Wild Edible Tubers in Tribal Food Habit of Koraput, Odisha

Smita Mishra
S. Swain
S. S. Chaudhury

Introduction Result
Methodology Conclusion

1 . Introduction

The Koraput district of Odisha extending over the Eastern Ghat is bestowed with thriving forest biodiversity and crop genetic resources; people residing in the vicinity largely depend on the forest products for food, fodder, fiber, medicines (herbs & plants) and construction material for house and agricultural tools (Mishra and Chaudhury, 2012). Primitive tribal groups e.g., Bhumia, Gadaba and Paroja, landless natives and farmers with small and marginal land holdings depend mostly on the forest collections for their sustenance. Despite the abundance of plant genetic resources in the region, poverty is ubiquitous, and food crops harvested annually in the region do not suffice for the food requirement of the families. Incidentally food scarcity period prevails during rainy season extending over June to October, which is the peak agricultural season. During these months, farmers work hard in their agricultural fields and landless families work as agricultural labourers and are obligated to explore the forest for wild foods to supplement their food basket and nutrition. Coincidentally, during these months, wild foods such as tubers, mushrooms, berries, fruits, bamboo shoots, seasonal greens are amply available of which edible tubers occupy a prime position for their size, quantity, taste, availability and nutritional value (Mishra et al., 2008). This paper documents the importance of the available wild edible tubers in the food habit of the tribal people of Koraput district of Odisha.

2. Methodology

For the present study, field visits to fifteen different villages of Koraput are made to document the occurrence, morphology, gathering process and food preparation of different tubers. Specific data were collected from the village meetings and through Focused Group Discussions (FDG). Individual experiences of the knowledgeable persons and Medicine Practitioner cum Priests, locally known as Disaries of the villages, are documented. Forest visits are made accompanied with local people for visual documentation (photographs) of the collection process.

3. Result

Consumption of wild tubers is very common among different tribal communities of India and a plethora of papers have been written on this aspect (Rasingam,2012; Deshmukh and Rathod, 2013). The tubers, locally known as kanda are available during the months of May to October, and invariably each kanda is available at least for a month or so; as a result of which these are collected in a staggered manner to secure the food security of the family over a period of four months. Division of labour varies according to types of kanda based on their occurrence and requirements. Like any other society, tribal women of Koraput are responsible for food processing and preparation as a part of the household chores. Normally, the tubers are sticky, and palatability is mostly similar to any other tuber crops e.g., potato , yam or colocasia.

Nine different tuber species were identified in the study area. Table-1 enlists their common and scientific names, availability months and frequencies of occurrence. Usually, tuber collection is a group activity consisting of men and women of varying age groups, mostly between 15 to 45 years. Groups are made with either 5 to 6 or 10 to 12 women or men and women men together having a fair knowledge about the time of occurrence and place of availability.

Table-1. List of the tubers (kanda) available in the study domain.

Common names of the tuber (kanda)

Scientific name









Diascorea oppositifolia




Diascorea glabra




Diascorea tomentosa





Diascorea wallichi




Diascorea hamiltonii




Diascorea bulbifera




Diascorea puber




Diascorea pentaphylla





Dioscorea hispida




Depending on the frequency of occurrence and distance of availability in the forest, gender participation is decided. Normally, women take the lead in collection of certain tubers, which are sufficiently available in the proximity of villages and demands less labor, time and easily gathered. They carry an easy to handle cow bar depending on the need and a bamboo basket. Men exclusively accompany women in collection of Pit kanda, which needs additional labor and time, and women collect the rest of the tubers. Tubers generally grow after the commencement of rain i.e., the beginning of agricultural season. They do not fix any specific day for collection; they plan for tuber collection whenever they get leisure time off the agricultural work. During the food scarcity months each tuber provides at least 10 to 15 days of food to the needy families.

