Worth its Salt

gok salt

Sanikatta is a small town on the way to Gokarna, only a few square kilometres in extent. It is also the oldest salt-manufacturing village in the state of Karnataka. Beginning in 1720, Sanikatta has been manufacturing salt for nearly 300 years.

In 1952, the region’s nearly 60 individual salt manufacturers, both big and small, joined hands to form a co-operative society. After the formation of the society, the salt-processing unit has expanded to around 400 acres and is now one of the biggest such units in India. We spoke to Arun Nadkarni, chairman of the Nagarabail Salt Owners Co-operative Society, about the secret to 63 years of success and what makes Sanikatta salt (also called Gokarna salt) so special:

Tell us briefly how Gokarna salt is extracted.

Sanikatta salt is a natural salt extracted from the water that flows into the Aghanashini basin, which is huge, around 1000 sq km in area. The water is taken from the basin and stored in a large reservoir, where it’s allowed to evaporate naturally and increase in density. Around the last week of September, the water is charged to our condensers (when it has reached around 4 degrees of density), where it flows from condenser to condenser, further increasing in density along the way. When it reaches the final condenser, it has achieved around 20-24 degrees of density. The final step is crystallization, where the density is again increased and real crystals are formed and harvested by local experts. This takes a lot of skill, and one could call these workers artisans.

Ideally, the salt that we consume should have around 27-30 degrees of density. Below 27, you have salts like gypsum which, if consumed, can form kidney stones in the body. Above 31 degrees, you have salts like calcium, magnesium and mercury, which don’t pass naturally out of the body, instead getting deposited in the kidney, liver and spleen. When you consume natural crystal salt, like the Sanikatta salt, the required amount is absorbed by the body and the excess is passed out naturally in urine. It’s not like processed salt.

How is natural salt different from the processed variety?

Normally refined commercial table salt is quite toxic, it lacks the nutrients contained in natural salt. Take how salt is made in Kutch and other such places, the sea water is directly charged to the condensers and allowed to dry. For months they charge the condensers and a huge amount of salt is produced. Then it’s broken down by a machine and put in a crusher. The density achieved is anywhere between 0 and 45 degrees, which means the product contains unwanted salts like calcium, gypsum and mercury. This is then washed, reprocessed and bleached, and this is where the toxicity comes in. It contains chemicals that don’t get dissolved in the body or passed out naturally. Instead they get accumulated in the kidney and liver and spleen, which can of course have harmful effects on health.

We all need sodium to live and function, but our bodies cannot recognize it properly in refined salt. Digestion and metabolism become imbalanced. On the other hand, our blood salt content closely resembles sea water salt content. Natural salt has been consumed by humans for centuries. It also tastes better, so you don’t need to add that much to make your food taste good.

Now let me explain to you why Sanikatta salt tastes so unique. During the course of the year, thousands of tonnes of leaves, stems, plants and roots that fall into the Aghanashini river flow into and get accumulated in the basin. The natural ingredients of these medicinal plants decompose and get dissolved in the water. On top of that, our location is such that we get heavy rainfall every year, more than 100 inches on average, and this water percolates into the condensers during the monsoon months, adding small amounts of bromine, iodine and chlorine into the water. The combination of all this leads to the characteristic flavour of our natural salt, and if you taste processed salt and our salt side by side, you can clearly tell the difference.

We would love to know more about how the society is run.

We produce between 12 and 30,000 tonnes of salt a year, which is collected and transported to a godown where it is cleaned using natural methods and sent to market. We don’t spend a single rupee on publicity or advertisement, but we still have a full market for all the salt we produce. People come to us, especially from ayurvedic centres, yoga institutes, and pranic healing centres. Before going for pranic healing, it is recommended to take a natural salt water bath, which is said to remove unwanted impurities from the body.

The raw materials are all natural so they don’t cost us – we use nature’s water and solar energy. All we have to do is take care of the flow of the water, control it properly, harvest it, collect it and supply it to the market. We don’t work with agents, and use our own lorries to directly deliver to the shops, which is why we are able to keep our costs low, and are still able to generate Rs. 40,000 per acre as profit for our members. This area is all basically salt marshes, and if it were used for agricultural purposes it wouldn’t generate more than Rs. 2000 profit per acre per year. In spite of inflation, we have not increased our prices, because we know this salt has been used for generations by the poorest of the poor.

