Ram Kand Mool, a tuber, has been sold as a hearty snack on street corners in India for several decades, but scientists are not able to identify the plant that produces it. Read more here.
You may have seen this tubular looking vegetable/snack with street food vendors, majorly in northern parts of India. Kandmool is a Hindi word for all varieties of root vegetables, and we will be looking into a rare type of Kandmool that is making rounds on Instagram reels, puzzling every viewer as to what it is and, to many, the source of this cooling road-side snack.
Some (vendors) said it was a root; others said it was a stem, but most refused to answer or said they bought the tubers from third parties and didn't know the source. Yet even stranger was that science was unable to provide a clear answer to the botanists' questions.
[image source: youtube]
Kandmool is vegetables that grow underground such as potatoes and sweet potatoes. Several Indian ascetics, rishis, and munis who lived in forests consumed these roots to sustain themselves.
A scientific examination of this food item has revealed that it actually is a part of the Agave plant. The botanists of India attempted to find out more information on this large, cylinder-shaped, brownish tuber in the 1980s. Still, it proved to be difficult.
The University of Kolhapur used DNA fingerprinting to identify this plant in 2002 and concluded it is a variety of agave Americana.
The agave Americana is one of several types of agaves used for distillation. When fermented, it produces a drink called Pulque. In the tequila-producing regions of Mexico, these agaves are called Mezcales and the high-alcohol product of agave distillation is called Mezcal.
The enigma of ram kand mool had intrigued ethnobotanist Koppula Hemadri since 1994 when he began digging out roots to finally solve the mystery. He opted for agave, although he admitted that he didn't find unquestionable evidence that it was the right answer.
A botanist named Dr Ali Moulali paid a vendor selling ram kand mool Rs 1,000-2,000 in exchange for revealing the source of the snack around the same time as Dr Hemadri was conducting his research. The man said it was Kitta Nara fibre, used for agave fibre. He explained that it wasn't the root but something that grew above ground.
Keeping the source of ram kand mool a secret is one of the key characteristics of the business. Attempts have been made to spy on vendors in Maharashtra but to no avail. Buying the product in bulk has never been accepted, and revealing any information about the source of the tubers is taboo.
In 2010, a team of botanists conducted DNA tests on a slice of tuber, which showed that it matched the DNA of agave by around 89 per cent. All the evidence pointed to agave until then, and the more scientists thought about it, the more sense it made. Agave contains a lot of alkaloids, which is why it's poisonous in large quantities, and that's why vendors only sell thin slices of it.
Alkaloids are important chemical compounds that provide opportunities for drug discovery. Alkaloids have a wide range of pharmacological activities on human health, including anti-cancer, anti-inflammatory, anti-malarial, anti-microbial, anti-hypertensive, anti-diabetic, and antioxidative properties.
Their therapeutic properties are well known. In addition to tonics, creams, lotions, face and hair masks, compresses for skin problems with numerous impurities, as well as antiaging and discolouration products, alkaloids can also inhibit cellulitis formation.
Legends say that when Lord Ram, his wife Sita and brother Lakshman were exiled into the forest, the royal family used to live under thatch roofs and eat kandmool. Ramakand or Rama chandra kandmool are often sold by street vendors around pilgrimage sites. Vendors keep a tight lid on the source of this huge root fruit.
To say ram kand mool have health benefits would be far-reaching. However, because there are several species of agave, some of which are very similar, scientists do not know for sure what the source of the popular street snack is. It could be Sislana or Americana or another foreign species.
Wikipedia notes that the root of the shrub Maerua oblongifolia is the source of the ram kand mool snack but acknowledges that where it is either collected or obtained is kept secret and that there is some doubt among botanists as to whether the described plant is Maerua oblongifolia - in short, no one actually knows.