Parts of the Kitul plant that grows naturally in the wet zone of Sri Lanka are utilized for various purposes, and the flower Kitul flower occupies a special place among them. There are multiple industries associated with the Kitul flower, the main ones. Telidiya, a natural herbal liquid with a sugar content of about 12% -15%, is obtained continuously from the Kitul flower for several months, making it possible to produce Kitul honey.
This plant is found in many Asian countries, and in Sri Lanka, it is found in wetlands and natural forests. Especially in districts such as Kegalle, Badulla, Ratnapura and Kandy, there are many Kitul trees in the home gardens associated with those areas. In addition, Kitul is an easy growing plant in other parts of the island.
Kitul treacle is in high demand both in Sri Lanka and in foreign markets, with Australia, Canada, France, the United States, New Zealand and even Germany.
History of Kitul Treacle
The kitul industry has a history as long as human civilization. Apart from the income from chena and paddy cultivation, the kitul industry was the primary source of income for the rural people of Sri Lanka seven or eight decades ago. Kitul is not a deliberate crop like the coconut tree. It is a plant that grows in waterlogged lands and small jungles in rural areas, in backyards, and in reserves without any human activity.
More than three or four decades ago, it would have been scarce for a house to have a kitchen without a teal pot. It would have been sporadic if there was no pot of Telijja in the house of the village poor and the house of the village Korala and the house of Arachchi. The ancients of the area say that a room called Madhu ‘was built for the same purpose in some rural houses.
Kitul Tree (Fishtail Palm) and Villagers
In the kitul industry, its flower is often used. The flowering of a kitul tree is done by holding a mature kitul tree. The villagers who see such a kitul tree say, “Kitula Pedi.” Many villagers who see a rotten kitul keep an eye on it until the kitul flower is ready to be medicated. No one often claims Kitul trees that grow in mountains, streams or reserves, and in the past, no one in the village needed anyone’s permission to plant them.
There are no people here who have gone to cut kitul and fallen from a tree and are helpless without limbs. Although kitul is a good source of income for a while, there are times when you can not earn any money from it.
The villagers of Uva, who store the harvest of a hayfield in the barns for consumption during the coming year, met the rest of their families by taking some kitul honey and some jaggery to the market and selling it.
Kitul honey, as well as Kitul jaggery, were in high demand then as well as today. Kitul jaggery is also an excellent medicine in Ayurveda. Kitul jaggery is also in high order in tourist hotels.
Process of Making Kitul Treacle, Kitul Jaggery, and Kitul Flour
This versatile food has a unique process of production. The villagers familiar with the process are also talented with the production. They use their unique methods, even diverse, from region to region.
For both jaggery and syrup production, flower juices are used. It takes approximately 10 years for a fishtail to mature and flower.
Selecting a Tree
According to their experience, the villagers select a kitul that is about to be crushed and then apply various medicines to the kitul flower. They call it medication. The villagers know that there is no point in treating any kitul that grows anywhere. They also select the appropriate flower from experience.
Installing Support to Climb the Tree
The first task before placing the stool is to install support to mount the tree. Kithul makers pay close attention to this task as they need to be loaded two or three times a day.
A few bamboo sticks are often used to cut to seven to eight inches for this purpose. Depending on the tree’s height, they often lean on the bamboo tree and carefully tie it with bamboo shoots, honeycombs, or kitul ran (such as mature kitul flower vines) found in the forest. Kitul rubbers call this climbing support mounting an extension.
Building the Storage on the Kitul Tree
After mounting the climbing support, their next priority is building an attic that will allow the tree to stay in its storage place. The villagers are interested in making it so that it can seat two or three people and even stay for a day and a half.
For the protection of this deck, a rope tied from the top branch of the tree is linked to the deck, and they call it the oat vine. It is common to tie a few support poles to the trunk, sometimes beneath it, to support the deck. They are called “Alok pillars”.
Preparing the Flower
Nearly two weeks before the eruption, the kitul stool is very suitable for disinfection, and if the stool explodes, the kitul scrubber will have to discard it. The flower that is suitable for infusion is called Akmala.
Kitul should be made suitable for rubbing by dipping and thawing the medicine. This work, known as “defecation”, needs to be done very carefully, and the maturity of the kitul industry is essential.
This is done by removing a few knots (2-3 inches from the knuckle) from the so-called head part of the kitul flower and making a hole in the outside to prevent damage to the “tongue bud” in the middle of the flower hole. It should be taken care of.
Although various chemicals are used to flavour flowers today, many villagers in the past and today use chilli, kochchi, pepper, ginger, mosquito, sour, and garlic in abundance.