We have 300 labourers, all of whom are taken care of very well. They are paid a steady salary throughout the entire year, despite not working for four months during the monsoons. They are all covered by insurance, and their children get books, cycles, scholarships, and medical aid free of cost. Twice in a year, we all cook a meal flavoured with Sanikatta salt and sit and eat it together. There are hundreds of salt producers in south India, but our society is one of a kind. It’s a community.

Note: Switching to sea salt is beneficial for your overall health. Studies show that your cravings for salt may be cravings of salts of minerals other than sodium due to mineral deficiencies in your body. You may find that natural salt satisfies your taste buds better than regular salt. This combination of nutrients in food and better taste has a compound effect in lowering your blood pressure naturally, however not because it contains less sodium or more potassium. It’s because it can help you stick to a lower sodium diet and replenish essential trace minerals lacking in your diet.

Gokarna salt is available at Town Essentials.

Image: http://india.unconventionalcoaching.com/

What to consider before going Vegan:

credit Melanie Richards

So what is veganism and how is it different from just being a vegetarian?

Veganism is a way of living which seeks to exclude (as far as is possible and practicable) all forms of exploitation of, and cruelty to, animals for food, clothing or any other purpose. It involves a plant-based diet avoiding all animal foods such as meat, dairy, eggs and even honey, as well as products like leather and those tested on animals.

A vegan diet can be richly diverse and comprise all kinds of fruits, vegetables, nuts, grains, seeds, beans and pulses – all of which can be prepared in endless combinations – but it does require a whole lot of commitment and getting used to. Curious about giving an animal-free diet a real shot? Consider these 9 aspects to know if you’re ready:

1. New protein sources
Every meal should contain protein, say vegan dietitians, because they break down into amino acids that promote cell growth and repair. Adults are recommended to get at least 0.8 grams of protein daily for every kilogram of body mass—that’s about 54 grams for a woman who weighs 68 kgs. Sources of vegan protein include natural soy, beans, dals, chickpeas, green peas, nuts and quinoa.

2. A B12 supplement
Vitamin B12 keeps the body’s nerve and blood cells healthy and helps make DNA – but occurs naturally only in animal foods. Deficiencies can lead to tiredness, weakness, constipation, loss of appetite, weight loss (the bad kind), nerve problems, and depression. To find out if you need to up your intake, ask your doctor for a simple blood draw.

3. And an iron supplement
Iron comes in two forms: heme and non-heme. Heme, which makes up about 40% of the iron in animal foods, is easily absorbed by the body. Vegan diets contain only non-heme, which is less readily absorbed, so you may need to ingest more iron if you want to get the same benefit. Good vegan iron sources include legumes, sunflower seeds, dried raisins, and dark, leafy greens. Vitamin C-rich foods like red peppers, citrus, and broccoli aid iron absorption.

4. The danger of junk replacements
Swapping out meat for white bread, pasta, and other packaged foods sets you up for failure on the vegan diet. It’s not a good idea to trade in animal products, which contain protein, vitamins, and minerals, for processed foods that provide little nutritional value other than calories. The result: hunger, weight gain, and a grumpier mood.

5. Easing up on soy-based products
Though scientists are still arguing over the effects of soy on cancer and heart health, one thing is for certain: consuming too much soy-based vegan ‘meat’ is arguably worse (than) consuming high-quality animal products. Meat substitutes are often highly processed and loaded with sodium and preservatives, so read labels carefully. The healthiest sources of soy are miso, tofu, soy milk, and edamame.

6. You don’t have to make the switch at once
You won’t just wake up one morning vegan. It takes work, so it should also take time. Start by adding more plant-based foods to your diet, while at the same time cutting back on animal products, especially those that are non-organic, and more importantly processed, refined foods. Making gradual changes and assessing how you are feeling along the way is key.

7. Food labels
If you’re serious about being vegan, checking food labels and verifying ingredients is a must. Just because a food product is not glaringly non-vegan doesn’t mean that it’s suitable for a vegan diet, and vice versa. Casein and whey, which come from milk, are present in many cereal bars, breads, and granolas, while gelatin and tallow (also known as suet) are derived from meat. Then there’s Natural Red 4 (also known as carmine, cochineal, or cochineal extract), which is a food coloring derived from the dried bodies of female beetles. Head spinning yet? The Vegetarian Resource Group’s list of common food ingredients can help.

