In the ancient times when food was scarce in the mountaineous regions, a limited variety of local fresh fruits and veggies produced were used to preserve systematically to utilize during the time of food shortage, especially in harsh winters. These products, some of them are still produced today as specialty of each district of Gilgit-Baltistan, are rich in taste and energy.
Kilao is an organic product produced in Ghizer district of Gilgit-Baltistan and Chitral district of KPK, in Pakistan. Kuju village in south of Chitral is known for the production of Kilao but the production there is limited to household use. Rich in taste and rough in texture, it is made by using pure organic products including grape juice, walnut/apricot kernel, and some other local ingredients.
Types of Kilao:
There are two major variations of Kilao – one is apricot kernel kilao and the other is made by using walnut kernel. Yet another variation, that is recently introduced, is Honey made apricot and walnut Kilao.
The main ingredient used to make kilao is grape that usually comes in white and black color although there are some slightly diverse types available as well. The other ingredients include walnut kernel and/or apricot kernel. The final product obviously is a result of the type and kind of ingredient used during the process of making the product.
Kilao is the specialty of both regions and the ingredients used to make Kilao are grown in abundance. There is a special time of the year and that is when the grapes are ready to pick. Usually it is the beginning of autumn season in September.
Kilao making process:
1.Juicing grapes for Kilao making
The grapes are picked around September and crushed manually to extract juice. The juice is then stored in an available vessel for at least one week to filter out and then heated to make a thick syrup or pulp. As such, there is no specific equipment for storing the juice to filter out.
2.Apricot and walnut threading/stringing.
Apricot and walnut shelling is the second step followed by threading them separately in a string. The only dry fruit used are walnuts and apricot which are beaded into a strong thread of varying length.
Initially there was a trend of taking the treaded of maximum size, the maximum size they could handle but now the trend has changed, and the string are much shorter, which equals to a string that roughly carries 1kg of walnuts of apricot kernels. The single string along with the dry fruits and the grape syrup is called Khomon in Chitrali Language.
The thread and needle used are not fixed but it is made sure that it should have strength to hold a kg of dry fruit. The quilting needle with large eye is used which is not sterilized before using it to thread these dry fruits.
3.Cooking the grape juice
The grape juice is cooked for 12 t0 14 hours with ingredients that includes, flour and ashes of mulberry wood which is believed to change the color and helps in filtration of the pulp at the end. The ashes settle down on the bottom of vessel once the juice reaches the required syrupy consistency. Cumin is also added, and it is a common practice in Chitral
Cauldron is used for cooking the grape juice to a thick Syrup consistency. The ingredients are added when the syrup is half way cooked through.
The color of kilao changes with the color of grape juice, the darker the juice the darker is the color of kilao.
4.Dipping/coating the juice on apricot and walnuts
When the grape juice is cooked enough that it has the sticking consistency the threaded dry fruit is dipped to coat a single layer of the syrup on to them. There is no temperature controlling and checking machine used in the whole process. There are people in families who have been involved in making kilao and with the experience they decide when should an ingredient be added or if the syrup should be further cooked or not.
5.Drying the pulp coated dry fruit (Kilao)
Kiloa is traditionally dried in the sun. The beaded dry fruit coated with the grape syrup is hanged on wooden sticks in the sun, The practice of drying in the sun is changing as the people noticed that the color becomes much darker than usual when kept in the sun for long time, therefore people now prefer to dry them in shades.
It takes 3 to 4 weeks to fully dry them. The time can vary depending upon the weather conditions.
The traditional practice of storing dry fruits and kilao is in cotton cloth bags and now paper bags and paper boxes are used for storing purpose.