Saifulla and his wife are busy cooking various dishes as tourists return to the thatched roof hut they own for lunch after an elaborate swim in the sea. Even when they are busy frying the fish that they caught a few hours ago, they often go and stir a yellow-colored liquid in a big vessel on the hearth.
When we looked closely, we could see two coral stones placed inside the liquid in the vessel. Saifullah's wife is running a small restaurant on the Thinnakara island, catering exclusively to the tourists who drop in on the island while on their way to Bangaram island. But the liquid that they boil with coral stones placed inside is the main lifeline for Saifullah and family, and about 10 other people staying on this island.
The liquid is the sap of the coconut tree extracted carefully by them. This liquid is boiled continuously for over 4 hours so they get a jelly like substance, known as the coconut jaggery. The coral stones are used to remove the sourness from the sap, to extract the sweet jaggery.
This is an exclusive product of the Lakshadweep islanders, which they use generously to make the Lakshadweep halwa and other sweets. "If we condense 30 litres of coconut sap, (locally known as meera) we can get only 2.5 kg of jaggery. So it's very expensive, costing ₹1,000 per kg," Saifullah says.
The demand is so high for this product that one needs to pre-book if they want to get the jaggery. The islanders believe that this jaggery is safe for diabetic patients and they can add the jaggery when they make sweets or even tea. This jaggery can also be used as a bread spread and can also be used as a sweetener for making snacks. The islanders said that this product has a very long shelf life and it should not be refrigerated.
"This is a special product of Lakshadweep. We need to use the coral stones collected from the sea to remove the sourness. Otherwise, we cannot use the jaggery as it would be too sour," Saifullah said. 15 odd people stay on this island, exclusively to tap the sap and to make jaggery out of it. They take orders before making the jaggery and deliver it as it is made. These people move out of the island when the rainy season begins as smaller boats from Agatti Island stop service to Thinnakara.
The Lakshadweep halwa (locally known as lakshadweep unda), which according to the islanders helped the sailors to sail for long hours without any other food, is made using coconut jaggery. They allege that there are some cheap imitations in the outside market which were made using regular jaggery.