Do we love tea? I bet we all do, be it on cold mornings, clammy afternoons or balmy evenings.
We gratefully sip and savour that refreshing beverage especially just after gruelling sessions of meetings and conferences.
And after back-breaking toils in the garden, nothing refreshes better than a hot cup of chai.
Ever since the British introduced tea drinking in India tens of thousands of acres of tea plantations have started dotting the elevated plains of Assam and hills of Darjeeling and now the slopes of Meghalaya, all vying to produce leaves for the brew that cheers.
But did you know that before tea arrived on the scene, the indigenous populace had their unique brews or teas made from local plants and grains?
One of the brews is the Cha Khoo of Mynksan village in Laskein Block of Jaintia Hills district, Meghalaya.
Cha means tea in the Jaintia Pnar language and khoo means rice. So cha khoo is tea brewed from rice. Not just any rice but the nutrient-rich, home-pounded, unpolished red rice that Jaintia hills district is famous for. This is the same rice they eat in meals.
Cha Khoo tastes nothing like tea. Rather, it’s like bland coffee but as refreshing as tea can be. And more.
Healthy Beverages From the Ages
Like in most other villages beverages made from local grains were very much a part of the food habits of the Pnar people of Laskein Block of Meghalaya’s Jaintia hills district, especially in a village called Mawkaiaw.
These villagers out there have been drinking these traditional decoctions for many, many years until tea-drinking arrived and all but unseated them.
And cha khoo wasn’t the only drink option; there was cha hadem (maize tea) and cha kew (wheat tea) as well. The tradition of cha khoo would probably have died out if it wasn’t for the Mynksan villagers who were enterprising enough to serve it to the tourists. It’s now a hit.
But the fact is this: Mynksan folks learnt cha khoo making from the Mawkaiaw villagers, according to Kong Airiwansuk Suchiang of Mawkaiaw.
Making Cha Khoo is Easier Than You Think
This is what Kong Airiwansuk says as she narrated the method of making cha khoo.
Let me share with you...
You’ll need two main ingredients – brown/red rice (khoo so) and jaggery (mukruit) in the ratio of 4:1.
- On a slow fire first roast, say about a kilogram, of khoo so in a wok or kadhai till it is well browned.
- Add 250 grams of jaggery or molasses, to the rice and stir continuously till the jaggery coats the rice grains thoroughly and the blend becomes one consistency. When that happens the mixture’s done.
- Remove from the fire and spread on a tray. (In Mawkaiaw they use bamboo winnowing trays like the prah or pdung).
- Allow the mixture to cool at room temperature.
- While it cools rub the mixture between fingers or palms to prevent lumps from forming. The final product should have the same grainy consistency but with the coat of jaggery.
Now you have what they call ka bran.
In a little while when ka bran has cooled enough store it in an airtight container and shelve it in a cool and dry place away from direct sunlight.
Kong Airiwansuk advises storing in food-grade plastic bags or pet jars. As long as storage is airtight and no moisture gets in ka bran will stay even for a year.
How to Make Your Cup of Cha Khoo?
Using a dry spoon scoop in a teaspoon (5 grams) or less if you prefer of ka bran in a cup. Pour boiling water over it and for a minute. Your cha khoo is ready.
Alternately, you can put in as many teaspoons of ka bran in a pot for as many cups of cha khoo you require, pour the proportionate amount of water and bring it to boil as you would do when making tea. A couple of minutes later your cha khoo is ready.
If you need extra sweetness add some sugar, or better still, honey, which will add another dimension to the taste and nutrition. In fact, you can experiment with flavors like black pepper, ginger and others.
Cha khoo is normally taken without milk. But if you like it with milk you can brown the rice a little more while roasting to give it a darker color.
Savouring the Goodness of Cha Khoo
It tastes a bit like coffee, or rather, bland coffee. Without sugar or honey, the sweetness isn’t as sharp, which should be all right for people with blood sugar.
What can you have as accompaniments to cha khoo?
Kong Airiwansuk says they take it along with local traditional snack foods made from local, naturally grown grains or tubers.
These delicacies are mostly steamed, are super healthy options and have exotic names such as pu-sla, pukhlein, pu-saw, putharo, or pu-doh, which are preparations from powdered grains.
The tubers can be ka shriew (yam) and phan-dieng (tapioca).
They even down steamed sticky rice jashawlia with cha khoo.
You can read about these traditional foods in the Popular Traditional Khasi Foods article.
Of course, you can accompany your cha khoo with your favorite sandwiches, biscuits, cookies, pastries and patties or what have you. It all goes.
Is Cha Khoo any Good?
How does cha khoo help? I asked Kong Airiwansuk.
We do a lot of manual labour, she says, whether in the fields or in the house, that drains strength rapidly. Cha khoo and such other beverages help keep the energy up as well as to stave off hunger.
Incidentally, cha khoo is only one of the many energy and health-giving drinks they keep in their kitchens.
The Secret Behind Cha Khoo’s Goodness
What makes cha khoo great apart from its palatability?
No doubt it’s the nutrient content that comes from the red (or brown) rice.
Another reason is the molasses that go into its making. Unlike refined sugar which is nothing but empty calories, molasses scores because of its nutrients such as:
- Vitamin B-6
The red/brown rice is the unpolished or whole grain rice that contains all parts of the grain intact. The parts consist of the...
- Bran or brown covering which is full of fiber.
- Germ which stores large amounts of bioactive compounds and micro-nutrients essential for health. Some of these micro-nutrients are selenium which helps in thyroid hormone production and magnesium which help in muscle contraction and bone development.
- Endosperm which is rich in carbohydrates.
According to research whole grain helps...
- Reduce cholesterol
- Lower risk of stroke
- Prevent heart disease
- Control type 2 diabetes
When rice is milled or polished into white rice, its most nutritious parts, the bran and germ gets stripped away. What’s left is the endosperm which contains mostly carbohydrates. That ups its glycemic index, letting your body break it down faster, raising the level of glucose in the bloodstream.
Brown/red rice might have a lower glycemic index but it also has more calories, proteins, fats and carbohydrates than white rice. It’s also packed with more nutrients and its higher fibre content leaves you with an early feeling of fullness. You feel less hungry and so tend to eat smaller amounts of food and so will be less likely to gain weight.
Besides, even if brown rice has more calories than white rice when you take cha khoo you sip along with it the extras that offer health benefits such as these below:
- Lower cholesterol levels.
- Better blood sugar control.
- Better nourishment for intestinal bacteria.
- A faster feeling of fullness so you eat less and control obesity.
- Better antioxidant, anticancer and anti-inflammatory activities.
- Control of loss of neurons in the brain.
- Promotion of bone and cell growth.
- Relief for people with celiac diseases or gluten intolerance that damage the intestines.
As for nutrients, this table below compares the composition per 100 grams of brown rice, white rice and rice bran:
There is a debate, however, as to which rice is better, white or brown/red. Overall, brown/red rice is a more healthful choice but for some people, white rice is the better choice. For example, people with kidney diseases, or those who need a low-fiber diet or pregnant women who need more fol-ate and should avoid any kind of toxins. It’s advisable to consult your physician if you have any health issues.
So is Cha Khoo a Healthy Beverage Choice?
When you get to the bottom of it cha khoo turns out as something of a wonder drink. And now that you know how it’s made perhaps you’d like to try out yourself?
Or maybe you’d want to try the other teas we have in our arsenal.
Let me know in your comments below.