8. Your calcium needs
Adults between the ages of 19 and 50 are recommended to get a minimum of 1,000 mg of calcium a day, but a European Journal study found that when vegans consumed at least 525 mg per day of calcium, their risk of bone fracture was no different than that of non-vegetarians with similar calcium intakes. The key is eating a variety of naturally calcium-rich foods such as spinach, ladies finger, saag (mustard greens), broccoli, bok choy, almonds, soy beans, figs, and garlic, as well as calcium-fortified foods such as cereals, plant-based milks, and tofu made with calcium sulfate. Bonus: soy, leafy greens, and most fortified foods are also high in vitamin D, which helps your body absorb calcium.

9. You may feel happier
Animals won’t be the only ones happy with your vegan move. You will too! One reason why: compared to vegetarian diets, omnivorous ones contain more arachidonic acid, which can spur neurological changes that drag down mood, according to a 2012 Nutrition Journal study.
This post has been adapted from an article on Health.com
Image credit: Melanie Richards

Millets: a forgotten superfood?


Superfoods are all the rage nowadays with foodies the world over shelling out big bucks for quinoa, goji berries and chia seeds. In India as well, the trend seems to have caught on, but are we missing out on what’s growing in our own backyard?

Milllets, of which India is the largest producer in the world, are a superfood in more ways than one. They are a storehouse of nutrients, with much higher contents of calcium, iron and phosphorus than rice or wheat. They are also higher in fibre, lower in fat and gluten-free!

To add to that, millets make an ideal source of nutrition for diabetics, due to a low glycemic index (which means they release sugars very gradually into the bloodstream). Thanks to our sedentary lifestyles, diets rich in simple carbohydrates like rice, and a genetic pre-disposition, one in four Indians have diabetes, making it the diabetic capital of the world. Why then aren’t we eating more millets??

In truth, millets have been a core part of the Indian diet for thousands of years – even during pre-historic times, the people of Northern India were cultivating millets and making rotis out of them! But since the Green Revolution in the 60s, which saw the introduction of high-yielding varieities of wheat and rice, as well as subsidies for the same, they’ve been phased out of our staple diet.

That’s not to say that the Green Revolution wasn’t a good thing. It ensured the country’s self-sufficiency when it came to food production and reduced hunger. However, in the process, we also seem to have lost our nutritional diversity. When you think about the fact that our ancestors evolved eating 8500 species of plants and today we eat only about 300, the importance of reintroducing millets into our farms and diets gets put into context.

The dietary choices we make have an impact not only on our health but also the planet and, contrary to popular assumptions, this is not something just to be associated with eating meat. The system of monoculture in modern agriculture is an equal cause for concern.

And that brings us to this unique supercrop’s other superpower – they have less impact on the environment. Millets are better suited for India’s harsh climate. They need less water than rice and wheat, and no chemical fertilizers, making them ideal for organic farming. 1 kg of rice requires 5000 litres of water, while millets require less than a fifth of that. They can also grow in various types of soil conditions.

With climate change being one of the most dire challenges facing humankind today,it’s high time we started approaching food production in a more sustainable way.

Available at Town Essentials: Foxtail millets, Little millets, Pearl millets (bajra), Sorghum (jowar), Finger millets (ragi)


Bitter Gourd/Karela from Town Essentials

Bitter Gourd (Hagalakayi) Town 1 Kg- 0732

You either like it or hate it – no one sits on the fence for a Karela!

Strangely however, it is one of those nostalgia invoking foods, you never much cared for it as a child but you know that if someone cooked it for you today, the same way your grandmother did you would love it, you just know it. Unfortunately that is one recipe no one bothered to learn…

Experiment, recreate, reclaim our traditional recipes with Karela from Town Essentials


Did you know that in Rudyard Kiplings Jungle Book II Mowgli vents his ire on the village folk with a poem where he wishes the Karela Vine overruns the Village?

I will let loose against you the fleet-footed vines–
I will call in the Jungle to stamp out your lines!
The roofs shall fade before it,
The house-beams shall fall;
And the Karela,. the bitter Karela,
Shall cover it all!

Apparently Mowgli being a child believed that there can be no greater evil than the Karela:)
But we know better…

Kumta Onions from Town Essentials

Onion Kumta (Erulli) Town 1 Kg

Come summer and these wonderful onions tied into blush pink bunches make their appearance in the market. Kumta onions are so mild that they taste almost sweet.

Grown in the coastal thakul of Kumta, these onions can only be cultivated in the winter months and need the lose sandy soil found in this area to develop their unique flavour. The local farmers toil over their delicate crop, which has to be watered before sunrise each day for three and a half months. And the end result are these beautiful, seasonal bunches of Kumta Onions that Town Essentials has sourced, just for you!

