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Magical Mahua- Part VII Emerging Frontiers

But Mahua is emerging out of shadows. Its intrinsic and extrinsic qualities have begun to merit enquiry and interest.

Increasing Recognition

It has, however, been both a challenge and a formidable barrier to draw out Mahua from  the status of country liquor.  "We introduced Mahua in Goa, made under the IML (Indian-Made Liquor) category, a tag we got after much persuasion with the government," said Desmond Nazareth, one of the pioneers in realising the potential of Mahua and who launched Mahua Spirit and Mahua Liqueur under the brand Desmondji in 2018. The only other Indian state to recognise Mahua as an IML opposed to a "country spirit" is Karnataka. According to Indian law, country spirits cannot be sold across inter-state borders, so by branding it as IML, it can reach a larger consumer base when sold in other states. 

But change is occurring, both within government and in agencies outside. The government of Madhya Pradesh in 2021 declared Mahua as a heritage liquor, and the government of Maharashtra state changed its archaic laws to legalise the collection and storage of the flowers by local tribal groups. For the first time, in that same year, a government organisation called the Agricultural and Processed Food Products Export Development Authority(APFPEDA) shipped dehydrated Mahua flowers, collected by the tribal population from the forests of Chhattisgarh, to France. The TRIFED, another Central Government’s outfit launched six fruit flavoured Mahua drink a few years ago. However, its marketing has been a bit half-hearted. The wine industry is also experimenting and introducing new flavours using yeast, spices and other ingredients.          

Its unique flavour and cultural significance, its health benefits and it being a natural and organic product is inducing people to increasingly accept it.In addition to Mahua wine, there are also other alcoholic beverages made from Mahua, such as Mahua beer and Mahua cider. These beverages are also gaining popularity among consumers who are looking for unique and natural products.

International Presence?

However, the fact remains that Mahua wine and other beverages made from Mahua are still primarily consumed in India and have not yet gained widespread popularity beyond our borders. But its potential as a global brand has been amply flagged. Indian government has included Mahua in its Geographical Indication (GI) registry, which provides legal protection to traditional products and helps to promote their marketability.

More efforts are needed to raise awareness about the drink and its unique qualities. This could include marketing campaigns, product tastings, and collaborations with international beverage companies. It is also important to ensure that the production of Mahua is sustainable and that the benefits of its production are shared with the local communities who have traditionally relied on it.

Mahua and Other Cultural Beverages

How does Mahua compare with some other drinks that are steeped in tradition? Which are some of the other drinks that are like Mahua in terms of their production, flavour, and cultural significance? Several come to mind.

Palm wine is a traditional alcoholic beverage made from the sap of various palm trees. It is popular in many countries across Africa and Southeast Asia. The process of making palm wine involves tapping the trunk of the palm tree and collecting the sap in a container. The sap is then fermented and can be consumed as a fresh, sweet drink or left to ferment further and become a stronger alcoholic beverage. Like Mahua, palm wine is often consumed as part of traditional cultural practices and celebrations, such as weddings and funerals.

Chicha is a traditional fermented beverage made from maize or other grains and is popular in many parts of Central and South America. The process of making chicha involves chewing the grains to break down the starches and then fermenting the resulting mixture with water and other ingredients. Chicha has a sour, slightly acidic flavour and is often consumed during religious and social ceremonies, such as the Incan festival of Inti Raymi.

Kvass is a traditional fermented beverage made from rye bread or other grains and is popular in Russia and other Eastern European countries. The process of making kvass involves soaking the bread in water and then fermenting the resulting mixture with yeast and sugar. Kvass has a slightly sour, tangy flavour and is often consumed as a refreshing summer drink. It is also used in traditional Russian cuisine to flavour soups and stews.

Huangjiu is a traditional Chinese alcoholic beverage made from rice or other grains. The process of making Huangjiu involves fermenting the grains with a special yeast culture called jiuqu. Huangjiu has a sweet, mellow flavour and is often consumed during Chinese New Year and other traditional celebrations.

