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The saffron brigade
Sadly for the Kesar, it is forced to live in the shadow of its mighty neighbour, the Alphonso. But it actually boasts greater qualities than its rival, says the Kesar club.
Kesar loyalists have an unarguable point when they make a case for their favourite mango: it is sweet even when it is raw. Imagine what it tastes like when it is ripe.
"A Gujarati may be settled in any corner of the world, but he will ensure that cartons of Kesar reach him during the summer months, " says Raghavji Kansagara, a Junagadh mango farmer.
Grown in and around the last abode of the Asiatic lion in Gir, Saurashtrians get upset when other Kesars are palmed off as the real thing. Would Darjeeling Tea be Darjeeling Tea, they ask, if it came from someplace else? No wonder then the Junagadh Agriculture University and the Gujarat Agro Industries Corporation are in the process of getting a Geographical Indication (GI) for the Kesar.
Says the Junagadh Agriculture University vice chancellor, Dr N C Vyas: "This will ensure that only farmers from Junagadh and Amreli can market their fruit as 'Gir Kesar'. "
Urvi Shah, 23, from Surat waits for the Kesar every summer. "It is a complete fruit, " she says. "I eat Kesar in dozens and even put on a few extra kilos, but the weight can be taken care of later. "
Kesar has another incomparable quality: the skin is just 13 per cent of its weight, while the pulp is 70 per cent, a rare proportion in other varieties. The name Kesar (saffron ) was coined as late at 1934 by the then nawab of Junagadh, Mohabat Khanji-III, and has nothing to do with the colour of the fruit. When the nawab first saw the sliced fruit on a platter, he remarked that it had a special aroma like Kesar. The name stuck.
Between 80, 000 and 90, 000 hectares of land are under Kesar cultivation in Gujarat. Besides it immense popularity in the local market, exports too have grown;the US, the UK and Gulf countries are its biggest buyers. The Kesar yield is generally around 1, 500 tonnes annually, of which 30 per cent is exported. To meet the growing demand in foreign markets, the Talala Agriculture Produce Market Committee (APMC) has invested in a Rs 4. 5-crore mango packaging facility.
"So far, exports have not been substantial but the packing house should give a boost, " says HH Jarsania, APMC secretary.
The Kesar has more total soluble solid matter than other mangoes in the country, which makes it more popular. "If you have not tasted a Kesar, you have not tasted a real mango, " says Bina Mistry, a housewife. She has many relatives in the US and anyone flying there in May has to carry crates of the fruit for them. Kesars from Kutch too are set to journey to the Middle East, Canada and African markets.
For 55-year-old Dhiru Purohit of Junagadh, the Kesar is the ultimate fruit of nature. "Nothing compares with it, " he says. "Unmatched in aroma, taste and colour, those who have tasted a Kesar will never stray from it. "
KESAR VS THE REST
NL Patel, head of the department of horticulture at Navsari Agriculture University, argues in favour of the Kesar. Because: Kesar fruit and trees are not susceptible to pests and diseases, unlike the Alphonso Kesar trees bear fruits every year whereas the Alphonso yield comes every alternate year. Kesar also has more soluble solids than the Alphonso.
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