Dr N Irabanta Singh
Introduction: The season for Thangjing (popularly known as black diamond or fox nut or gorgon nut, botanically known as Euryle ferox Salisb. Family Euryalaceae) is over. (The Sangai Express 25th November, 2016). The season for yongchak has just started. After a couple of months it will reach to each and every Manipuri households. Let us try to know more about yongchak.
Botanical description: Yongchak (in Manipuri and Wakerec in Bangladesh Manipuri; Petai in Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore; Sato in Thai; Kampai in Rongmei dialect; Zawngtah pronounced Zongtah in Zomi dialect and Mizos’ of Mizoram) is botanically known as Parkia speciosa (Syn. Parkia roxburghii); Family Fabaceae. It is a middle size unarmed trees with spreading branches and pubescent shoots. Leaves bipinnate, main rachis 30-60 cm long with a gland below the lower pair of pinnate and several between the upper pinnae. Pinnae 8-3- pairs, opposite, leaflets 40-80 pairs close set, linear oblong, falcately curved, acute, base unequally truncate. Flowers in dense turbinate or clavate long, penduncled heads, corolla pale yellow, tubular. The flowers appear bulb shaped mass which bears at the end of long stalks. The flowers secrete a nectar that attracts bats and other pollinators. The tiny flowers mature and die. Long twisted, translucent pod (25-50 cm x 1 – 4 cm) smooth, flat dark brown emerge in a cluster of seven or eight pods. When those pods are mature within them will reside bean seeds.
Distribution in Indo-Myanmar hot spot region: In Manipur, yongchak is grown mainly on all the hill districts and some parts of Manipur valley. It is also grown in small scale in Nagaland, Assam, Mizoram, Tripura, etc. It is also grown in neighbouring country like Bangladesh, Myanmar, China, etc
Mode of consumption: The two most renowned dishes made from the yongchak are yongchak singju and yongchak iromba. Yongchak singju is made from the tender vegetable sliced properly that is mixed with a thick sauce made from red chillies and ngari (fermented fish) or fermented soybean (for vegetarians). The sliced yongchak are added in raw form. A singju is the equivalent of a spicy salad in Manipuri cuisine. The best garnish for the yongchak singju is with tender pea shoots and lomba flower (Esholtzia blanda). For yongchak iromba the thin skin of the whole bean is scrapped out with the help of yongkhot, special instrument looks like a tongue cleaner, potato (best by local var. red potato – aberchaibi), red chillies, broad bean (Vicia faba) are boiled. After proper boiling, the yongchak beans would still have another film of skin. We have to remove this skin also and it would be find if the pulp and the seed (yongchak maru) – both of these are used for iromba. The whole lots are mashed together in a sauce of chilly paste, salt and roasted ngari (fermented fish) or fermented soybeans for vegetarians. It can be served with a combination of herbs as garnish – onions, coriander leaves, lomba (Esholtzia blanda) and tender pea shoots.
Nutritional values: It is a storehouse of minerals such as potassium, manganese, calcium, iron, zinc, copper, phosphorus and vitamins like vitamin A – in the form of beta-carotene, vitamin B1, vitamin B6, vitamin B9 – folate and vitamin C. Moreover, it is a very good source of protein, low in fat and dietary fibre and low in sugar, which makes it perfect for type 2 diabetes sufferers.
Health benefits: By consuming yongchak, a number of the health improvements are highlighted as below:- Depression, premenstrual syndrome (PMS), anaemia, blood pressure, brainpower, constipation, hangovers, heartburn, morning sickness, mosquito bites, nerves relaxation, ulcers, temperature control, stress, removal of warts, healthy eyes and improve concentration improving digestion, seasonal affective disorders (SAD), bone and dental health, during pregnancy, hormone balance, etc.
Economics of Yongchak trade: Yongchak is sold in several forms like detached flowers, in bunches, in pods, seeds, etc. In the beginning of the season, (October-November), yongchak pod is sold at Khwairamband bazaar at the rate of Rs. 100/- per strip or 3 strips for Rs. 200/-. The rate will decrease in December ~ January. The season for yongchak is from November to April. The traders brought in yongchak from Myanmar and Nagaland including from Jiribam district, Manipur. At Namphalong market (Myanmar), the price of yonchak per bean stick was Rs. 4.50 at the minimum and Rs. 15 per stick at the maximum. At an average about 1,70,000 bean sticks of yongchak were sold at Namphalong market daily. It was estimated that Manipur spent Rs. 12 lakh daily in buying yongchak from Myanmar traders. At that rate, the amount spent by Manipur in buying yongchak from Myanmar stands at about Rs. 3,60,00,000/- per month. The seed in April was sold at Rs. 800 per kg at Namphalong (The Sangai Express, 8th May, 2016).
Discussion: The Manipuri cuisine offers recipes starting from flowers (sales price at Kwairamband bazaar is Rs. 10 – 15/- per tea glass) and the tender beans to the dried mature beans. The Manipuris have a simple way of preserving yongchak. They select the mature beans and simply hang it up to let it dry. The deep green beans are allowed to turn black. Either they continue to hang like so or they may be taken down to be de-seeded. The seeds are then stored. As and when they are needed, they are taken out and soaked to be used for cooking. The seeds are black on the outside but the inner kernel is deep green which is eaten. Apart from Manipur, yongchak is also harvested in the neighbouring north eastern states including Nagaland. In fact, the small marginal traders (The Imas) have to purchase it from other regions to meet demand at times. Owing to difference in soil type and climate its flavour varies a little from one region to another. Since yongchak are high in protein that could lead to adverse effects on kidneys. After we eat yongchak, there is a smell which does not end at the meal, but it will follow in our urine. However, this odour is very pervasive and could stay in the excretory system of our body and in our mouth for 2-3 days, that is why it is known as – stink bean. Moreover, one may experience flatulence and bloating as a result of gases formed by the breakdown of the complex carbohydrates in the digestive tracts, especially if we didn’t cook the yongchak properly.
Conclusion: A number of dishes are made in Manipuri households with the yongchak. Important items are yongchak singju and yongchak iromba. Love for yongchak by the Manipuris is simply blind. They do not think twice to buy yongchak at any price.
[The writer is former Professor (Higher Academic Grade)/Life Science, Manipur University and former Dean, School of Life Sciences, Manipuri University and can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org]
Dr N Irabanta Singh