3.1.Pit kanda

The Pit kanda is commonly found in the nearby forest. It is white in color, non-sticky, tastes sweetish and the size varies from 250 gms to 5 kg. Traditionally, tribal people believe that pit kanda is healthy to consume; it is palatable, good for stomach and provides enough nutrition and energy comparable to rice. A group of ten to twelve men and women in a proportion of 1:1 go to locate and collect the tuber. In a season, communities explore the forest a number of times to locate the tuber and after a rigorous search by spending 6 to7 hours in the forest, they succeed to gather a maximum 6 to10 kg while sometimes they fail and return empty handed.

The division of labour is very conspicuous in collection process. As the tuber is deep rooted, it demands a little bit of extra labour for digging a minimum of 3 to 5 feet. Once, the tuber is located, men clear the surrounding with a spade and dig up to 2 feet and leave it for the women to take over the rest of the job and men move to another place in search of another patch of tuber (Figure-1).

Figure 1. Collection process of pit kanda from the forest

This complimentary process helps them to save time and get more quantity. In many cases, they leave a part of the tuber inside the soil to allow it to grow for the next year to maintain the continuity in supply of food by regenerating and also conserving the biodiversity. Inquiry reveals that the amount of collection and availability has been reduced drastically in the last decade. Men, women and younger people hold the knowledge to locate and identify the creepers of pit kanda.

Tribal women have a traditional cooking recipe and preparation method that varies depending on the taste and quantity. Normally, they peel the skin and boil it till cooked. Boiled tubers are consumed as staple food with ragi gruel. The recipe is prepared by chopping the tubers into small pieces (one inch in size) and cooking them for nearly half an hour with chana dal, egg plant, onion while seasoning the entire mixture with garlic, chilly, turmeric powder and salt. Sometimes, with the availability of rice, they eat it as a side dish. All the age groups relish pit kanda, and a family of 4 to 6 members normally consumes 1.5 kg tuber at one time. The left over tubers are either sold in the market or bartered inside the village for other commodities like rice or ragi. Recently, due to population growth and depletion of forest cover, the collection has fallen; it takes almost four to five days of continuous effort to collect a basket full of tuber (10 kg). Pit kanda has a high demand in the tribal weekly market; it is found that the landless families collect it for their own consumption and sale in local market whereas farmers mostly collect for their household consumption.

3.2. Soronda Kanda

The Soronda Kanda is known for its high fiber content. It is cylindrical in shape, has a dark brown skin and dense long hairs like skin of a wild boar, and it measures 1 ft in length and 10-12 inches in width (Figure 2).

Figure-2: A Paroja woman demonstrating Sorondo Kanda

The inside colour of the tuber is light brown. It grows profusely if untouched for 2 to3 years weighing 1 to 3 kg. It is abundantly available in the region and during a single visit without any special effort 10 kg of this tuber can easily be collected. As the collection process of sorondo kanda is not strenuous, women take lead forming small groups and set out to the forest for collection; they gather the tuber by digging one foot or so. Usually, the tuber is not preferred by young male population due to its taste, so they do not participate in the gathering process. However, old poor males go for the collection, as it demands less labour. The tuber is cooked as curry either with beans seed or hill gram and eaten as a side dish with rice. While preparing a dish, the tip of the tuber is discarded as it does not cook well. The ingredients are boiled and seasoned with spices to get the taste. Because of the fibrous nature of the tuber, it does not get along with the stomach and when consumed in excess they get diarrhea and stomach ailments. Mostly, a major quantity is consumed within the family and left over are distributed to friends as a gift or exchange for other food items (social exchange) during extreme food scarcity days. The survey indicates that recently as many Governmental welfare schemes have become operational in the region, comparatively the period of food scarcity has reduced, and in recent times the tribal do not take much interest in collection of this particular type of tuber.

3.3. Taragai Kanda

The availability of Taragai kanda is plenty in the forests of Koraput. The tuber is branched like the fingers of a human hand. An individual tuber measures nearly 1 to 2 feet long and 2 to 3 inches in diameter. If the tuber is not branched, the size grows to nearly 4 feet long and 8 inches wide. Taragai kanda appears white in raw and turns red after cooking. The exterior surface is hairy, very sticky and fibrous and when it grows to thicker then taste changes to sweetish (Figure 3).

