Khirret (cattail/Typha pollen) خرّيط:
Gift of the Marshes in Southern Iraq,
and the Joyous Festival of Baghdadi Jews
|Khirret vendor in Basra, southern Iraq|
|Marshland in southern Iraq|
To the marsh people of Iraq, this plant is God-sent. The rhizomes make a source of nutritious starch; the bases of the leaves are eaten raw or cooked, the young flower spikes are cut off and eaten, and in springtime (April/May), the yellow pollen is collected and made into khirret. And it is the way this pollen is harvested that initially gave it the name khirret (the stripped): The male spike is grasped firmly between the thumb and the forefinger, and it is firmly stripped into collecting sacks.
You Tube link, in which a marsh kid demonstrates how to steam khirret.
Sometimes, date syrup is added to replace sugar, which gives it a darker hue, and this must have been the sweetener originally used ever since ancient times before the advent of sugar.
|Khirret, candy of the marshes|
|Khirret candy, brick-like, but sweet and brittle|
Khirret is a nutritious food high in protein, and its medicinal benefits are believed to be many. People eat it to relieve indigestion. It is said to be good for the colon and respiratory tract. It is used to cleanse the urinary system and stop diarrhea. The raw pollen is put on wounds to heal them. It is also popular among women during the early stages of pregnancy. Moreover, it come in very handy for bee-keepers, who use it to feed their bees.
To be sure, typha grows in other wetlands and marshes of the world, such as in China, where it is medicinally used more or less the same way the Iraqi marsh people use it, or in the United States, where eating Typha was part of the native American culture. However, I believe that the sweetened khirret candy, as described above, is the specialty of the marsh people of southern Iraq.
Now as to why this khirret candy was especially valued by Jewish Iraqis, as noted by Abbas al-Baghdadi above, here is what I think happened:
Pharaoh's daughter looking at baby Moses © Darrel Tank/Licensed from GoodSalt.com
Interestingly, the image shows cattail/Typha, indigenous to the southern marshes of Iraq
instead of the more typically Egyptian Papyrus plant
Through correspondence with the Israeli scholar Dr. Susan Weingarten, I learnt that Jewish Iraqis never took the khirret tradition with them to Israel. The new generation growing up there never had the chance to experience it first hand. To them it is just a faint memory. They told her that their parents talk about it, and they describe it as looking like a stone when held in hand, and that they used to eat it around springtime. She speculates that it is quite likely that the yellow coconut sweets they make for Purim in Israel must have been a substitute for the hard-to-find original yellow khirret.
|Sifted raw Khirret|
Indian khirret experience: very interesting post "Bhuri - Bhurrani Mitti" by blogger Alka Keswani.
See also this Khirret article on Gastro Obscura.