Made in Nepal

Food Issue 117 Jul, 2011
Text by Nimma Adhikari / Photo: ECS Media

Sun, sweat and dehydration; summer’s here! There’s juices in bloody red, orange, pink, green and many more colors that we can choose from to quench that seemingly insatiable summer thirst. We swarm around juice vendors for imported brands but this summer, how about a “Made in Nepal” juice to support our people and our health for a change.

Sea buckthorn juice, manufactured locally, has caught the eyes and tongues of many for the past 2-3 years while many are still unaware of the fruit. The fruit itself mainly grows in dry sandy areas, and the high altitude regions of Nepal have been its home for centuries. Angya Gurung, a representative of Women Development Committee of Jharkot in the national market, shared some insight into the manufacturing of the sea buckthorn juice.

A decade earlier, Ayurvedic doctors started using sea buckthorn for several medicinal purposes while villagers used its wood for fire. Soon, they learnt to make juice from the sea buckthorn fruit. Three years ago, the completely community-based Women Development Committee, took on the responsibility of manufacturing the sea buckthorn juice commercially. The committee of eleven members is responsible for everything from the hygiene check of the fruit collectors to labeling the juice bottles.

This juice is made once a year when the fruit ripens during the final week of August and the commencing week of September. One female member from each house in the village turns up to pluck the fruit, a tedious job owing to the thorns on the tree. Each kilogram collected by the women is bought for NRs. 100-150. Gurung says that most people in the village who survived through their subsistence farming have now found an income source. The women are more independent now and have somewhat stabilized their financial situation.

The committee members have been using the naturally grown, wild sea buckthorn fruits to make the juice until now and are trying to domesticate the fruit in their farms but have been unsuccessful in doing so. “We need the government’s assistance, to help research the various ways to make it more qualitative and commercial,” says Gurung. The fruit is squeezed to extract the juice, the leftover is used for making tea and the seed is used to extract oil that is good for the skin.

The bottled juice consists of sea buckthorn juice, water, sugar and preservatives. Plans to make several varieties of sea buckthorn juice; an instant drink that does not require adding water and sugar-free sea buckthorn juice for diabetic patients are also in the pipeline. Since sea buckthorn fruit is extremely acidic, the manufacturers use sugar to balance its acidic nature.

Sea buckthorn juice, a rare drink for us is a means to a livelihood for many. Although amply found in different high-altitude regions in Nepal, due to lack of proper promotion, and financial and technical assistance, for the most part, the fruit remains a neglected shrub. With proper assistance and research, the fruit and it’s juice and medicinal features has potential to make it big.