The similarities are striking. All these beverages are fermented and have a relatively low alcohol content compared to commercial alcoholic beverages. They are also deeply rooted in local customs and traditions and are often consumed as part of religious and social ceremonies.

Promising Prospect

The global Mahua wine market demand, according to trade sources, had an extended size of US$ 72.9 Million in 2021 and is expected to increase US$ 110.46 million by 2026. In 2017, world wine consumption is computed to be around 24 billion litres per annum and worth $28.9 billion in income. Seen in this context, Mahua wine has merely a token and nominal presence in global market.

There are, however, several ways in which  it could potentially be propagated and can carve  a niche in the global wine market. The strategy may include some or all of the following. Highlighting its unique flavour profile, emphasizing its cultural significance, positioning it as a sustainable and eco-friendly choice, partnering with established wine distributors, and Investing in marketing and promotion.

Its distinctive flavour with notes of honey, caramel and butterscotch may have a  special appeal to connoisseurs who value traditional beverages from diverse cultures. Mahua wine is made from a   renewable resource – the flowers of the Mahua tree – and it is traditionally produced using natural fermentation techniques. Positioning Mahua wine as a sustainable and eco-friendly choice could appeal to consumers who are concerned about the environmental impact of the products they consume.Mahua wine has a distinctive flavour that is different from other types of wine. This unique flavour profile could be used to differentiate Mahua wine from other wines in the global market.

To reach a global consumers, it may be beneficial to partner with established wine distributors who have experience in introducing new wines to the market. This could help to increase the visibility of Mahua wine and make it more accessible to consumers around the world.

And lastly, investing in marketing and promotion, both online and offline, could help to build awareness of Mahua wine and generate interest among consumers.The future of Mahua wine is full of promise. It is just waiting to be tapped and realised. The problem is not that the product is weak, the challenge lies in the legacy of a biased socio-political narrative, and absence of strong entrepreneurial motivation to rebrand Mahua as a quality craft spirit. An equally compelling imperative is to dismantle the regime of ban and controls on the liquor. India, it is reported, has become the third largest start-up ecosystem in the world. With the increasing global clout of Indian manufacturing and as an emerging economic world power, will the Indian vintners rise to the occasion and dare make these interesting forays fin pursuit of the oenological conquest of the world?

The Life Sustaining Elixir

Till then and ever after, let the tribal of this country enjoy this delightful inebriation and a healthful indulgence that never fails to lighten the mind and the limb. As this folk song of Madhya Pradesh so lustily expresses,

Mahua daru chadhayo,

nasha chadha gayo re

 Daru ki botal hil gayi,

 toh maati phat gayo re

Chhadi mar ke thumka lagai,

jhumar mein nachai re

Aankh micholi khel gayi,

saari duniya bhulai re

Botal bhi khali ho gayi,

chhora bhi thak gayo re

Par nasha abhi utar naa,

abhi toh mazaa aai re

(We drank Mahua wine and got intoxicated. The bottle of wine shook, and the ground cracked. We danced and swayed to the beat, and played hide and seek We forgot the world and everything else. The bottle is now empty, and the man is tired. But the intoxication hasn't worn off yet, the fun has just begun.)

Liquor made from mahua, like all fine wines, symbolises the most romantic and tender of human emotions: it is the distilled representation of the sublimity of love and togetherness.

Call it Mahua sharab, mahuli, ippasara, irukkall, mandh, or simply mahua, its centrality in the tribal life is a fact that we must rejoice and celebrate, for it alleviates and lightens the life’s burden so effortlessly.

In many tribal communities, the idea of hell is a place without liquor, noted Russell,  “It gives most of the colour and brightness to their life, and without this, it would usually be tame to a degree.”Nothing explains the enigma of an existential equation so eloquently!

(Photo Credit: Conrad Braganza)

(Writer is an IAS officer. Retired as Secretary, Ministry of Information & Broadcasting)




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