Rediscover indigenous rice varieties of India at this zero-waste store in Coimbatore

Vilvah Agro, a zero-waste store in Coimbatore, showcases more than 40 different rice varitieties from various States across the country

Some of India’s precious native rice varieties — parakkum chittu, ilupai poo samba and Rajamudi — call out to visitors at Vilvah Agro, a new zero-waste store in Coimbatore. Curious, the visitors make a beeline to the rice section, where the varieties are stored in tall glass canisters.

“This is our objective — to get people talking about native rice varieties,” says Kruthika Kumaran, founder of Vilvah that stocks over 40 indigenous white, brown, red and black rice grains, including Athur kichili samba, hand-pounded raw rice, poongar and thooyamalli.

Traditionally, each rice variety was used for specific purposes depending on the growing season or climate. While some varieties like kuzhiyadichan can withstand drought, the kattuyanam grows tall providing enough hay for fodder.

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Vilvah Agro store in Race Course stocks as many as 59 indigenous varieties of rice in Coimbatore | Photo Credit: Siva Saravanan S / The Hindu

“Each variety brings a unique character and health benefits to the table. There are short grains, long grains, and aromatic ones. The paal kudaivazhai, as the name indicates, benefits lactating mothers, while Rajamudi rice (a variety from Karnataka favoured by the Wodeyar kings) improves bone strength, and thooyamalli, a short-grain white rice with rich fibre content, controls blood sugar levels. The grains have relatively lower glycaemic index and boast a rich micronutrient profile.”

Packs a punch of goodness

  • “Traditional white, brown, red and black rice varieties can be consumed by all, including adults with lifestyle diseases like diabetes and hypertension, and children,” says Vidya Lal, a nutritionist based in Chennai.
  • “High on proteins, iron, and fibre, the grains are filling even in small portions. Karuppu kavuni, that has a sticky texture, is now used to make sushi. Soon, we can see native grains in fusion food experiments,” adds Vidya. The long cooking time is a drawback. The grains have to be soaked overnight or five to six hours prior to cooking.

Passion for agriculture

Kruthika and her husband Tamil Kumaran are from a farming background. “We have never consumed store-bought rice. We source them from our farms, but they are mostly the hybrid ones. As an experiment, we started growing karuppu kavuni, a variety preferred in Tamil Nadu, at our 40-acre farm in Gobichettipalayam, near Coimbatore. Now, we have added about 15 varieties.”

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The couple also networks with over 15 farmers from across India to source indigenous varieties, like Dehradun basmati rice or Katarni from Bihar. Currently, the store has seven varieties of fragrant rice like the mullan kaima from Wayanad, Kerala, that is used to make the fragrant Malabar biryani. The vellai milagu samba grown in Tamil Nadu and parts of Sri Lanka has grains that resemble pepper. And the aromatic gandhasaale cultivated in Wayanad that gives out a heavenly fragrance.

Kruthika says that many traditional varieties are dying out because farmers have stopped saving seeds. “We want to carry forward this heritage by saving native seeds. This can happen when consumers try out diverse varieties encouraging farmers to grow them.”

Hand-woven footwear made with vetiver on display at Vilvah store in Race Course in Coimbatore | Photo Credit: Siva Saravanan S / The Hindu

The rustic life

Agro is the latest addition to Vilvah, the parent brand that specialises in organic skin care and hair care products.

“We have a curated collection of products like yoga mats, herbal dyed towels and handwoven vetiver footwear under Vilvah Life. We are working with rural communities that make natural dyes in Dindigul, and jamakkalam weavers in Bhavani and Komarapalayam. An in-house design team from NIFT takes charge of creative ideas.”

There are plans to convert the store into a rice museum. “We already have heritage walk teams visiting the store to know about the history. We want to encourage people to consume these grains. Since it takes time to cook these varieties, they can start by using red rice to make idli, adai or dosa batter.”

Prices start at ₹85 and go up to ₹500 for varieties like bamboo rice. For details, look up vilvahstore.com or call 8110013553.

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