Haakh – Kashmir’s ubiquitous vegetable

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Raw haakh contains 90% water, 6% carbohydrates, 3% protein and is fat-free. In terms of vitamins, it contains significant amounts of vitamin K and is a rich source of vitamins A, C, B6 and manganese. It’s also high in glucosinolates, which give it a slightly pungent flavor but are known to protect against prostate, colon, and breast cancer.

Haakh leaves are harvested by pinching in spring when the dormant buds sprout and give off tender leaves (kannul). When the growing stem bears larger leaves in rapid succession, the older and larger leaves are harvested regularly. In late autumn, the apical part of the stem is removed along with the whorled leaves.

The quality and flavor of haakh vary according to where it is grown in the city, according to connoisseurs. Traditionally, Haakh used to be grown in large fields, but these areas have shrunk considerably.

Owners have started constructing buildings, often commercial ones, on these fields. However, there are still areas in Radpora, Kawdora, Khanayari and Baba Demb that are the remnants of what used to be sprawling farms that catered to the great demands of the city.

The Haakh grown in Dal Lake is called Haanz Haakh (Boatswain Haakh) and is quite different in appearance, color and taste from the varieties grown on land.

The unpredictable weather has severely affected the cultivation of this traditional Kashmiri vegetable. The devastating floods of 2014 inundated several parts of the city, including the Haakh growers’ prized areas. Soil quality became very unhealthy and unsustainable for good quality. Many of the growers have shifted to growing other vegetables, such as cabbage, which have a better market and last longer across the country. All of this has resulted in a steep increase in cost up to Rs 80 per kg.

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