Preserving Grapes Using a Remarkable Ancient Afghan Technique

Man sampling grapes from kangina.

In remote regions of Afghanistan, the local tribes resort to an ancient preservation method for grapes. (Image: via Facebook)

In most places, people resort to technological means to keep food fresh for a long period of time. However, in remote regions of Afghanistan, the local tribes resort to an ancient method for preserving grapes. In some regions, there are ethnic tribes that resort to age-old and natural food preservation techniques that work better than many technological methods.

They store the grapes using the ancient preservation technique for celebrating the Persian New Year — Nowruz. The grapes stay in good condition for months.

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Preserving grapes this way keeps them fresh for up to six months

They use traditional airtight mud-straw containers when preserving grapes. If kept properly, grapes stay fresh for as long as 6 months. They use containers called kangina in the local dialect for this. While this method is largely used by people in remote villages of Afghanistan who cannot afford to buy cold storage devices, the reality is the result is better than artificial methods.

The clay-rich mud helps keep air and moisture out much like a ziplock bag and helps in preserving grapes.
The clay-rich mud helps keep air and moisture out much like a ziplock bag. (Image: via Facebook)

However, this ancient tradition that produces such great results has not been well documented. The clay-rich mud helps keep air and moisture out much like a ziplock bag. It works well with some kinds of grapes produced in the country. Outside of Afghanistan, it does not exist though.

The ancient method of preserving grapes has survived in Afghanistan. Its dry, warm climate makes it an ideal place for fruit production. Afghans export only a part of the fruits harvested and the rest they use daily.

The southern part of the country produces fruits like pomegranates and melons, but Central Afghanistan is where you can find lush vineyards. There are also apple orchards. The grape harvest is famous in this region. In fact, grapes have been grown since 2000 B.C.

There are many regional grape varieties in Afghanistan

There are many regional grape variants harvested in Afghanistan and the popular ones are kasendra, hussaini, taifi, red kandahari, raucha, black keshmeshi, and shondakhanai. Raisins are also quite popular in the country, but Afghans love the experience of relishing fresh grapes in the winter months.

Grapes in open clay container.
There are many regional grape variants harvested in Afghanistan. (Image: via Facebook)

They handcraft the bowls using mud, straw, and water. After drying the bowls well in the sun, they put grapes inside. Then they store the bowls in dry, cool places after sealing them with mud. The process can take up to 20 days.

The villagers pass on the craft to the younger generations. While grape harvesting and preservation help them sustain themselves, the villagers admit they are wary of the never-ending war within the country. The U.S. invasion that took place in the 2000s did not put an end to it either. Nevertheless, they carry on with the tradition of harvesting and preserving grapes, as the fruit is a major staple in the Afghan diet. 

As grapes are mostly harvested in the summer months, the Afghans store them for winter usage. They have been using kangina for several hundred years. Each kangina is used to store about a kilogram of grapes. After putting grapes inside, mud is again used to seal the kangina. Some of the villagers bury the sealed vessels underground as well. 

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