Sunday, November 05, 2006

I know it's long, but... this is gonna be my last, front-page byline, for a while, and i love it (Of course, this version is the result of many sessions in the recycle bin often called the editing table) :D so please be kind, and comment.
Lotsa luv,
ME

Ahmedabad, November 4: Salicornia brachiata might not actually be a magic spell, but the plant is quite magical — it yields edible salt. This intriguing characteristic of salicornia, has the Central Salt and Marine Chemical Research Institute (CSMCRI) in Bhavnagar grow it on about 100 hectares of land.

Now, the CSMCRI has intensified research on this plant after they found a way to extract salt from it in 2002. The institute tried to grow the plants in an artificial environment at a field in Hathab. ‘‘But it didn’t work out well. In order to study it better, we needed to increase the quantity. So we worked on densifying it in its natural habitat,’’ says Dr MP Reddy, in charge of the study at CSMCRI. ‘‘Last year, we had about 60 hectares under salicornia cover. This year we have reached 100,’’ he adds. The ‘field’ covers about 45-50 km of coastal areas across the State.

The green fleshy shrubs, grow in marshy coastal areas and do not require fresh water for irrigation. Salicornia absorbs seawater and stores the excess salt, much like a potato stores starch.

Since it occupies otherwise infertile, saline land, the increased salicornia cover means an increase in green cover in the area. This automatically translates into more carbon credits for the country, explains Dr Reddy. The fact that it grows wild, makes it easy to densify, he said.

The technology for salicornia salt extraction, protected under a US patent, has been licensed locally, and the product is markedly saltier than table salt and is already available commercially as ‘Saloni’. ‘‘The difference in taste is rather inexplicable,’’ says Dr Pushpito Ghosh, Director CSMCRI.

Dr Reddy clarifies that sodium chloride, the main component of table salt, is what gives it its flavour. ‘‘Salicornia salt, on the other hand, contains a mix of potassium chloride and iodine, as well as other micronutrients, bringing down the ratio of sodium chloride. So, technically it should be less salty,’’ he says.

Dr Reddy, like Dr Ghosh, refers to the salicornia salt, as a ‘nutraceutical’, since the natural mix of nutrients, including calcium, magnesium, iron, copper and zinc, have led to a number of local doctors prescribing it in addition to traditional medicines for blood pressure. Currently, CSMCRI is working toward creating ‘a tailor-made salt,’ containing variable quantities of component nutrients, as per individual requirements.

Salicornia cultivation is also an economically viable process. Apart from salt extraction, the seed of the plant yields oil, rich in linoleic acid; the tips of the shoots are edible, too. ‘‘But only while the plant is tender,’’ warns Dr Reddy. ‘‘As the plant gets more mature and reaches the flowering stage, they develop more fibre. And then, it turns red and bitter,’’ he explains.

‘‘We briefly experimented in exporting fresh shoots, to the Netherlands, for use in salads,’’ reveals Dr Ghosh, adding that though the shoots were sold at about $8, per kg. ‘‘The freight charges made it non-viable.’’ The Director admits to being partial to the salty shoots.

Dr Reddy also vetoes the idea of national exports. ‘‘We already have too many things to eat in our country. Not too many people would prefer a wild plant.’’

Although, still in preliminary stages of research, Dr Reddy reveals that there is a possibility that the plant, in its mature phase, could contain leutin, an anti-ageing agent. If his observation proves true, salicornia research could soon, pay for itself.

3 comments:

arunima said...

Hi Signora,
With front page bylines and all, I can see that someone is going places. lovely article, this it.\congrats!

Da Psycho Blogger said...

nice re some of tht scientific stuff thts becomin so hard 2 find in th paper

matty said...

aaaaaaarggggh!!! change the font color lady!!!