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Food preservation is the process of treating and handling food so as to prevent its spoilage. The basic principles of food preservation are to either kill or to inactivate or control factors which are the main causes of food spoilage. Food preservation also allows the food to be used or stored and consumed later.

Foods can be preserved by controlling yeasts, bacteria and moulds by either inhibiting their growth or destroying them. In today’s times, there are various ways of preserving foods such as freezing, pasteurising, sterilising, canning and by use of preservatives. But in ancient times when there was no technology for refrigeration or freezing foods the tribals of Tripura used natural methods of preserving food so as to store and consume it later.

So here are the three important preservation techniques used by the various tribes of Tripura to preserve various food items:

1. Fermentation: Fermentation is a process that involves the breakdown of carbs by bacteria and yeast. Fermenting foods makes the shelf life of the food long, making it suitable for later consumption. Some of the most common foods that are produced using this technique are cheese, wine, kombucha, etc. Fermenting foods for preservation is a part of various cultures. Likewise, even the tribals of Tripura use this ancient technique for preserving their food. One of the most common fermented foods by them is fish and the fermented fish is called ‘Berma’ in Kokborok. Generally, only fish of small sizes are fermented. There are various types of Berma depending on the types of fish used. ‘Bata Berma’ and ‘Puthi Berma’ are two of the most common types. The Berma can be eaten by itself or can be used in other dishes as a flavouring agent. Another common fermented food is bamboo shoots. It is mostly used by the Chakma tribes and is called ‘melee smile’ in their language. The bamboo shoots are first submerged in water and kept there for 2 to 3 days and then mixed and cooked with the Berma, the Berma being the fermenting agent. This method of fermenting is also practised by the tribes of the neighbouring states of Northeast whereby it is known as ‘Bastenga’.

2. Drying/ dehydrating: Drying is another common method of preserving food. Drying makes the food devoid of any moisture and this avoids the build-up of any microorganisms on the food making it last longer. The moisture from the food can be dried up through air drying, sun drying or even smoking. The Tripuris used the method of Sun drying and air drying only. Various food items are preserved using this technique. The most common foods preserved using this technique are fish, prawns, bamboo shoots and various other vegetables. The fish prepared using this method is called ‘aakwran’ which literally translates into dried fish (as ‘aa’ means fish and ‘kwran’ means dry). Unlike Berma, it can be prepared using comparatively larger fish. It is usually hung and sun-dried. There are various types of aakwran ranging from mild flavour to salty ones. The prawns of small sizes are dried in the same manner. Bamboo shoots are also dried in order to preserve them. For drying the bamboo shoots, firstly it is boiled until softened. It is then sun-dried until the water dries out and it becomes completely dry. The bamboo shoots can now be stored and used later by rehydrating by soaking them in water for a few minutes. Certain fruits are also sun-dried and kept for later use such as Indian Jujube (called boroi in Kokborok) and Elaeocarpus serratus (called Jolpui in Kokborok).

3. Pickling: It is another widely used preservation method. It is usually done by dipping the foods in an acid solution or salt solution along with various spices. Pickling vegetables and fruits is very much common in the Indian subcontinent. But in the Tripuri culture, the pickling method is mainly used for the preservation of fruits only and not for any vegetables. It is mainly used only for preserving certain fruits such as tamarind (called thentrwi in Kokborok) and various types of Jujube (boroi). Unlike the practice in other cultures, the pickling of these fruits isn't done by using any external agent. It is done by cooking the fruits in oil using their own acidic juices with the addition of salt, sugar, spices and chillies as needed and then storing them for later use. The fruits need to be dried first and then pickled using sugar and spices. The pickled fruits can be stored for later use and can be even eaten fresh.

These preservation techniques are used by the tribals of Tripura even to the present day. The advent of refrigeration technology did not alter traditional preservation methods. It is very much a part of the culture of the tribal people of Tripura. The preservation of the foods serves the dual purpose of increasing the shelf life of the foods as well as enhancing their flavours and adding extra nutrients.

This article is created as a part of the Adivasi Awaaz project, with the support of Misereor and Prayog Samaj Sevi Sanstha.

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