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Coconut -Neera rich in water-soluble vitamins and phenols
Saturday, 18 March, 2017, 08 : 00 AM [IST]
Dr B Jayaprakash Naik
Coconut is one of the most important crops of Kerala.However, the popularity of coconut cultivation is on the decline in the state due to the high cost of cultivation and low market price of nut, the primary produce. Value addition and product diversification remain the most viable but least explored areas as the coconut is concerned. The nut is used mainly for culinary purpose (30%) and for copra 70% (i.e., 85% for oil and 15% for ball copra). Eventhough coconut oil is a rich source of lauric acid and myristic acid and many medicinal applications, the use of coconut oil is limited to Kerala state only. The domestic and culinary use of the traditional coconut oil is not very common in majority of the population in India because of the availability of cheaper oil sources like palm oil andsunflower oil. Even the industrial use of coconut oil is reduced due to its higher/ premium price and availability of cheaper substitutes.

Though tender coconut water is a highly nutritious drink and highly remunerative than copra or coconut oil, only 2% of the palms are now harvested for use as tender nut water. This is mainly because of the difficulty in harvesting from tall palms and non-availability of coconut climbers  in traditional areas like Kerala. Nearly 300 different products can be made from coconut.

Neera, a sap extracted from the inflorescence of coconut palm is another product from coconut, which has immense potential for increasing the remuneration to farmers as well as a good health drink compared to tender nut water.

Neera, the juice obtained from the inflorescence of palms is a popular drink all over India. The sap or juice extracted from the inflorescence of some wild palms are used as a drink from ancient times and popular among the tribal people. There are eight palm species commonly used for extraction of neera viz., coconut (Cocos nucifera L.), palmyra palm (Borassus flabellifera, L), sugar palm (Arenga pinnata,Wurumb. Merr.), fish tail palm (Caryota urens L.), toddy palm or wild date palm (Phoenix sylvestris Roxb.),nipa palm(Nypa fruticans L), buri palm (Caryota elata L), and talipod palm (Caryota unbraculifera L). In Goa and Maharashtra,coconut palm, in Tamil Nadu, palmyra palm, in Andhra Pradesh, the wild date palm or toddy palm and in north- eastern states, the fish tail palms, are generally used for tapping neera and toddy.

Neera is rich in water-soluble vitamins and phenols which can help decelerating ageing in human beings. The high potash (K) and low sodium (Na) in the drink makes it acceptable to diabetics. Nutritional constituent of a typical sample of neera and tender nut water are given below:

Nutrients/Minerals

Neera

Tender Nut Water

Total sugar

          18 - 20%

6.50%

Vitamin C

1.3mg/100ml

2.2

pH

6.8

4.5

Phenols

8.0mg/100ml

 

Minerals  (mg/100ml)

 

 

 K ( Potash)

9.05

2.90

 P (Phosphoric acid)

1.50

0.92

 Ca (Calcium)

6.00

4.40

 Fe (Iron)

4.50

           1.06

 Na      (Sodium)

0.95

           4.20

 Cu (Copper)

0.02

           0.02

 Mg (Magnesium)

2.90

           0.10



Tender nut water yield is low, approximately 2-5l/bunch whereas the inflorescence sap yield is 60 – 75l per bunch. As a drink, neera is tastier and more nutritious than tender coconut water. There is scope for large-scale production of this health drink by adopting improved processing and preservation technologies. Thus, tapping inflorescence for neera production is more advantageous and remunerative than harvesting tender nuts.

As neera is rich in sugar, it undergoes fast fermentation and is converted first to toddy (8% alcohol) and consequently to a mixture of organic acids (natural vinegar). Hence preservation of neera is a challenge. Several protocols are developed by different workers for collection, processing and preservation to arrest the microbiological deterioration and preserve the nutritional qualities of neera.

If neera is processed with standard norms such as free of alcohol, odourless and colourless it can be promoted as a health drink. This can be promoted as health drink and served to all age groups from children to ailing old people. Ofcourse it finds a place for distribution in schools, hospitals, railways, public functions and so on.The competition from the soft drink industry is posing a challenge for neera now. The health benefits of neera is a challenge for soft aerated drinks industries in India. It is a rich source of natural sugars, minerals and vitamins. It contains substantial amounts of iron,phosphorus, ascorbic acid and so on.

The Indian food industry is estimated to be worth$310 billion. The consumers are seeking healthier beverages even if they are more costlier, due to rising awareness on health issues. There is a strong shift in consumer demand for non-carbonated alternative drinks.There will be shift in demand for neera, atleast 10 per cent of the total consumption of carbonated soft drinks. The total volume of soft drinks consumed during 2013 was 16757.3 million litre worth Rs 529731.6 million (Euromonitor International cited by Cris Abraham Kochukulam,2014). Apart from Kerala Agricultural University at the College of Agriculture, Padannakad, Nileshwar, Kerala; State Coconut Development Corporation, Elathur, Kozhikode; the Coconut Producers Companies in Kerala under the Coconut Development Board have started Neera processing, packing and distribution in Kerala. A few of the coconut producers companies viz., the Palakkad Coconut Producers Company; Thirukochi Coconut Producers Company, Ernakulam; Malappuram Coconut Producers Company;and so on have taken strides to export processed neera to Gulf countries. There is much demand from Gulf and Europe for neera.

