This small thorny deciduous tree (Senegalia senegal, also known as Acacia senegal) is known by several common names, including gum acacia, gum arabic tree, Sudan gum and Sudan gum arabic, but also as kher, khor, kumatiya or chapatiya in some parts of India.
Kumatiya trees produce pods, each one containing a row of three shiny, flat seeds used as food by the people in Rajasthan. These seeds are one of the five ingredients of panchkuta, a well known delicacy and a very popular food during Shitala Ashtami, a Hindu festival dedicated to goddess Shitala and celebrated a week after Holi.
The panchkuta is a vegetable mix, a traditional dish of Marwari people, an ethnic group of Rajastan. This curry could be prepared the previous day with kumatiya and some other dry items: ker (a wild berry that is tangy and peppery), sangri (long beans from the tree Prosopis cineraria), amchur (unripe mango stripes), gunda (berries of Cordia myxa). This meal can be stored for a few days and used as a travel food. Panchkuta goes well with a cold pudi, paratha or even a chapathi.
These nutritious seeds are not the only thing that the tree is known for. It is the source of gum Arabic, which is used as a food stabilizer. Besides, it is also used in printing, paints, glue, cosmetics and textile industries.
The people in Rajasthan who relish kumatiya on a daily basis might have been unaware of its health benefit but a recent study shows the seeds have cardioprotective properties. The seeds are very protein and rich in phosphorus, zinc and selenium.
The kumatyia trees are an important component of traditional agroforestry system as they can fix nitrogen and improve soil fertility.
But these trees are at risk, because farmers tend to cut down trees on their land in an effort to shift to conventional agriculture. To ensure that farmers continue to grow the tree, free seeds are sometimes distributed.