Konkan coast opens its doors to ‘cashew tourism’

MANGALORE: The Konkan coast has witnessed one of the best cashew seasons this time. The succulent red and yellow cashew fruit hanging from trees in cashew orchards was a common sight. One would say that the real fun of the summer is biting into them and experiencing the aromatic and slight tipsy taste tingling on the palate. But there’s nothing like popping a bag full of salted cashew nuts that are golden fried in ghee.
This was the scene in thousands of homes and hotels along the Karnataka coast. And what’s more is cashew-crazy tourists are thronging this place from places like Bangalore, Mysore and the arid North Indian cities.
In fact, a few years ago, cashew nuts were just another edible item consumed only by the rich and elite, but now even the budget-conscious tourists are giving a push to this new form of ‘cashew tourism’ that extends right from Mangalore in the South to the edge of Karnataka Coast bordering Goa.
“We never had such a good season. In 2012, we realised that every cashew tree in the wild was as important as the cultured ones growing on the captive orchards along the coast. According to a rough estimate, we have over 25 lakh yielding trees along the coast in three districts. Karnataka State Cashew Development Corporation (KCDC) started educating the people living along the coast about the commercial value of these trees in their farms. We told them to keep a track of the yield and collect every nut that the tree yields. This led to a dramatic 20 per cent jump between March and April,” informed KCDC official Manjunath Shetty.
While Uttara Kannada district thrives on the tender cashew business, Udupi and Dakshina Kannada district add value to the produce which has a tremendous demand both in the export as well as the local market.
“We were astounded with the results. Earlier, the export variety of value-added products such as fried cashew nuts and masala cashew nuts hardly sold in the local market. Now, even at Rs 700 per kg our stocks were sold out within the first month of the fresh crop. So much so that we had to begin production all over again,” said Prabhakar Kamath, a cashew factory owner.
This spurt in the market has been attributed to consumers in Bangalore. The Mangalore Cashew Manufacturing Association was the first to promote cashew consumption among health-conscious people.
“We began with a campaign that cashew was the ‘zero cholesterol’ cocktail snack. We proved this with a number of scientific tests that we carried out on the nutritional value of the nut. This not only improved sales of these value-added products in the local market but in the export market as well,” association members said.
The initiatives undertaken by KCDC, MCMA and individual growers in all the three coastal districts have led to a 20 per cent increase in land utilised for cashew cultivation.
“In Uttara Kananda alone we have seen the yield go up from a seasonal 4,000 tonnes to 6,000 tonnes,” pointed out cashew dealer Damodar Pai Bhatkal.
The Konkanis call the cashew nut ‘Bibbo’, the Tulu speaking populace refer to it as ‘Beeja’, while the Kannadigas of the coast call it ‘Gerubeeja’. However, all linguistic groups have their own dishes. The most favoured is the ‘upkari’ in which cashew nuts are mixed with tender gherkins which are in turn fried and garnished. On the other hand, the Konkanis prepare a curry mixed with kidney beans which is a tad spicier.  The Muslims generously use it in biryanis and ghee rice, particularly the ‘Bhatkali biryani’. Those with a sweet tooth use it for making ‘Kaju Katlis’ and ‘Burfis’ – a preferred choice among corporate companies for gifting.
Although neighbouring Goa is also known for the crop, foreign tourists, however, flock to Karwar and Mangalore to get a real taste of the tender cashew. Taraakka, a cashew vendor on the streets of Karwar, sells king-sized tender cashew nuts.
“I sell not less than 10,000 of these tender nuts every day. I send most of it to the Mangalore stores in Bangalore (Malleshwaram, Vijaynagar, Rajajinagar and Jayanagar) but these traders are so persistent that they demand more supplies. So I am compelled to travel to Kumta, Ankola and Bhatkal to get more stocks. When their demands reach unreasonable levels, I am forced to switch off my mobile phone,” she said.

Categories: Business
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