Odisha’s red ant chutney: Unveiling the secrets of the superfood

Ant chutney bagged the coveted Geographical Indication (GI) tag on January 2, 2024, earning it global recognition. Photo: iStock/brebca

Culinary traditions of certain countries like China often incorporate a wide range of ingredients, including many insects and worms. Certain animals and insects are even considered delicacies and are included in traditional dishes for their unique flavours and perceived health benefits in some northeastern regions of India as well. In the quaint village of Mayurbhanj in Odisha, a culinary tradition has thrived for generations, captivating locals with a unique delicacy known as “kay chutney”. This extraordinary dish is made using red ants, which are scientifically called ‘Oecophylla smaragdina’.

The lush expanse of Similipal forests, the second-largest biosphere reserve in Asia, provides an ideal habitat for these tiny creatures which, despite their size, have a potent sting that can lead to localized inflammation and discomfort. Over time, they have become an integral part of the culinary heritage of Mayurbhanj, located on the forest fringes. This culinary marvel bagged the coveted Geographical Indication (GI) tag on January 2, 2024, earning it global recognition and paving the way for a deeper understanding of this nutritious superfood.

From harvesting red ants to preparing dishes that showcase their unique flavours, the local communities have found sustainable and innovative ways to integrate this natural resource into their daily lives. The tribal populace meticulously collects red ants and eggs from their natural habitat. The ants are then skillfully combined with an array of locally sourced spices and a mix of chillies, garlic, ginger, and salt to create the unique chutney. This won’t get spoiled easily and will last up to one year. Similar ant chutneys are prepared in some of the eastern states, like Jharkhand and Chhattisgarh as well.

A powerhouse of health
Enriched with proteins and other essential nutrients, the red ant chutney becomes more than just a tantalizing accompaniment – it’s a powerhouse of health. It’s a storehouse of protein, calcium, zinc, vitamin B-12, iron, magnesium, and potassium. This dish is said to aid the development of the brain and nervous system, besides contributing to bone and eye health. It also has potent health benefits for conditions such as depression, tiredness, and memory loss.

There are over 350 GI tags for Indian products, including over 30 items from Kerala. The products from Kerala that have received the GI tags include Navara Rice, Palakkadan Matta Rice, Alleppey Green Cardamom, Pokkali Rice, Wayanad Jeerakasala Rice, Kaipad Rice, Chengalikkodan banana, Marayoor jaggery, Attappady Aattukombu Avara (beans), Attappady Thuvara (red gram), Onattukara Ellu (sesame), Kanthaloor Vattavada veluthuli (garlic), and Kodungallur Pottuvellari (snap melon).

The Geographical Indication tag is a certification that recognizes and protects products originating from a specific geographical location, imparting them a unique identity. In India, the authority responsible for administering GI registrations is the Geographical Indications Registry, which operates under the Department for Promotion of Industry and Internal Trade (DPIIT), under the Ministry of Commerce and Industry.

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