Maize Three Ways from Town Essential



Maize is a very versatile grain and can be made into many exciting and nutritious dishes. Town Essentials introduces three new varieties of dried maize to encourage you to be creative with this slightly sweetish grain.

Whole Maize

It is easier to store than the fresh variety and just as versatile, it can be soaked and pressure cooked and used just like fresh corn or ground into a fine flour fresh as and when you need it. You must have noticed how much kids love buttered corn as a snack, now you can make it at home hygienically for them.


Broken Maize

Is faster to pressure cook then whole corn and is wonderful in cutlets and salads. Do you have any traditional recipes that use broken maize that you would like to share with us?


Maize Sooji

This is my favourite form of maize that adds taste and texture to all the dishes it is added to. Upma made out of mazie rava is slightly sweetish and feels more creamy than regular rava. It also makes a lovely base for kesari and kichadi. Corn bread, an American staple, can be made out of maize sooji and will be a welcome addition to any table.


Order these maize products from Town Essentials for them to be delivered to your doorstep!

Nati Sapota from Town Essentials

Sapota Small Nati Town 1 Kg- 04

Mud Apple!?! How can a fruit as sweet and delicious as the Sapota possibly have such an unappetizing name?

The soft sweet pulpiness of the Sapota lends itself beautifully to a number of recipes that help you beat the summer heat, like milkshakes and ice creams. I am sure you will agree that there is nothing like a tall cold glass of thick creamy Sapota Milkshake in the middle of a hot day!

We found recipe for a Low Fat Sapota Milkshake on Yummy Tummy which you might like to try http://www.yummytummyaarthi.com/2013/06/chikku-milkshake-low-fat-version-sapota.html

Sapota can also be mashed into a perfect baby food suitable for toddlers who are just getting used to solids.

Town Essentials sources the naturally sweet small nati variety of Sapota just for you – Try some!

Town Essentials Thothapuri Mango


The promise of a glorious mango season is in the air!

The mango trees are in full bloom and here and there a few tiny green fruits have formed. In just a couple of months we will have those lush golden fruits to dig into.

But for now its the season of the Thothapuri Mango!

Remember those days when you used to walk out of the college gates and there would be guys selling cut Thothapuri’s with salt and chillie powder? Remember how you never cared if it had been washed or if the knife was clean? You just enjoyed it with both flies and friends buzzing around you for their share! Those were the days…

Relive those memories at home with Town’s Thothapuri Mangoes!


Arave Soppu

Arave Soppu Town Special 1 Kg- 05

Arave Soppu known as Amaranth in English, is a slightly tangy variety of greens that lends itself beautifully to the locally popular Soppu Sambar.

This delicious spicy and tangy sambar tastes best piping hot with flurry fresh cooked rice. However like most of the best food to be had, it is usually found only in homes. So find a friend whose mom makes it best or better still try making it yourself. You could try foodblogger Krishnavenis recipe at Ruchi Ruchi Aduge (http://www.ruchiruchiaduge.com/2008/11/harive-soppu-sambar.html)

Or better still, if you are one of those wonderful people who make the best soppu sambar order some Arave Soppu for Town Essentials today and make a big pot and call your friends over for a Soppu Sambar Party! Because there is no food like home food!


Town Essentials Fresh Amla


Amla, is one of natures bounties that provides us with innumerable health benefits. This chart from https://www.organicfacts.net/ explains most of them.

Amla Medium Town 1 Kg- 001

But for us foodies, it is the taste of Amla that makes it such an exciting culinary ingredient. Amla has a mouth puckering, lip smacking sourness, followed strangely by an unexpected and gentle sweetness.

The best way to eat Amla is, of course, fresh. With a brave heart dab a bit of salt on the Amla and then bite though the thin skin into the fleshy fruit and feel your saliva rush in to play with the salty, the sour, the astringent and the mildly bitter tastes that chase each other round your mouth. And then after you have swallowed, take a sip of water, sit back and feel the sweetness flood your mouth…

Hummm, and then there are the wonderful dishes that can be made with Amla. My favourites are Amla Curd Pachadi, Amla Rasam and Amla Chutney. While all these dishes can be made with so many other sour fruits the unique sweet sour taste that you get by using Amlas cannot be substituted by any other ingredients.

Town Essentials this week has fresh, as in straight from the tree fresh, batch of Amla. Make sure you buy some and experience the wonders of Amla both in the kitchen and for your health!