The technologies for neera production were developed by various institutions viz., Kerala Agricultural University, Central Plantation Crops Research Institute, Kasargod, Central Food Technological Research Institute, Mysore, and CMSE College, Ernakulam. The neera and its products are now manufactured by the Kerala Agricultural University at the College of Agriculture, Padannakkad, and College of Agriculture, Vellayani, Thiruvananthapuram, Kerala State Coconut Development Corporation, at Elathur, Kozhikode, and Aralam Farm, Kannur, and Central Plantation Crops Research Institute, Kasargod. This is produced at farmers’ level by the different Coconut Producers’ Companies throughout the state. There are nearly 140 units producing neera in the state at present.

The neera is also to be extracted, collected, processed and transported as 'Milma model' in Kerala, as the storage conditions required for neera are same as that of milk i.e., 4 to 6 degrees centigrade. Thus the transportation must be in refrigerated conditions. With the technology developed by Kerala Agricultural University, the cold-stored Keramruthamcan be transported to long distances overnight by ambient conditions and further storing in refrigerated condition at the point of supply.

There are mainly two methods of production of neera:
1. Tapping and collection in utensils provided with cold temperature lining/ facilities, storing in  refrigerated conditions and serving chilled. There is more chance of fermentation if the cold chain is broken during processing, packing and transporting.
2. Tapping and collection using non-fermenting agents, processing - centrifugation, filtering, bottling and refrigerated storage. There is more chance of fermentation if the cold chain is broken during processing, packing and transporting. This product has a shelf life of one or more days in ambient condition. The proper aseptic bottling and packaging will increase the shelf life as well as the storage under refrigerated condition. The possibilities of pasteurisation and tetrapacking have to be explored.

Being a food product, neera demands several market concerns. Quality has to be addressed from nutritional, chemical and microbiological points of view. The end-product quality is governed primarily by the nature of the source material and by the processing, packaging and preservation methods.

In separate shelf life experiments it was estimated that Keramrutham has a long shelf life of two days under ambient and more than three months under refrigerated conditions (4 to 6oC), from which it can be surmised that the processed and bottled neera, Keramrutham is a highly nutritious health drink which can be marketed conveniently.

Palm jaggery/ gur (Kerachakkara) is high quality prepared from neera following the method developed by Kerala Agricultural University. The practice of palm jaggery making is also common in many places and in most of the practices the sap is collected in a mild solution of slaked lime prepared from oyster shells, natural material abundantly available in coastal areas.  But the jaggery made using similar local technologies many a time has undesirable physical nature and poor keeping quality. Moreover the residue of slaked lime remaining in the produce reduces its palatability and consumer acceptance.

Many other products have been developed from coconut inflorescence sap under the Coconut Mission Programme, College of Agriculture, Padannakkad, Nileshwar, in Kerala Agricultural University such as Kera sugar, Kera liquid jaggery, Kera pineapple jam, Kera neera sip up, Kera neera chocolate, Kera neera chikki, Kera neera peanutunda, and Kera neera ariyunda.

Considering a tapper could tap 12 palms daily and each palm yields on an average 1.5 litre of sap per palm per day, the total inflorescence sap would be 18 litre per day from 12 palms tapped by one person. From this, processing nine litre as final product can be obtained after processing. This can be made into 45 bottles of 200 ml each. Being a health drink, a bottle of this could be sold at Rs 35 each. The total income per day will be Rs 1,575 and it is Rs47,250 per month. The farmer will be able realise at least 1/10th of this amount (approximately Rs 400 per month) as  profit and the remaining will be spent on the tapping cost, processing cost and marketing charges.

A palm can be tapped for six months at a stretch in a year and allowed for the next six months for normal tender nut or coconut production as a health restoration measure for the palm. Hence usually 20-30% of the palms in farmers garden can be used for tapping at a time. This will help the farmers in getting higher income from coconut garden by utilising their palms for both purposes of value-added products like neera and jaggery, and tender nut as well as traditional coconut, copra and oil production.

Neera and its products have very high demand in open market but it is not available in sufficient quantity for supply. The palms used for tapping require licence from Excise department. The government has liberalised the licensing process for tapping palms exclusively for the production of neera and its products. The farmers will also be encouraged for production of neera by providing sales outlets in the “Agripark” or agro product mall. It has good demand in hospitals, if quality and good packaging are maintained. Further, there are good prospects for neera as a sports drink.

The sustainability of coconut sector, at this situation of low value for primary produce, is possible only through adding value, ensuring product diversification, improving farm level processing, increasing byproduct utilisation and so on,because of ample scope for processing of every part/produce of the palm. Among them, neera is a natural soft drink with more nutritional and health benefits to consumers. It is also a highly remunerative value-added product from coconut to farmers. The unemployed youth have to be inculcated with training on neera tapping and production techniques as there is dearth of neera technicians in Kerala. The farmers have to be encouraged with awareness programmeson technologies available for value addition from coconut.

(The author is associate director of Research Coconut Mission, College of Agriculture, Kerala Agricultural University, Padannakkad. He can be contacted at jp.naik@kau.in)
 
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