Mahua (Madhuca longifolia) belongs to Sapotaceae family and mostly found in different regions of India, Sri Lanka, Myanmar and Nepal. It is a tree which is known for its sweet edible flowers which fulfil three fundamental needs of the tribal people i.e. Food, Fodder and Fuel. Flower bearing period of mahua tree is March-April. Flowers are sweet in taste and contain different phytochemicals.
The flowers of Mahua tree have lots of ethnic values and high nutritive value. Due to the high amount of sugar, the flowers are used for the development of various fermented and non-fermented food products. Non-fermented products include halwa, kheer, meethi puri, barfi while fermented products include mahua daaru or mahuli.
Traditionally, Mahua is also had medicinal use for many diseases like headache, diarrhoea, pitta and bronchitis, skin diseases. Juice of the mahua flower also provided to lactating women for augmentation of breast milk.
Mahua flower and its composition
Mahua flower contains a high amount of sugars (sucrose, glucose, fructose, arabinose, few amount of maltose and rhamnose) which makes it suitable for various sweet traditional products and modern alcoholic beverages. It has good antioxidant activity due to the presence of Vitamin C. It also contains carotene which is a precursor of Vitamin A. Flowers also contain a good amount of certain minerals like calcium and phosphorus. Few amounts of proteins and fats are also present in the flower.
Applications in the Food Industry
With the high sugar content, mahua flowers are used as a sweetening agent in various local and traditional products likes halwa, meethi puri, kheer and barfi. Flowers can also be used for making cakes along with some grains (ragi, rice, jowar) or root crops. Sundried flowers are boiled with Tamarind and Sal seeds to make it a good substitute of grain staples for poor tribal people.
These flowers can also be utilized for the production of fermented products like alcohol and alcoholic beverages. In North-west India local people make mahua daaru containing 20-40% alcohol from dry mahua flowers. Mahuli, the famous liquor among tribal people of Orissa are also made by mahua flowers. The alcohol content in mahuli is about 30-40%.
Utilization for medicinal purposes
Mahua flowers have various medicinal uses and reported beneficial for heart, skin and eye diseases. Mahua flowers are considered to be a cooling agent, carminative, galactagogue and astringent. Fresh juice from the flower is utilized as a tonic and also used to cure skin diseases, eye diseases, raktapitta and headache.
Juice also increases the lactation of a lactating mother. Roasted flowers are consumed to cure cough and bronchitis by local people. Flowers can also cure impotency and general debility when consumed with milk and acts as a cooling agent to cure piles if fried in ghee.
Value-added products from mahua flowers
Apart from having lots of benefits, mahua is still the most underutilized crop across different food sectors. But from the recent researches, many of the food processors get attracted towards it which give rise to few products developed from mahua flowers. The products made from mahua flowers are limited due to limited availability in limited space and perishability.
Some of the possible products are made from mahua flowers by the approach of researches and processors. These researches make these flowers to utilize commercially for its value addition in terms of fermented and non-fermented foods. Fresh juice from the flowers can be concentrated and directly used as a sweetener in various bakery and confectionary products while fresh flowers can be crushed to make puree and sauces. Ripe flowers can be used to make products like jam, jelly and marmalade.
Orissa University of Agriculture and Technology, Bhubaneshwar have recently developed various value-added products from dry mahua flowers like cake, candy, RTS, toffee, squash and ladoo. Other value-added products are candied flower, glazed flower and mahua bar.
As flowers contain a high amount of fermentable sugars, they can be utilized for winemaking using Saccharomyces Cerevisiae. Freshly prepared wines are fortified with various tradition herbs (Black pepper, cinnamon, clove, cumin, fenugreek, nutmeg, fennel and Indian cassia) to develop a new value-added product, mahua vermouth. Dried mahua flowers are also utilized for making fermented products like brandy, acetone and lactic acid.
Mahua flowers have multipurpose use i.e. it can be used in various traditional food items, value-added products and also can be used as medicine. These flowers satisfy the basic needs of the tribal people. There are various factors also which affects the quality of mahua flowers and its products, are post-harvest storage, lack of modern technology for the value addition and lack of scientific knowledge about the flower.
Based on the current studies and knowledge, the quality attributes of the flower are getting deteriorated due to the malpractices by the tribal people for its preservation. It is very necessary to overcome these issues and this can be done after the commercial utilization of the flower along with advance technologies for the development of various value-added products and their availability throughout the year. It can not only help towards the growing demand for different products but also help to uplift the economy of tribal people and their sustainable development.
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B.Tech student at National Institute of Food Technology Entrepreneurship and Management