Arrowroot (Maranta arundinacea) is a familiar name. As kids it was a kind of a sister to castor oil which mum sometimes spooned into our mouths. It was bland and insipid and that was the beginning of my childhood hatred for any kind of porridge and of Arrowroot biscuits which has thankfully now passed. Arrowroot derives its name from its past medicinal use in which it was used as a poultice to treat wounds inflicted by poisoned arrows.
It is cultivated for its starch-storing rhizome from which Arrowroot powder is extracted. However commercially available Arrowroot powder is known to be adulterated with potato starch among other things. Arrowroot powder is very nutritious and easily digested, it is often fed to infants, invalids, and those who have indigestion problems. It is used to soothe the stomach and alleviate the symptoms of diarrhea. A porridge made from arrowroot was therefore considered to both be nourishing and beneficial to someone who was ill and/or had a poor appetite.
The year before last, when I visited my aunt, as she was showing me around the garden, she pointed out some Arrowroot (aarote in Tulu) plants to me. When I asked her whether I could have a couple of them, she gladly gave me some small saplings. I went home and planted one in my garden and three of my aunts took a rhizome each from me and planted it in their gardens. I had also got some other plants, some Coffee seeds I had planted which I had got from Coorg, a couple of pepper creepers, Aloe vera a red desi (heirloom) potato which I carried home from Delhi and a plant whose English or botanical name I do not know. In Tulu it is called the ‘ kai kanji kaar katt’ tappu ‘ which simply means ‘leaves which are tied to the legs of cattle’ (when they are injured). I used to keep calling up my mother occasionally to find out the status of my plants until one day she informed me that the potato and arrowroot plants had been pulled out and nibbled on by rats or some other creature and the kai kanji kaar katt’ tappu and Aloe vera had died as well along with one of my pepper creepers.
I was very disappointed. However miraculously, after the next rains, the kai kanji kaar katt’ tappu plant and the arrowroot plant sent out shoots again. One year later, I asked my mother how arrowroot was processed and I had something new to write about.
Mum’s method was a shortcut -clean and wash the rhizomes, slice them and put them in a blender with water. More traditional methods usually involve grating the rhizome in the finest available grater, often through a tin sheet perforated all over by a nail. The goal is to turn it into a pulp. The final process is the same. Strain the pulp through a cloth, let the sediment settle after which the water is carefully poured off and the fine powder left behind dried. It is preferably cleaned 3 to 4 times to get a very white sparkling powder. I’m not very particular about cleaning it so much. I was shocked at the ratio of the amount of rhizomes’ to that of the amount of powder I got. I don’t know whether it was due to mum’s shortcut… if it was not, then that explains why it is adulterated with other substances such as potato starch.
I’ve seen tribal people on TV processing similar products by filling a boat with water and pounding the stem/rhizome/tuber of the plant and rinsing it thoroughly in the water. The powder then settles down at the bottom of the boat in a similar fashion.
How to make Arrowroot powder
I’d add here as an after thought that the pulp left in the cloth should be thoroughly rinsed in a bowl of water and strained for the second time to get at any left over arrowroot powder in it.
You may rinse it in fresh water and allow it to re-settle and pour off the water three to four times. Arrowroot is supposed to be a cooling food. The simplest way to prepare it is to pour the required amount of boiling water into the powder to form a porridge. Or you can bring it to a boil with water and add milk and sugar. It cooks pretty fast.
In Manipur, in north eastern India, the Arrowroot rhizome is roasted over coals and then the starch on the fibers of the rhizome is eaten. this would be similar to Cattail/Reedmace (Typha angustata) roots which can be eaten using a similar technique.
| Mrs. Manorama Soans | Mrs. Sylvia Ramhlimum Sanate |
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