March 27, 2021 8:16 AM   Subscribe

The Ancient Method That Keeps Afghanistan's Grapes Fresh All Winter - "Afghans developed this method of food preservation, which uses mud-straw containers and is known as kangina, centuries ago in Afghanistan's rural north. Thanks to the technique, people in remote communities who can't afford imported produce are able to enjoy fresh fruit in winter months. But even in villages like Ahmadi's, near the capital, the tradition is kept alive for good reason. 'Have you ever seen another method that can keep grapes fresh for nearly half a year?' Ahmadi asks with a laugh."
posted by kliuless (24 comments total) 56 users marked this as a favorite
This is really neat. How does it work? (At the level of mold spores, I mean.)
posted by eotvos at 9:40 AM on March 27

posted by Don.Kinsayder at 10:03 AM on March 27

I'm guessing it works by keeping moisture levels just right and along with grape's high sugar content prevents decay. You can do something similar with root vegetables like carrots which will store all winter when buried in sand in a cool dry place.
posted by Mitheral at 10:36 AM on March 27 [8 favorites]

Cool archeotechnology, and interesting that the lesser degree of oxidation is enough to create a demand for grapes preserved like this, rather than just as raisins (which they apparently also make).
posted by progosk at 12:09 PM on March 27 [2 favorites]

If only I had fresh grapes, straw, mud, and a cool spot... I know that it is a business but it seems appealing as hell just generally. Great post!
posted by Bella Donna at 12:25 PM on March 27 [1 favorite]

Carrots are less surprising because the carrot structure is needed for the second year’s growth and seeding. Grape seeds germinate without the grape. And of course grapes themselves are famously good at rotting!
posted by clew at 12:28 PM on March 27 [4 favorites]

Nobly, even!
posted by tavella at 12:43 PM on March 27 [7 favorites]

I bet it's a cocktail of volatile antifungals produced by Streptomyces bacteria duking it out with fungi to see who gets to eat the straw.

Soon to be appropriated and exploited by an agribusiness giant near you, in all probability. It's really quite sophisticated folk bioengineering on the part of the Afghanis, and any reasonable system of economic justice would see them rewarded for it, especially if their soils are cultured in order to produce it.
posted by jamjam at 1:19 PM on March 27 [10 favorites]

Um, they're selling the filled bowls, so I guess they are being rewarded for it?
posted by happyroach at 1:49 PM on March 27 [1 favorite]

I wonder what they taste like, are they sweeter or more tender or more concentrated?
posted by polymodus at 2:00 PM on March 27 [2 favorites]

Um, they're selling the filled bowls, so I guess they are being rewarded for it?

And you think that's enough?

Rapamycin, which was developed from soil on Easter Island, had total sales of $366 million in 2015 & 2016 alone, and if the Rapa Nui have ever gotten a cent from that beyond incidental income from hosting collecting expeditions I'd be shocked (and highly gratified, depending on the amount).
posted by jamjam at 2:35 PM on March 27 [12 favorites]

Rapamycin sales.
posted by jamjam at 2:42 PM on March 27

This is impressive, and if there is some strain of bacteria in the straw that reduces fungal growth on fruit the economic potential could be HUGE, so I hope the originators get properly rewarded.

I have heard of one other method for preserving fresh grapes in storage, the Victorian grape storage bottle, which was used in some large estate kitchen gardens to keep grapes so that you could wow your guests with fresh grapes at Christmas. The bottle was filled with water and charcoal (to keep the water sweet) and the stem of the grape bunch went into the middle hole on the bottle, with the other used to top up the water. I have no idea how well this worked, though.
posted by Fuchsoid at 3:07 PM on March 27 [3 favorites]

any reasonable system of economic justice would see them rewarded for it

Isn't it more the case that a reasonable system of economic justice would be set up so that access to economic and societal goods generally, and the benefits of increasing productivity in particular, were not allocated in proportion to one's existing wealth?

