How to make traditional rice beer in Indian tribal style

Hadia or Handia is the rice beer, made after fermentation of rice starch into sugars. Since process of making 'Handia' is similar to that used to produce beer, 'Handia' is referred here as rice beer.

Wine is prepared by fermentation of naturally sweet grapes and other fruits, rice wine is made converting rice starch to sugars through fermentation. Rice wine is made using various amylolytic processes but mashing process is used to produce beer.

In eastern Indian states of Jharkhand, Orissa and West Bengal, indigenous tribes prepare local brew using rice grains as substrate. To carry out fermentation, tribal use their own unique starter cultures made of different parts of various plant species.

The leading wine manufacturers in India and elsewhere have got inspired by the concept and manufacturers like Anheuser-Busch Inc (ABI), which makes the Budweiser brand, has found that a rice variety blends well with hops. Rice gives the beer a different refreshing taste.

A higher alcohol content (18–25%) is reported to be found in rice brew than wine (10–20%) and beer (3–8%). Rice wine is known by various names in different regions and continents. In Tibet and Nepal, rice wine is known as "Raksi" whereas it is termed as "Sonti" in Thailand.

In Laos, rice wine is referred as Lao-Lao, Chinese call it Choujiu, Mijiu or Lao-zao.Balinese call it Brem, Korean know it by names like Gamju and Makkoli. In Japan rice wine is known by various names viz., Amakaze, Sake and Mirin.

The Santhal and other tribal groups of Orissa, Jharkhand and West Bengal prefer to make this Handia at home. Product is believed to keep people cool in summer and it's customary to offer Handia to God, and to guests on the social occasions.

The name 'Handia' is used probably because of the pot in which rice beer is fermented. It is a big earthen pot called "Handi" in local language. If press reports are to be believed, elephants are fond of the smell of the traditionally brew liquor and it's the major cause behind destruction of tribal houses in eastern India by elephants.

Wild elephants, attracted by the strong smell of rice beer, tear down the houses in search of stored brew. A news item published on October 23, 2007 (foxnews website) showed that five wild elephants were electrocuted in northeast India after they went berserk after drinking rice beer.

The stepwise process of preparing the rice-beer is shown below.

Step I: Dried rice is ground well. (Take care in selection of rice for Handia preparation. Handia can not be prepared using any rice variety. In Jharkhand and Chhatisgarh, rice variety "Karahani" and "Gora" (brown rice) are used for Handia making).

Grinding of the rice is not done by all. In majority of cases, raw brown rice is cooked in Aluminium pot (Dagchi) with limited quantity of water.

Step II. Boil (cook) the rice and spread out on a plastic met to let it dry

Step III. A herbal root mixture called "Ranu" (Mulika in Santhali dialect) is powdered and mixed with rice. Small sized balls of rice (mixed with "Ranu") are prepared. (Ingredients of "Ranu" are kept a secret by tribals. It is said to be amalgam of 21 herbs mixed with polished rice and made in pebble shaped and dried for four days. Three "Ranus" are sufficient for one kg of rice).

Step IV. Put these balls in a large earthen pots. Cover the mouth of earthen pots with "Sal" leaves and leave for fermentation for few days (three to four days).

Step V. Sieve the fluid of the fermented rice and rice beer is ready for consumption.

Variants of Handia are found in different states and only difference in the process is because of herbs mixed for fermentation.

© 2009 C V Singh

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