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Devbrat Patnaik

Gajapati: Red ant, locally known as 'kai', might just be another bug for 90 per cent of the human population, but for scores of tribals in Odisha it is a regular diet. Dive deep into the reality, the kai chutney is one of the preferred traditional foods consumed by people of all age groups in many tribal belts in the State. Reason, they believe it has umpteen medical benefits.

The knack of preparation and consumption of the kai chutney by the tribals in Gumma block of Gajapati district is a case in point.

The process is herculean. First, they collect the red ants from the hives in branches, leaves or the tree trunks in forests, and boil the ants to turn it into a paste. A combination of grounded green chillies, ginger, garlic, onion and salt is then mixed with the boiled red ants, and the end result of the mixture is 'kai' chutney. It is often served with 'Pakhala', finger millet (mandia), and whoever has savoured it will never forget the taste, say tribals.

They believe kai has medicinal properties which help in curing joint pain, vision problems, flu, breathing & digestive issues, plus it boosts immunity. "Eating them (red ants) improves vision and there are other health benefits. After collecting the ants, we prepare their chutney and consume it," said a local of U-Sari.

[caption id="attachment_511393" align="aligncenter" width="750"] Red ants[/caption]

Not just in U-Sari village, the peculiar tradition is being followed since decades in many tribal-dominated areas in Gumma block because of the medicinal properties.

What has come as a surprise is the lethal coronavirus hasn't hit the area, and this reason has given these tribal people a great sense of belief that it is because of consumption of 'kai' chutney that Covid could not come closer to them.

"Many countries and states were severely hit by Coronavirus. Touchwood, the infection could not extend its tentacles to our village. Our ancestors have been consuming kai chutney, and we have also been eating it. It is maybe due to this, Covid spared us. We are not completely sure but it definitely is good for health."

[caption id="attachment_511395" align="aligncenter" width="750"] Preparation of red ant chutney[/caption]

However, the age-long conviction that the kai chutney has many medicinal properties, is yet to be accepted by the medical sciences. Experts have opined that there is no mention of 'kais' having medicinal values, in science or any of the books. The red ant is not a food, consuming it could upset the stomach to a high degree, claim experts.

"This is completely a superstitious belief. So far, there is no scientific evidence that this kai chutney is a remedy for Covid-19, nor is this a preventive measure," said Dr Surendra Kumar Rath.

Last month, a PIL was filed in the Orissa High Court on the proposed use of the red ant chutney for treatment of Covid-19. While hearing the matter, the High Court on December 24, 2020, asked Ayush Ministry and the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) to conduct a research on the efficacy of the chutney for Covid treatment and take a decision in this regard within three months.

Only time will tell whether red ant 'kai' chutney can actually keep Covid-19 at bay.

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