking khar dwi?

Since Khar dwi is a powerful alkalizing agent, it has but a few health benefits that may be very useful to the body. Some of these benefits are:

  1. The ash water helps increase mineral content in your body for a better skin.

  2. A body with a high acidic content is very harmful and is prone to a lot of diseases and ailments, but when you drink this khar dwi, it not only neutralises all the acid, but also absorbs and helps flush the acid out of the body keeping it healthy and fresh.

  3. Alkali water is good for the digestive tract. When people in Assam experience stomach problems like inflammation, infection etc., they drink khar dwi to subside the ailment or straight of flush it out of the system. Khar dwi cleans the digestive tract and helps keep any organs in the digestive system become clean.

  4. Khar dwi is also popularly drunk to fight off cold and cough. Khar dwi helps clean the throat while getting rid of phlegm that is stuck to the walls of the throat and also helps fight bacteria.

What are the other uses of Kahr Dwi?

Khar dwi is an age old ingredient used in day to day lives of the Assamese people. Even today it has many uses apart from cooking let us explore these uses:

  1. Khar dwi is used in place of baking soda while cooking. To be honest Khar dwi is a much healthier, organic and nutritional alternative to baking soda.

  2. It is used as an ingredient in many Assamese dishes because of its pungent flavour as well as aroma.

  3. It is used as a softening agent for tough meats and hard vegetables before cooking them.

  4. It is a very effective alternative to soaps and washing liquids. In the past, khar dwi was used to wash hairs, the teeth and even the body. Even today, khar dwi can be used for a healthy scalp and strong teeth. It is effective in washing away dirt, bacteria and any other kinds of infectants from any part of the body.

  5. It is also used to thoroughly wash dishes. The older population of Assam in rural regions still use the khar (the ash) and not the ash water to wash utensils properly.

The Khar dwi is unusual but a historic element used in everyday Assam for many purposes. In the next article we must explore some traditional Assamese dishes that involve the use of khar for you to try at your homes. Let us know what you think of this ingredient in the comments below and share this with your friends.

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