Srinagar: Despite juices of myriad types flooding local markets, Kashmiris still prefer basil seeds locally known as ‘bebr-i-buel’ to break their Ramadan fast.
People generally believe basil seeds not only reduce their thirst at iftar time, but will also keep them cool and well hydrated for long.
“I have been using basil seeds for past 60 years during Ramadan, no matter in which season the holy month comes. They are helpful in fasting. But this year due to Ramadan falling in summer heat, I have to rely more on them,” said Nisar Ahmad, an elderly resident of Srinagar.
Basil seeds are soaked in water for hours before they are mixed milk and sugar. Sometimes people also mix granules of gum arabic (kateer in local parlance) along with it to add cooling effect of the drink. People also say that kateer avoids constipation possibly caused by basil seeds.
Scientifically called Ocimum Sanctum Tenuiflorum, basil is an aromatic plant. According to experts, its seeds have mucilage property—a gelatinous substance formation in the water that has a cooling effect and other medicinal properties.
The drink so made, known as ‘bebr-i-buel tresh’ is used in homes, served in mosques and on roads as well at the time of iftar.
The basil seed is also grown in Kashmir but in Ramadan, traders say, the demand of it increases manifold and the local production does not suffice the demand, hence hundreds of quintals of basil are imported from outside.
“I have been dealing with basil seeds for past 10 years. Every year in Ramadan, I purchase at least 10-15 quintals of basil seeds from New Delhi,” said Mohammad Muzaffar, an owner of local food products unit.
With more demand, Muzaffar said, the rates of the seeds also increase during the month. With the Ramadan falling in hottest season of this year the rates have almost doubled. “Last year, a 100 gram packet of basil seeds would cost Rs 30, but this year it is around Rs 60,” said Muzaffar.
Tawseef Ahmed, another wholesale dealer at Zaina Kadal, Srinagar said that he has bought three quintals of additional basil seeds this year due to more demand.
“I have already distributed more than half of the quota and I am hopeful that whole stock will exhaust before the end of month,” said Tawseef.
With the decline in local production, basil seeds of different qualities are now mainly imported from Iran. “We have very low production of basil seeds in Kashmir. Now people here mostly grow it for their personal use. Also the local production costs three times more than imported seeds, so people don’t prefer it more,” said Tawseef.
The basil seeds are also on the list of items being traded through cross-LoC trade, but the traders say they don’t import it because of low seed quality.
“Basil seeds were imported only once in 2013 through cross-LoC trade, but it was not of good quality, so we stopped it,” said Hilal Turkey, general secretary, Cross-LoC Traders Association.
Talking to Kashmir Reader, Dr Yousuf, who practices Unani medicine, said, “Basil seeds have several medicinal functions. Apart from refreshing the body it acts as cardio tonic, helps in blood purification, proper functioning of kidney, and cleans urinary system.”
He said that with so many purifications associated with basil seeds, “it is good to use them while breaking the fast.”