Wild tubers- Koraput_.jpg
Figure-3: A Paroja woman demonstrating Taragai Kanda

The collection process is comparatively easy. Women go for the collection, they dig half to one feet to locate the tuber and collect 4 to 5 kg within two to three hours (Figure 4). As the tuber has a blank taste and contains excess fiber, men do not consume and also do not take part in collection process. Mixing with gram dal, eggplant and onion and seasoning with spices the dish is prepared. The cooking process is completed in a short time. Sometimes it is mixed with rice flour to increase the quantity and eaten as a side dish with rice. If the collected quantity is in excess, they share among the neighbors and friends, and at times they exchange it with ragi.

Figure-4: photographs of Targai kanda weighing up to 4-5 kg.

3.4. Cherenga Kanda

Cherenga Kanda is abundantly available in the forest only for a few days during the months of May and June. It is a thin tuber measuring around 2 feet long and 2-3 inches in width. The tuber is hairy, white in colour, fibrous, non-sticky, tastes sweet and cooks well. Women take up collection process; they dig six inches to one ft to collect the tuber. But while digging out, they take utmost care to retrieve it intact as the scratches on its surface can delay the boiling point and cooking time. Easily, they get 4 to 5 kg during one collection and sometimes accumulates 10 kg in a single visit that lasts for two to three times eating. Importantly, they take care to preserve it fresh as it does not cook if becomes dry. This tuber is mostly consumed in the family and not available in the local market as it has a very low commercial value.

Prior to cooking they clean the hairs with a knife. They take care while cleaning and cooking as handling this tuber gives an itching sensation to the palms. They prepare a curry by boiling it with hill gram, horse gram and bhodei and seasoning with garlic, chilly and salt and consumed with rice as a side dish.

3.5. Sika kanda

Sika kanda occurs rarely and difficult to locate. Communities go only four to five times in a season for the collection. It resembles the traditional jute hanger. The tubers are formed at the end of the spreading lateral roots; the roots spreading in all directions are intertwined to make a network and tied at the top of the tubers. Tubers are formed only on female plants. It resembles to Pit kanda without thorns. Each tuber is 1 to 1.5 feet long and 2-3 inches in diameter. Individual tubers per root weigh around 200 to 500 gms and are common; but exceptionally large tubers weighing up to 8 to10 kg are also sometimes found.

Communities like its taste and it has a better market price. Women mostly involved in the collection of this tuber. The collection neither takes longer time, nor the process is laborious. Digging for less than one foot, the tuber is available, and in one collection 3 to 5 kg tubers are collected. Majority portion is used for home consumption and sometimes exchanged for ragi and rice within the village. Normally, such tuber is preserved and consumed slowly within a week as it remains fresh, cooks well and savor remains unchanged. Tubers are cylindrical in shape and white in colour. Inner side of the skin is light red; the tuber turns reddish after being chopped. Plain surface, non fibrous and it has a beautiful look. It tastes sweetish and has a similar to that of Pit kanda. It is consumed as main dish by boiling and side dish by preparing curry, for which they mix different kinds of pulses and give seasoning with garlic, chilly and turmeric. In some occasions, they make ambila ( a kind of soup) with rice powder for a different taste.

3.6. Pita kanda

Pita kanda is not plenty as only one tuber grows in one plant. It is spherical in shape and hairy. The tuber has got its name after taste i.e., bitter locally called pita. However, after a long processing, the taste changes, becomes sweetish like potato. It is non-fibrous and yellow in colour prior to cooking and changes to white after cooking/ boiling. The collection is not tedious as the tuber is available below six inches of the land surface. With one crow bar they dig and take out. In one collection they collect at minimum 1 to 2kg and at maximum 6 to 7 kg. The weight of Individual tuber varies from 200- 500 gms.

