GI tagged food gems: celebrating native flavours
Many Indian snacks have been coveted with the GI tag recently and many are soon to receive it, showcasing the culinary diversity of India. But what is this tag all about ?
The gucchi mushrooms from Jammu are all set to receive the GI tag. Primarily found in the foothills of the Himalayas, they are among the costliest mushrooms in the world with their price ranging between Rs. 20,000 to Rs. 50,000 per kg. Considered a superfood that is rich in vitamins, the wild mushrooms have a spongy texture and a savoury flavour. But what makes them special and what is a GI tag?
“The gucchi mushrooms have a very special flavour and their supply is extremely scarce, as they cannot be cultivated artificially unlike many other mushrooms. They are native to cold regions in the Himalayas, grow wild in forests and are difficult to source. Their procurement and supply is also regulated by authorities that own the land, further putting restrictions on their supply and adding to their limited usage and high price,” says Manas Dubashi, a mushroom farmer in Gurugram.
Not just rare produce like the mushrooms, GI tags are also given to iconic dishes and regional specialties. Recently Bihar’s famous delicacies ‘khurma’, ‘tilkut’ and ‘balu shahi’ have been pitted for the tag and their application accepted by the competent authority.
Khurma is a crunchy snack of fried flour which has been coated with sugar, pretty much like the shakarpara.Tilkut is a crunchy sweet made from sesame seeds and jaggery and balu shahi is a sweet that is crunchy from the outside and has a soft interior.
Understanding the tag
India has the most number of Geographical Indication (GI) tags for foods and agriculture produce. A GI tag defines the region of origin of a product and helps define what is ‘authentic’. The concept of GI tag was introduced in 2003 under the act of Geographical Indications of Goods (Registration and Protection) Act,1999. Darjeeling Tea was the first to be awarded the tag.
“GI tags bring in credibility and trust and define originality. It is similar to the kind of trust any brand name brings in. What it also does is restrict production of similar food items that may be packaged and sold with a similar name, if it’s not for a GI tag. For example, Champagne only comes from the eponymous region in France and all the other similar drinks are sparkling wine,” explains chef Sanjeev Kapoor.
“A GI tag impacts marketing and also protects heritage of an item. Take the example of pokkali rice which grow in saline water in Kerala and is not known so much but it would have been lost entirely if didn’t get a GI tag. Today it can be sold for ₹200 per kg,” he adds.
A GI tag is an indicator that a particular product came from a region and possesses its qualities — of certain flavor, texture, and/or aroma that came about because of the region. Such a credit not only protects authenticity but also helps boost local commerce.
“The GI tag creates branding and much larger commercial interests which help the grower or farmer to get better prices for their hard-earned effort. It has a very positive impact on the food world since it allows the users to understand its core origin and the sheer benefits associated with it. It is important that our food ingredients should have specified GI tag for a lager interest so that the entire process is well defined. Right from origin to cultivation to the economics,” says chef Nishant Choubey.
A global benchmark
Granting a GI tag also helps local produce come in global limelight, further boosting commerce and also establishing their identity internationally.
“To me GI is an absolute celebration of regional India under the global spotlight just like Champagne and parmesan. A GI tag is a matter of great domestic pride but also a guard against misuse of identity of produce and an absolute promise of reputation world over,” says chef Varun Inammdar.
“Kashmiri kesar, Hyderabadi Haleem, Manipuri black rice, monsooned Malabar coffee, Rasagola from Odisha all have received the GI tag in the past identifying them as products originating in a given place,” chef Tarun Sibal explains with examples.
“More and more authentic, distinctive Indian products native to the country and rich in cultural heritage are now looking at GI tags to cement their position and origin. Be it the Khola chili from Goa or Ratlam’s sev, “ he adds.
Tagged in the recent past
The popular Banarasi paan and langda mango of Varanasi received the tag recently. Ramnagar Bhanta (brinjal), Chandausi’s adamchini chawal (rice), Hathras hing are other produces from UP to get the tag.
Murukku, a popular, crunchy snack that is a festive-favourite in Tamil Nadu also recently got the tag after almost a decade-long wait. Cumbum panneer thratchai (grapes), Marthandam honey are other food items from the state to be coveted with the tag.
Recently, the tag was also given to Bihar’s popular marcha rice which is known for its aromatic flavour.