The issue you raise highlights the absurd injustice and cruelty of our current system, and in particular the racism that is inherent to it, but your position seems to suggest that there's a way this system could be made more equitable if we recognised property rights more fully and fairly. I have concerns about that position. In particular, it raises questions about people whose ancestral traditions didn't happen to come up with something that can be exploited for profit, or whose traditional knowledge has already been eradicated by colonialism. I don't feel comfortable with saying it's just their bad luck they were born with an unprofitable history.

On the other hand, I do recognise that we have to deal with the injustices we face as we come across them, and in the context we find them, and I agree that there is a need for those of us who are benefiting from exploitation to make reparations to those who are suffering its effects. But, fundamentally, I think we're going to do that most effectively by working on alternatives to capitalism, rather than by accepting capitalism's transactional logic and arguing for it to bolt another mechanism onto the already unwieldy and arbitrary edifice of intellectual property.

TLDR; I don't think we can protect people from our rapacious system by accepting that what you deserve to receive is based upon what you have to give in exchange, and arguing for cultural intellectual property seems to tend very much in that direction.
posted by howfar at 4:23 PM on March 27 [11 favorites]

I wondered what these grapes might be like, and then I remembered that supermarket grapes can be up to 6 months old. Cold chain tech
posted by joeyh at 5:52 PM on March 27 [1 favorite]

There is a type of very old apple that only ripens properly when it is stored in straw. It ends up with this gorgeous red through it. I haven't had them since I was 9 or so, but they are my impossible standard for all apples.
posted by lesbiassparrow at 7:20 PM on March 27 [11 favorites]

Anyway, you perhaps manage this with straw, an older variety of grapes and a wooden crate and without the mud?
posted by lesbiassparrow at 7:22 PM on March 27

I thought it was really interesting that the grapes had all been removed from their stems. I would have assumed that leaving the clusters intact would be a necessary part of forestalling decay. Apparently not!
posted by la glaneuse at 7:32 PM on March 27 [4 favorites]

Great post. I remember being served grapes that had been preserved this way when I worked in Afghanistan back in the noughts, but I never understood the process. They were definitely delicious, though.
posted by rpfields at 10:18 AM on March 28 [2 favorites]

Huh, my fancy fridge's produce drawer got nothing on this tech, it seems.
posted by Harald74 at 10:39 PM on March 28

> lesbiassparrow:
"There is a type of very old apple that only ripens properly when it is stored in straw. It ends up with this gorgeous red through it. I haven't had them since I was 9 or so, but they are my impossible standard for all apples."

Arkansas Blacks?
posted by ArgentCorvid at 7:02 AM on March 29 [1 favorite]

I don't know if those ever made it to Ireland, but that is where the apples I had were from - they were from an abandoned orchard in a big house in the west, so possibly someone might have brought in US apples? Thank you for the suggestion tho; I have never known their name and I would love to.

Obviously my memories are not incredibly amazing of details, but the red ripple going through them was memorable. And they have to have been somewhat tart because I have always hated sweeter apples, but that is all I have. Well that and before the ripening in straw they aren't particularly good.
posted by lesbiassparrow at 6:15 PM on March 29

(off topic: are there places where you can ask questions such as, 'what is this variety of apple I recall'? I would love to know the name of these just for efficiency's sake, if nothing else.)
posted by lesbiassparrow at 6:18 PM on March 29

The problem with apples, especially of the old abandoned homestead variety, is that they don't breed true and besides the literally thousands of documented varieties there are also thousands of "varieties" out there that maybe only exist as a cluster of a few trees or only in a single town.

So you may have had a well known if uncommon apple or you may have had an apple that grows nowhere else.

There are lots of heirloom apple varieties that were selected for storage and weren't always great right off the tree. Lots of pears have to be ripened off the tree as well.

There is a garden apple ID site out of the UK. And the Scottish Bloody Ploughman is an apple that can have very red flesh.
posted by Mitheral at 7:47 PM on March 29 [2 favorites]

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