The processing of this tuber for smooth taste is quite cumbersome and takes a longer time. Initially, the pita kanda is washed thoroughly with water and boiled along with the exterior cover. After peeling the skin off, it is chopped into slices (Figure 5). The slices are kept in a bamboo basket and the basket is kept for a night in running water. To keep the basket in position, it is fasten to a supportive wooden pillar. On the next day they collect the sliced tubers and boil it again and after thoroughly cooked, the water is discarded and seasoned with salt and chilly. At times they make curry mixing with pulses. A family of 6 to 7 members takes 6 to 7 kg of tuber and prefers to eat with ragi gruel. The people claim that, after consuming this tuber, they feel fullness of the stomach and feel energetic for 6 to 8 hours.

Figure-5:A tribal couple displaying pita kanda after collection

3.7. Mitni Kanda

Mitni Kanda is quite popular among women and men. It is a long and cylindrical white tuber resembles Cherenga kanda (Figure 6). Lateral tubers are present and the numbers of lateral tubers are related to the quantity. It is 1.5 to 2 feet long, medium fibrous, sweet taste like Pit Kanda.

Figure-6: Tribal couple displaying Mitni Kanda


Mitni kanda is easy to locate and collect. Usually, the tuber is available below 1 foot. In one visit they can collect 10 kg, and minimum of 2 kg can be collected within a short period. If it is gathered in excess, they take it to market for selling or sharing among neighbors, friends and relatives and exchange for ragi. They make curry and eat as a side dish rather than a main dish only by boiling.

3.8. Kasha kanda

Kasha kanda is well known among the tribal communities and rarely available in the forest. It is a long cylindrical tuber measuring nearly 2-3 feet. Outer skin is brown and hairy and tuber is light yellow in colour (Figure 7). It is not tasty, kasha (hoarse) in taste, non-fibers but can be boiled easily. Men do not like to participate in its collection. But tribal women collect it in the month of September when food availability is not sufficient. Since the size is big, it is boiled and ate as a whole meal or cooked with pulses followed by seasoning with garlic and chilly. Because of its size it is sold in the local market.

Figure-7: Photograph of Kasha Kanda

3.9. Kulia kanda

Kulia kanda is the least used tuber among the tribal communities and has an intoxicating effect similar to alcohol. One tuber of Kulia can intoxicate a person completely. At times people eat it to forget their sorrows. Over eating makes them sick with diarrhea and vomiting. It is rarely available in the forest and tribal go occasionally for its collection as they avoid consuming this tuber. It has an irregular sub-globular shape with diameter ranging from 12 to 30cm. It is a yellowish white tuber with yellowish skin and hairy surface (Figure 8). Local traditional healthcare practitioners use it to treat aliments such as vomiting and dysentery.

Figure-8: Tribal woman displaying Kulia Kanda and its creepers

3.10. Marketing and commercial value

Tubers are mostly consumed as a source of carbohydrates. Though a variety of tubers are available in the region, however, these tubers are not having good market value or any commercial importance. Sometimes, poor forest inhabitants sale surplus of the collected tubers in the local market along with other forest produce such as sal leaf, bamboo suits, or barter for other food grains (Figure 9), or share with friends and relatives, as gift, during social functions.

Figure-9: A tribal women selling forest products in the local market

4. Conclusion

Collection, gathering and consumption of wild food by the tribal people is an integral part of their ethnicity and life style. In many instances, wild food is comparatively nutritious and has potential medicinal values. Especially, besides providing food and nutrition, wild tubers act as a savior during the period of acute food scarcity. Studies indicate that many of the tuber species are under IUCN Red list of threatened endangered species. Thus, in-depth phyto-chemical analysis, safe conservation and sustainable use of wild tuber, which is essential for the optimal use of this biodiversity for meeting the present and future food and medicinal needs of the local, warrants active community participation.


We acknowledge the funding support provided by SDC. We are grateful to Prof MS Swaminathan, Dr Ajoy Parida for their support and help. We are indebted to the tribal people of the region for extending courtesy and sharing their knowledge with us from time to time.


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