Kerala-based Ambika Somasundaran makes value-added products with drumstick

Ambika Somasundaran’s products include the soup powder, mixes of millet, payasam and breakfast flour

Ambika Somasundaran’s products include the soup powder, mixes of millet, payasam and breakfast flour

It was a gamble for Ambika Somasundaran when she quit her high paying job and became an entrepreneur in 2017. However, it has paid off. Today she runs Kariat Dry Foods, a business venture in Marottichal in the Puthur panchayat of Thrissur district. In addition to flours, curry masalas and powders under the Dry Mix brand, the company sells value-added products from moringa (drumstick).

“I spent 17 years at ESAF Small Finance Bank and as part of my job I led and coordinated programs for entrepreneurship development, skills development and awareness-raising. Eventually I developed the interest to become an entrepreneur. So I chose to resign and chase my dream,” she says.

Ambika said she had several options when it came to working out a business idea. “We have a hilly terrain where there are sufficient raw materials in the form of vegetables, turmeric, nendra bananas and jackfruit. Under the guidance of the District Industrial Center I have been awarded a grant under the Prime Minister’s Employment Generation Program [PMEGP] to start the business,” she says.

Value added products of drumstick manufactured by Ambika Somasundaran

Drumstick value added products manufactured by Ambika Somasundaran | Photo credit: special arrangement

Her goal was to make “safe-to-eat products” from locally available produce and to employ women in her neighborhood. “These women wanted to become economically independent. But because of the limitations in a patriarchal set up, they were unable to do anything on their own. They told me that if I started something, they would come and work for me,” recalls Ambika.

Kickstart the business

She started her business selling curry powders and flours to make breakfast dishes such as idiyappam, idli, dosa and puttu as well as various types of sun-dried waffles ( kondattams). “But it’s a very competitive field and I had to come up with something new. This is how I experimented with different types of flour to make puttu and products made from drumsticks,” she explains.

Women at work at the food processing unit of Ambika Somasundaran, Kariat Dry Foods, in Marottichal, Thrissur

Women at work at Ambika Somasundaran’s food processing unit, Kariat Dry Foods, in Marottichal, Thrissur | Photo credit: special arrangement

puttuz, a breakfast staple, is usually made with rice flour. Dry Mix has 10 varieties puttu flour with rice flour as base. There is flour with carrot, beetroot, banana, green gram, jackfruit, jackfruit seed, corn, peanut, ragi and njavara rice.

As for drumstick products, there is powder, rice flour and soup mix made from drumstick leaves. They were launched in August 2021 by Agriculture Minister P Prasad. “A customer had requested drumstick leaf powder. About the same time, a friend had asked if I could help make a dish in the colors of our national flag for a competition at his district’s school. I was already experimenting with making drumstick powder. Once I tested it with my regular customers, I was confident to launch it. Made my friend’s child puttu in the colors of the flag and also won the first prize!” she says.

Ambika Somasundaran's food company has flour for making 10 types of 'puttu'

Ambika Somasundaran’s food company has flour for making 10 types of ‘puttu’ | Photo credit: special arrangement

Her venture is supported by Ollur Krishi Samridhi (OKS), a farmers’ producer organization (FPO), which falls in the constituency of Ollur MLA and Revenue Minister, K Rajan. The FPO launched a drumstick propagation program in January 2020, distributing 10,000 saplings to four panchayats.

P. Anitha, professor in the Department of Plant Sciences of the College of Agriculture, Kerala Agricultural University, had attended awareness classes about planting and caring for saplings in these panchayats. Together with her student, Anitta Judy Kurian, she had conducted a study in 2018-2019 to evaluate the nutrient composition in different types of drumsticks as part of a “plant project” funded by the government of Kerala. “We collected 25 drumstick varieties that were in the fifth planting year. Drumstick is a reservoir of nutrients ranging from protein, vitamins C and A, minerals such as calcium, iron and potassium, antioxidants and the like. Countries like Thailand and Malaysia are far ahead in manufacturing value-added drumstick products; Kerala is taking small steps in this direction,” says Dr Anitha.

Drumstick soup mix

Drumstick soup mix | Photo credit: special arrangement

Ambika is currently collecting leaves from households near her. “We give 30 euros per kilogram of leaf. They only need to remove the main stem. The leaves are thoroughly cleaned in turmeric water to remove insects/worms and dirt. They go into the dryer the same day and the dried leaves are packed airtight. We powder them as needed. To get a kilogram of dry leaves, we need at least eight kilograms of fresh leaves. And if the dry leaves are powdered, another 100 grams are lost,” she says.

Product offer

The drumstick powder can be used in curries. It can also be drunk with water or buttermilk. “The ready-to-use soup powder contains cumin, pepper, shallot and garlic. Mix it in water and boil. Shallots fried in oil or ghee can be added for flavor. The drumstick rice flour can be used to make dishes such as: puttu or idiyappam or can be added to idli/dosa dough,” explains Ambika.

Ambika Somasundaran

Ambika Somasundaran | Photo credit: special arrangement

Drumstick millet mix, chutney powder and drumstick leaf rasam mix are some of the other products. There is also a payasam mix, with drumstick meat and manicholam (Sorghum). She also plans to make oil from drumstick seeds. “We purchased the machines to make drumstick powder capsules. Meanwhile, Ollur Krishi Samridhi has taken steps to export drumstick products, puttu flour and millet mix, which is available in three varieties. We are initially looking at the West Asian market,” she says.

Drumstick products are currently available from SARAS Mela at the Kanakakkunnu premises in Thiruvananthapuram. They can also be purchased online. Contact person: 9539731501.


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