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Why The Paliyar Tribe Consumes 'Mosuru' (Red Ant)

'Mosurus' are consumed in various forms by the Paliyar community, as they are rich in nutrients. However, dying forests pose a threat to accessible Mosurus, for regular consumption. Adivasi Awaaz creator Murugeshwari, talks about the traditional food of the Paliyars in the following article.

Mosuru’, or the ‘Red Ant’, is one of the food items consumed by the Paliyars of Kodaikanal. Paliyars are a tribal community, mostly residing in the hilly regions of Tamil Nadu . Mosuru is commonly found in large, dense trees. Unlike other ants, it does not nest by burrowing into the ground or under rocks and fallen trees. Instead it nests in the barks of large trees. It also nests in dense small plants like Coffee and Orange.

“The Mosurus survive on small insects which they gather from the bark of the trees”, says Vanaselvi, a Paliyar woman from Kodaikanal. She also informs that Mosurus are usually consumed during the rainy season. They are also considered to be nutritious for new mothers. Paliyars often venture into the forests to get Mosurus, where they are found in large numbers due to the presence of big, dense trees. Mango trees also serve as their homes. While extracting Mosurus, only a portion of the trees are cut, like small branches. The Paliyars ensure that they do not harm the trees or unnecessarily cut them down.

'Mosuru' or 'Red Ant' found on large, dense trees. Source: Picture provided by the author

How Is Mosuru Consumed?

After extracting Mosurus, from the bark/branches of trees, they are fried along with leaves. Later the leaves are separated from the Mosurus. After this, bamboo is used to clean the Mosurus. Thereafter, they are grinded along with garlic, chillies and onions. The Mosuru Chutni is ready.

'Mosuru Chutney'; Source:

There are other forms of consumption as well. Some people eat it as an item of the main course by adding mustard to it. It is also used in ‘Rasam’, one of our delicacies. While Rasam is consumed in most parts of South India, it is only the tribes who consume it with Mosurus. They call it the Mosuru Rasam.

Mosuru Rasam is prepared a little differently. The process of frying, cleaning and grinding the Mosurus remains the same. Thereafter, the Mosuru paste is placed on a clean cotton cloth and tied. It is then squeezed to extract juice from the paste, which is filtered and kept separately. Mustard, pepper, turmeric powder, and a couple of chilies are added to oil and fried on a pan. The filtered Mosuru extract is then added to it along with some coriander leaves. It is then allowed to boil. The Mosuru Rasam is ready.

Why Is Mosuru Consumed?

According to the Paliyars, Mosurus have many medicinal properties. They act as good medicines for coughs. They are extremely helpful during cold weather. They are a rich source of energy and hence provide heat to the body. They are rich in nutrients and therefore are taken by new mothers. The Paliyars claim that Mosurus are helpful in the production of breast milk. In the Paliyar community, women usually breastfeed their children till the age of five. Mosuru, helps by replenishing carbohydrates, fats, proteins etc., in the body, to ensure good health of the mother.

Mosuru is an important part of our food culture. It not only tastes amazing but also has medicinal properties and high nutritional value. However, as the forests are being cut down, it is becoming difficult to locate them for consumption. Ensuring the survival of forests is hence very important for the Paliyar community. Most of our food comes from the forests. Therefore, the forests need to be preserved and conserved.

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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