Tamil Nadu banana chocolate set to tickle taste buds

Tamil Nadu banana chocolate set to tickle taste buds

Tucked in a quiet corner in Varadarajapuram village in Thottiyam of the Tiruchirapalli District in Tamil Nadu is a unit which is engaged in a initiative of converting banana into chocolate.

Also, tasty honey-mixed banana is dried through a unique method adopted for the first time in India.

The novel initiative by members of Thottiyam Banana Producers Group promises to provide consumers a refreshing change to the confectionery products, usually available at the stores nearby. It sounds simple though. The uniformly ripened banana are kept for drying on the trays in a solar energy operated greenhouse dryer. After some process, the fruit turns into chocolate.

The Thottiyam Banana Growers Association, comprising about 200 members, grows banana in about 4,000 acres in six revenue blocks of the taluk. The group consists of small and medium farmers, tenancy holders with an average land holding of less than one hectare wet land that are irrigated by Cauvery river distributory canals.
The harvesting activity stretches for three months during the season and any changes in market conditions directly hits the revenue of the banana grower.

The vagaries of wind, high day temperature and water shortage affect the yield and this, in turn, results in forced ripening of banana . Farmers suffer losses in such conditions and their income also drops. The perishable nature of the fruit does not permit for storage. Large arrivals also bring down prices.

The group conceived the project in this backdrop. The result was heartening and provided an excellent opportunity to convert banana into fig and banana chocolates, a unique cost-effective value addition that will meet the growers production cost and manage the unsold and ripened bunches.

Floating their own company a few months back, the members purchased dryer at a cost of about Rs eight lakh, which was donated by KRG and Bayer Material Science organisations to promote value-added banana products. 

“The parabolic cross-sectional shape of the dryer helps to reduce wind load in case of even storm. The structure of the dryer is made of galvanised iron bars. The products to be dried are placed in a thin layer on arrays of trays.

These array of trays is placed on single-level raised platforms with passages between the platforms for loading and unloading the products inside the dryers,” explained G Ajeetham, General Secretary of the Tamil Nadu Banana Growers Federation.

“We have identified 12 core members from our association, whose duty is to
negotiate the price with farmers and bring the ripened fruit bunches to the site. They do not make farmers to indulge in distress sale like some middlemen
resort to when arrivals are more in the market,” he said.  

Claiming that this drying method is the first of its kind in the country, he said if the cut fruits and vegetables were traditionally dried, they would get contaminated by dirt and dust.

Besides, there is problem of insects, birds and animals. “Polycarbonate sheet is used as a cover of the dryer, because it has high transmittance, thus creating a good greenhouse effect in the dryer. In addition, the polycarbonate sheet is lightweight and easy to bend and cut, thus reducing the construction cost,” he said.

He said the use of solar energy effectively reduces the problems that crop up for using electricity. The use of the conventional energy source for drying
purposes is costly and hazardous to environment. Solar drying system may be classified into direct, indirect and mixed mode. In direct solar dryers, the air heater contains the product and solar energy passes through a transparent cover and is absorbed by the product.

According to him, when the banana is fully ripened, it is dried for three days in the green house dryer, which has a capacity to dry 5,000 fruits or 350 kg. The final product will be just one fourth of the quantity of banana fed into the dryer.
“Moisture content makes the fruit easily perishable.

Taiwanese technology uses solar heat ranging between 50 and 55 degree Celsius for totally and uniformly clearing the moisture and extending its shelf life,” he said.

With Trichy district producing a variety of bananas, the fruits can be converted into different chocolates, each with a distinct taste, says Dheenadayalan, who is also the member of the association.

He said that quality fruits of traditional banana varieties like Poovan, Karpoora­valli and Elakki were collected and mixed with honey, a natural preservative which is sourced from Kolli Hills, for sweetness and softness to roll out a “Nutritive honey-laced solar dried Banana” and “Soft Banana Chocolates”, an instant energy booster.

Mani Kutty, who is maintaining the fruit processing centres, said: “The
marketing of solar-dried banana and chocolates needs further improvisation on packaging, flavouring, coating. This would help us to compete with the leading consumer brands. in the market.”

He said the production should be scaled up to convert high volumes during the harvest season. “Our solar dryer’s capacity is just 0.1 per cent of daily
arrivals,” he added.

With the technological advancement on the cultivation front like drip irrigation  and availability of high-tech tissue culture seedlings, farmers take up market
demand driven cultivation throughout the year. He said the scope for solar-dried banana is vast and lucrative. Vagaries of monsoon and three successive years of drought has affected the banana growers in the area.

“It has put us in difficulty and we need to mobilise funds to complete the half done work,” he said.

The banana growers also appealed to the central and state governments to evolve a new programme to support such solar dehydration units for value-addition of fruits and vegetables in improving the farm revenue.

At present, banana chocolates and dried banana fruit are being sold at Mumbai and Delhi market, which fetches good money. “We also sell these products to Chennai and other cities,” Mani said.

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