The traditional Xajpani or rice beer downed with relish all over the Northeastern region will soon be prepared hygienically and be made available for consumption in the shop next door.
M/S Maverick Technologies signed an MoU with Assam Agricultural University for transference of technology in presence of director of research, GN Hazarika, on Tuesday for commercial production of Xajpani as a Heritage Alcoholic Beverage.
Akashjyoti Gogoi, proprietor of Maverick Technologies said that they would soon start a pilot project in Jorhat.
Madhumita Barooah, scientist, department of Biotechnology said that working in collaboration with the company, the department had identified the microbes which aided in fermentation and had been partially successful in stopping the beverage from spoiling as usually happened when Xajpani was kept for a longer period of time.
Gogoi said that the Department of Agricultural Biotechnology and the DBT-AAU Centre, Assam Agricultural University after a decade of extensive research led by Madhumita Barooah and her students had developed a defined starter culture and optimized the technology for production of Xajpani with 10 to 22 per cent alcohol along with increased shelf life.
The company is setting up a state of the art manufacturing plant to produce and popularise Xajpani as ‘Heritage Alcoholic Beverage of Assam’, under the recently introduced government of Assam’s New Excise Policy under Assam Gazette Notification No EX.138/2015/Pt-I/32, dated 6th of May 2017.
“Maverick aims to take Xajpani to the heights of Feni, a popular cashew based drink of Goa,” Gogoi said.
Gogoi further said that the main obstacle in commercialising Xajpani had been the inability to brew uniform product and quality due to the lack of defined starter culture, optimised techniques and very short shelf life.
“The Department of Biotechnology has found a solution to stop the Xajpani from turning sour in a short time but still we will have to write Best before four or six months, as is written on beer bottles,” Gogoi said.
Like other traditional fermentation process, the Xajpani making involves spontaneous fermentation under non-aseptic conditions.
The wide and varied microbial flora to which raw materials are exposed, results in variation in the overall quality of fermented product.
Xajpani brewing is an age-old art of technology.
Most of the communities prepare it predominantly at cottage level even today.
Rice-based traditional alcohol beverages are integral part of traditional belief systems in many Asian countries and are known by various names viz., Sake, Mirin (Japan), Yakju (Korea) Tapae (Cambodia), Tapai (Malaysia and Indonesia), Sato (Thailand).
A rice-based whiskey named as Lao-Lao, known to be the cheapest whiskey in the world is made in Laos.
Various rice based products including fermented products are prepared in Assam.
Rice-based alcoholic beverage is one such fermented alcoholic beverage that has been produced by the indigenous communities since time immemorial.
These fermented beverages play an important role in the spiritual and cultural lives of the indigenous communities and are known by different names such as Xaj (Ahom and Tiwa community), Zu/Judima (Dimasa tribe), Arak/Hor-Alank (Karbi tribe), Jou Bishi (Bodo tribe), Aapong, Sai Apong (Mishing tribe), Photika (Kachari tribe), Laopani (Lalong tribe), Tsa-pe (Singpho community), Haria (Adivasi community), Chujen (Deuri tribe).
The traditional fermentation process of preparing Xaj involves steaming of rice (preferably glutinous rice) into which a starter called Xaj pitha.
The pitha is sprinkled, mixed and allowed to ferment.
The initial fermented product is called Rohi which is subsequently diluted with water and partaken.
Although, brewing rice-based liquor is similar amongst the different ethnic communities, the herbal concoctions and microbial load of fermentation starters as well as rice varieties used varies.
The starter is prepared as concoctions of rice flour and several herbs which are believed to add as an intoxicating property to the liquor.
Apart from imparting intoxicating property, these plants/plant parts also contribute towards organoleptic and therapeutic values to the product.
The concoction of the starter culture and brewing methods are usually held secret by the women folk who prepare them and incorporate locally found herbs and leaves.