Jakhya (cleome viscose)
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Significance of the herb
Whenever she misses friends back in India, Deirdre Kennedy , an Irishwoman living in Norway , cooks herself a traditional desi meal. And when her Irish taste buds want potatoes with a Garhwali touch (a reminder of her days spent in the Mussoorie hills), she turns to what she terms her `secret ingredient.' Jakhya, a pahadi herb which has a distinctively nutty flavour and crunchy taste is not just a firm favourite with Kennedy who often visits Mussoorie. It has also earned a loyal fan following among many others who during their travels in Uttarakhand came across the herb, and fell in love with it.
Like Madhumita Chakravarty who lives in Greater Noida and tasted Aloo Jakhya, a popular pahadi potato dish during her trip to Mussoorie earlier this year. “I found the taste of the dish very different. I bought a packet of jakhya and tried making the dish at home. It turned out very well and I now make the dish Aloo Jakhya quite often.My family loves it.“
Another jakhya-fan is Sanjana Chawla, a passionate foodie whose daughter studies in a boarding school in Uttarakhand's Mussoorie. She happened to taste the seasoning while on a trip to the hill station and says it's now become a part of her kitchen essentials. “I absolutely love the crunch of this seasoning as it changes the taste and texture of the food. I have tried it with tinda, arhar dal, idli and wheat crackers and it blends in with all of these which makes it truly amazing.“
The botanical name for this sought after herb is Cleome viscose. It is also referred to as tickweed and has a mustard seed like appearance, on ly smaller in size. It is commonly used as a seasoning in Garhwali food much like how jeera (cumin) is used in most of North India.
Food historian Rushina Munshaw Ghildiyal terms the herb jakhya as “the most unexplored yet the most significant Garhwali food ingredient.“ “If I have to do a flavour profiling of Garhwali food, it will basically have jakhya, dry red chillies and garlic. Jakhya's beautiful nutty flavour and the crunch that goes with it makes it truly unique.“
Many local shopkeepers say there is a marked interest in the herb ever since restaurants serving Garhwali food made it popular-even upscale hotels like J W Marriott Mussoorie Walnut Grove Resort have a traditional Garhwali thali with dishes that are seasoned with jakhya.Suresh Nautiyal who runs a grocery store in the Landour Bazaar says that tourists often come to his shop asking for the herb. “People usually prefer to buy small packets -100 to 250 gms generally to experiment with it. Once they like it, they take more. It's definitely interesting to see how the local ingredient has become so popular over the past few years.“