Here is a traditional mix you would love to taste. Sohphlang, a produce of Northeast India, is a tuber, sometimes referred to as a vegetable and sometimes as fruit. This small, white is eaten as a snack, with powdered Nei Lieh (looks like sesame, or til, but is not) and red chilli.
Sohphlang has excellent de-worming qualities, but wait, what is Nei Lieh? Nie Lieh is not the same as what is known as 'white sesame' in the rest of India. It is altogether another type called Perilla seed.
Perilla is an herb of the mint family, Lamiaceae. The oil extracted from Perilla seeds is rich in omega3 fatty acids. One of the early 'discoveries' by Zizira explorers were a couple of facts about Sohphlang that they did not know about.
You are wondering what is Sohphlang? It is a produce of Northeast India unlike anything you would have seen or tasted. A tuber sometime referred to as a vegetable and sometime as fruit. You can read about it on our blog. Before you click on any of these links and explore Sohphlang, please stay with us on this page as we introduce you to Perilla seeds!
It was early June 2015 and we had just started developing content for our new website, Zizira. The team had begun its field visits.
During that time the team members got discussing about Sohphlang, a produce each one of them had tasted, but never really paid much attention to as being something out of the ordinary. It was a small, white fruit that one ate as a snack, with powdered Nei Lieh (looks like sesame, but is not!) and red chilli.
One of the team members mentioned a health benefit of Sohphlang and the team got interested and did further research on it. The first 'find' was a report on a “Sohphlang and Nei” show and training program that was organized in 2013 by Krishi Vigyan Kendra.
From this article, we discovered that Sohphlang had deworming properties and because of its popularity it is being grown as a cash crop. You should have seen the excitement when this news was exchanged by the Zizira team members. Imagine good health benefit and it was in demand. So, Sohphlang is something worth exploring further - to reach to those looking for healthy options in the rest of India!
Also read this article on 'Sohphlang and Nei' a blog post published on Zizira.
A few days later members of the team exchanged views on how tasty Sohphlang was when eaten with hand pound Nei Lieh. In Khasi Nei means ‘sesame’ and 'Lieh' means white – so one had assumed that Nei Lieh is the same as white sesame. It was not till mid November 2015, when work on a Sohphlang infographic started, that the explorers discovered that Nie Lieh is not the same as what is known as 'white sesame' in the rest of India! It is altogether another type called Perilla seed!
Should we not ask an expert about Perilla seeds? Off went Bantei, a member of the Zizira team of explorers, to meet with a very senior scientist of the Botanical Survey of India Dr. Ashiho Asosii Mao in his office in Laitumkrah. Of course after setting up an appointment. Dr. Mao has a doctorate in Plant Tissue culture. He has been with BSI from 1990 and has close to 95 research papers to his credit!
All his qualifications and expertise sit lightly on his shoulders. He was so ready to share information with Bantei. Here is what we gathered:
Q. Is Nei Lieh the same as white sesame?
Dr. Mao: No! White Sesame is not grown in Meghalaya, as it does not grow in cold climatic conditions. The one which we see in the markets in Shillong, what we call Nei Lieh, is the Perilla Seed. Its Botanical name is Perilla frutescens. This seed only grows in the hilly areas of India and most of the people in India do not know about this seed.
This is what we found in Wikipedia. Perilla is an herb of the mint family, Lamiaceae. Though known to several cultures by different names, the disparate varieties are now classified under the single species Perilla frutescens. The plant overall resembles the stinging nettle, though the leaves are somewhat rounder.
So, Perilla belongs to the mint family! Interesting, is it not?
Q. What about Nei-iong, Black Sesame which we cook with rice, or mix with salads, etc? Does it grow in Meghalaya?
Dr. Mao: No! We buy it from other states as it is in demand in Meghalaya. Dr. Mao mentioned that oil can be extracted from Perilla leaves and it is rich in omega3 fatty acids. Our research showed that Perilla is used in many of the Southeast countries and in Japan it is called Shiso and quite popular.
Dr. Mao shared some of his experiences while he was in South Korea, where most of the people are very fond of Perilla seeds. They even consume fresh Perilla leaves.
I did not know the leaves were edible! said Bantei to himself!
The flowers bloom in August-September and by November the flowers become dry and the seeds are harvested. These are Nei-lieh or Perilla seeds. Bantei spent a little more time talking to Dr. Mao. who mentioned edible ferns! More in the next post.
Meghalaya is blessed with so many well qualified, hardworking scientists like Dr. Mao. We at Zizira have had the good fortune to have met some of them and would look forward to presenting them and their work on our blogs.
Have you tasted Nei-leih or Perilla seed? Maybe you are from Northeast too and would like to share a recipe with Perilla seed? Go ahead add your comments below.