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Dear Ravanna,

You are not alone. The western and south-western part of West Bengal, continuing down at least up to Mayurbhanj in Orissa dearly love their poppyseed/khus khus/posto in all combinations. one favored mid-morning repast for field hands is a large basket of puffed rice/murmura/muri, accompanied by a big dab of freshly ground poppyseed paste. Often, the puffed rice will be soaked in water. Also, in Bankura district, urad dal, accompanied by posto toasted over an open fire in a ladle, is much relished.

I wonder whether the fondness for posto is an artefact of the intensification of poppy cultivation during the colonial period. Otherwise, poppy is not a natural crop for this agro-ecosystem. Any thoughts?

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Dear Doctor,

I really could not say with any degree of certainty. Perhaps concurrently with Islamic rule, poppy [originally from the Turkish moiety of the Fertile Crescent], some poppy cultivation became established in UP, then made its way to Bengal. However, the intensity of use in Bengal presupposes an intensity of cultivation that probably had something to do with the British opium trade to China. You may recall the notable opium warehouses built in Patna, among other places.

If you examine a poppy pod, even the largest breadseed poppy, the seeds mass relatively low. Per hectare, I would suspect not more than 200 kg would have been an enviable yield, and perhaps half that for raw opium. Now, if the poorer classes could rely on not-insubstantial amounts of the seed for regular consumption, circumstantial evidence would suggest that they were beneficiaries of a by-product with no real market value, much like chitterlings in the antebellum South. So, the real value lay in the primary product, which must have been opium [in traditional India there was no breadseed poppy apart from the opium types]. Note also that the Bengal region is not especially favorable for opium poppy, unlike the more temperate Afghanistan, Turkey, or the Golden Triangle. It would not be a natural choice for large-scale cultivation, especially if there was no significant export market.

The East India Company came in attracted by drugs and dyes, high value commodities [later it would do a lot of grain trading etc. but that is another story]. Only during the British period do we learn of the extraordinary intensification of opium cultivation that warranted massive warehouses in Patna. I doubt that similar magnitudes of production existed during the Muslim period. In fact, Bengal’s major exports to north India and to the world comprised sugar and iron, about 20, 000 Megagrams [metric tons] of each annually during the final days of Mughal/Nawab rule c.1750. There is no mention of any significant/comparable level of opium production from the Bengal subah. [Prof. Sumit Guha, economic historian at Brown University, should be able to give you more cogent answers.]

If you were to plot those areas of Europe –Hungary, the Balkans etc.—where poppyseed is an important adjunct to the diet, they would be co-terminous with the arc of Turkish influence. The relevance of this, I would submit, is that even in India, poppyseed as a common food item followed the path of Turkish conquest. Posto probably was not a common article of diet before the Turkish influx into the Ganga plain. Indians got their opium where they got their asafetida, Afghanistan. The Chaitanyacharitamrita [c. late 1400s] mentions in detail foods enjoyed by Srimanmahaprabhu, including the rare ‘pocha-machher bhaja’ or slightly rotten fish which to this day is a uniquely Bengali lunch item, fried till it breaks up into long strings; it does not mention posto, as far as I can tell.

Of course, all of this is merely my conjecture, and I would be interested to hear your thoughts/critique.

Warmest regards.

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:biggrin: since I discovered nutella I'm in chocolate heaven :wub::laugh:

I like to have nutella coated with dessicated coconut and slivered almonds both from stores locally.. also strawberry dug into nutella gives me a taste of the best cake out of this world so many flavours in thes simple combination itself is it me or am I imagining the cake taste as I have nutella coated straberries yummmm~!!! :raz:

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