A woman farmer dries her mirchi produce in Srinagar outskirts

Suheem Khanday/Omar Rather

SRINAGAR: Kashmiris love bitterness of Chilli unlike rest of the people across Central Asia. For us Kashmiris, food sans chilli is meant for a sick person. They not only believe that benefits of the spice go beyond strengthening ones digestive tract but promotes a healthy heart and improves metabolism and what not.

Perhaps that’s why before sumptuous Gushtaba at our very own royal feast (Wazwan) we are served Martsavangun (red chilli) kormeh.

While we take pride in our chilli eating tolerance, rest of the world knows very little about the various chilli varieties available in Kashmiri market.

At Gadeh Kocheh spices are all around

For any spice lover, a visit to the famous Gaad-e-Kocheh, the street that connects Nalamar with famous Zaina Kadal in downtown Srinagar is a must. Tucked amongst rows and rows of shops in the street is a 40-year-old shop with quite a peculiar name, ‘Mohd Siddiq/ Bashir Ahmad’. When strong smell of the spices leads you to shop, you can see bags and bags full of various chilli powders on display. The pungent smell from the various chilli powders sold at this shop will for sure give you a sneezing fit.

Started by their father long back, the owners, who belong to Zaina Kadal are famous in the area by the name of ‘Mirchi kings’. In fact the only name you need to take while looking for directions for this shop is the Mirchi king shop.

According to the owners, they are the preferred distributers of chilli powder in the area. Although there are a few other famous chilli sellers in nearby Bohri Kadal like Nazir Ahmad and Ali Mohammad, most of them buy their stock from here.

The shop sells five varieties of chilli. Kashmiri chilli (Koushur Martsavangun) being the strongest. The shop sources its Kashmiri chillies from areas like Bugam, Tangmarg, Bandipora, Dangerpora, Anantanag and Noorbagh in city outskirts. The taste varies with the region they are being cultivated.

Kashmiri Chilli

Chillies of Bugam are the most bitter in taste. Noorbagh, the area of choice for the chillies grown in the area, have less seeds and are spicier than the ones grown in other areas. “There is a misconception among people outside Kashmir that Kashmiri chillies are less spicy and are mostly used to impart colour. In reality, it is quite the opposite. Kashmir chillies are used for their spiciness while the other varieties like the Shimla , Punjabi and the Pepsi (name given because the shape of the chilli which usually is imported from Rajasthan resembles a Pepsi bottle) are the ones that are used for their colour”, says Nazir Ahmad, who too has been selling chilli for more than a decade. While the Shimla variety is the one used for making spicy kormas given its huge size and pungency, the Guntur Pala, that is quite a hit among the people of Andhra Pradesh, ranks second on the spicy level.

Most of these chilli sellers sell about five quintals of chilli powder every month but the sales soar during the wedding season as both Kashmiri and outside varieties are used in the Wazwan preparation.  The indigenous Kashmiri chilli sells for Rs 240/ kg and other varieties are sold from anywhere between Rs 170/ kg, (Punjabi) to 120/kg(Pepsi).

Shimla Mirch

According the spice dealers of Gade Kocheh they sell thousands of quintals per season. “We sell around 100 quintals per week of varieties like Shimla, Pepsi and KDR during the peak wedding season. While I sell around 150 kgs of Kashmiri chilli every week, the other varieties too are in big demand as they give a brighter colour to the vegetables when used”, says Mohammad Arif Kaloo, a spice dealer with a small shop near bus stand.

Some more varieties of chilli sold in the market are enlisted below:

  1. Teja: Teja chilli is also called as micro chillies. Grown in Andhra Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh, Teja chilli is the only pungent chilli available in abundance.The colour value is around 60-90asta and the chillies have a peculiar smell.
  2. Resham Patti: These Chillies are usually crushed and powdered and are used throughout Indian cooking. Vibrant red Reshampatti powder has a powerful, spicy flavour with a broad, pepper sweetness. It is used mainly by Guajarati’s and Maharashtrians for pickling purpose.
  3. KDR: Stemless red chillies used to make chilli powder, this variety is one of the most expensive outside varieties sold in the market. A kilogram of this variety is sold for around Rs 220.

Benefits of Red Chilli

Pepsi Mirchi

Chili power can act as an anti-inflammatory agent, which helps decrease swelling of sore joints and increases blood flow. Although many associate chili powder with causing upset stomach, it actually prevents acid reflux and kills the bacteria that causes stomach ulcers. The capsaicin compound found in chili powder also boosts our metabolism and as such helps us in burning fat.  Besides boosting immunity, capsaicin’s peppery heat also stimulates secretions that help clear mucus from our stuffed up nose or congested lungs chillies your best friends for winters.

Nutritional Benefits of Chilli

Chili powder contains sufficient amount of vitamin A which contributes to the maintenance of eyesight and takes care of bones, teeth, skin, internal membranes and reproductive systems.

Chili powder also acts as an excellent antioxidant due to the presence of vitamin C in abundance. Vitamin C is essential for strengthening the immune system, healing injuries, and fighting against damage caused by free radicals which can otherwise increase the chances of developing harmful health conditions, like cancer and heart disease.

With beta carotenoids present in chili powder, it helps wipe out the radical bodies that can promote build-up of cholesterol, thereby leading to major heart diseases, like atherosclerosis, rheumatoid arthritis and osteoarthritis.

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SOURCE: Suheem Khanday/Omar Rather

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