The Kalunga people are Brazil’s largest existing community of descendants of African slaves who escaped the plantations centuries ago, the quilombola. The Kalunga settled in a remote area between the mountains and valleys that surround the Paranà River, in the northeast of the state of Goiás. Isolated for centuries, they came into contact with the rest of Brazilian society just 30 years ago. Their culture is linked to the cultivation of the land, divided among the families according to traditional systems, which until a few decades ago allowed total freedom of movement for the communities for hunting, fishing and accessing water. These days, however, every family nucleus has a defined plot of land and mobility is increasingly limited.
The Kalunga have been cultivating sesame for over three centuries. They grow two varieties, one lighter in color, called gergelim branco (white sesame) and a darker one, gergelim preto (black sesame). The paler is more common, more used in cooking and more popular with consumers. The black sesame is rarer, due to its more challenging taste; when toasted, the outer layer of the seeds takes on a bitter flavor. The untoasted seeds, however, are in demand for their high oil content.
Sesame is grown intercropped with rice, corn and manioc. Generally it is sown in December, but the exact period can vary depending on the rains, even though the seeds do not need much water to germinate. Sesame is useful for organic crop control in the fields and helps to keep ants away.
The harvest begins in June, after the rice harvest. The seeds are crushed in a mortar to obtain a flour (tijolo) which is then mixed with cane sugar (rapadura). This flour is rich in protein (around 40%) and minerals (13%). The sesame seeds are used in Kalunga cooking both toasted and untoasted in various dishes: paçoca, a traditional sweet that uses seeds ground in a wooden mortar; salads; biscuits; bread and cakes, which have been introduced more recently into the local diet. Sesame oil, coconut oil (indaiá) and lard are traditionally used in the cuisine, but these fats are being increasingly replaced by refined oils, mostly soya. Sesame oil production has greatly declined, and rarely exceeds 4 liters a year per family nucleus.
The Presidium was created in 2017 thanks to the Alimentos bon, limpos e justos project in order to relaunch the sesame culture, particularly in the municipalities of Cavalcante (Vão de Almas and Vão do Moleque communities) and Teresina de Goiás (Ema community). In recent years, the climate has grown increasingly arid here and sesame is one of the few crops able to grow well even when there is little water available.
With the support of Slow Food and its network of local partners, this area could become a symbol of biodiversity protection and link its identity to the production of quality sesame, grown intercropped with other products from the traditional Kalunga food culture.
Quilombo Kalunga, Goiás state
Associação Quilombo Kalunga (AQK)
Rua 3 Quadra 1 Lote 7 – Bairro Palmares
Monte Alegre de Goiás