In some cases, the stool does not form properly, and in some cases, the stool is re-treated with coconut ash or grey lime. Some people wrap the medicinal kitul flower for a few days using a’ Naha’ vine.
Experienced florists tie the flowers to a kitul branch above the kitul flower to prevent them from falling off, as the flowers may sometimes over-boil and fall off. This is what kitul makers call betting.
After a few days, the flower is tanned, and the first part of the flower, called the apex, is cut off. At that moment, the first bitter taste of the oil begins to flow from the flower, and the rural kitul florists call that first layer of bitterness “bitter tears”.
After about three days, the toddy begins to shed, and the florist calls it “tear-jerking.” The cutting process follows this. With a knife as sharp as a blade called a flower knife, a very thin sieve can be cut once or twice a day, and the flower can be retained for a long time depending on the skill of the flower cutter.
Most villagers collect the flower buds in a box with the help of a leaf called a stalk leaf at the base of the areca nut. Some even use clay pots for this purpose.
We have heard that there were people in these villages who earned tens of thousands of rupees from a single kitul and that the kitul flower could be used for many months if the proper treatment was successful.
Kitul Treacle, Kitul Jaggery, and Kitul Flour
However, after the Thelijja pot comes down from the tree, its next heavy task is often left to the female side of the florist’s house.
Thelijja is brought down from the tree and put in a pot, and melted with a spoon for hours.
Meanwhile, there are plenty of people in these villages who sift kitul toddy and sell it in addition to sweet jaggery.
In addition, the demand for kitul flour is similar to that for kitul honey and jaggery.
To produce kitul jaggery, a semi-refined palm sugar, the juice must be boiled beyond the point where it turns into a syrup, increasing its thickness and further evaporating the water. Pour the treacle mixture into jars made of coconut shells and leave to cool and solidify.
They say that traditional kitul sweepers in Uva are tempted to produce kitul flour apart from kitul grinding, and in some cases, seven or eight huge trees have to be cut down to find a kitul with flour.
Features of Kitul Treacle and Kitul Jaggery
Although the kitul paste is very bitter, the kitul honey/treacle made from the Telijja obtained from the kitul tree is very sweet. Even the sun and the rain are obstacles to this industry, but it is a journey that must go on regardless.
Treacle has a sticky and noisy sweet syrup with colour and thickness. Kitul syrup, its purest, woody, floral, smoky and even delicious notes. Despite its important place in the Sri Lankan kitchen, the kitul lantern is becoming a rarity. The syrup is used as a seasoning in traditional desserts such as milk and truffles.
Kitul jaggery is as edible as Kitul syrup. Kitul jaggery is the pride of the area as the perfect sweet treat for Kiribath Naketh on festive occasions. It is a sugar substitute with a cup of herbal tea, a sweetener with a decadent dessert of Wattalappam honey. It has become the flavour of modern delicacies such as cakes and ice cream available in supermarket chains and confectionery stores.
The syrup is also used as a deep-fried sweetener in kavum, rice flour, and coconut milk for Sinhala and Tamil New Year treats and is a flat diamond-shaped sweetener made from rice flour and cashew kitul syrups. It is also used to replace the refined sugar in smoothies, cakes and other baked goods in some restaurants in Sri Lanka.
Kitul treacle can be taken as a unique medicine and a portion of delicious food that exudes local aroma. Kithul honey is one of the most important and widely used medicinal plants in indigenous medicine. The first flower of the Kitul tree or Akmal nectar is used for fractures.
Health Benefits of Kitul Treacle and Kitul Jaggery
According to recent research, the kitul treacle has been used as a remedy for diabetes and the treatment of burns and the presence of kitul honey in porridges for jaundice patients.
Kitul treacle has antioxidant properties and is high in inositol. It controls inflammation of the liver and also nourishes brain cells. Kithul honey is considered a medicinal drink for hair growth and skin tone.
Thelijja obtained from the flowers of the Kitul plant and the powder obtained from the stem of that plant have many properties. It also contains high levels of polyphenols, which are essential for the body to function.
Research has also shown that foods derived from this kitul plant have the potential to cure diabetes in particular. Kitul contains carbohydrates, protein, fibre, fat, calcium, potassium, sodium, iron, zinc, magnesium and many other nutrients.
Therefore, Kitul can be described as a plant with many nutritional properties required for the growth of the human body. Kitul is now found in many parts of the island and is still practised by many villagers. Kitul belongs to the genus Arecaceae. Caryota urens is the scientific name of the kit.