Mama’s Punjabi Recipes: Kanji (Black Carrot Juice)


By popular demand from many readers, below is a reprint of Mama’s Kanji recipe. It still brings back memories for older people but the healthy drink can benefit old and young alike. It is reprinted with some additional information and directions.

It is believed that carrots originated some 5,000 years ago in what is now Afghanistan,  in the Hindu-Kush mountain region and these were mainly purple or yellow with some white and black. The orange ones didn’t appear till 1,500 AD. The purple and yellow carrots spread to Mediterranean and Western Europe in the 11th century and to India, China and Japan in the 14th to 17th centuries.  

Carrots can be found in many colors and shapes, mostly black, purple, red, orange and white, each of which have their own taste and cooking methods. The color of carrots indicates different beneficial nutrients. Orange carrots are rich in beta-carotene, which is rich in vitamin  A. Red carrots contain lycopene, a potent antioxidant, also found in tomatoes and watermelon, that prevent aging of the skin. Yellow carrots contain xanthophyll that can regulate systolic pressure while white carrots can slow down the spread of cancer cells.

Purple or black carrots contain anthocyanins, a potent antioxidant, which can protect against heart disease, diabetes and colon cancer. Black carrots have 5 times more vitamin A than the daily allowance, have lots of potassium, sodium and phosphorus and also moderate amounts of vitamins C, K, B6, B1, B3 and B5, Anthocyanins are found in every dark-colored foods like blueberries, blackberries and  plums.

Carrots contain almost no starch but have 7 per cent free sugars, which make them high in calories. People frequently drink carrot juice but it’s not a very good option for diabetics as it gets converted to glucose very quickly and can cause a spike in blood sugar.

There are many benefits attributed to carrot juice, but in North India where black carrots are readily available and not usually eaten raw, the juice of these carrots is called kanji, a fermented drink made especially for the festival of Holi, and considered much superior to red carrot juice. Two glasses of kanji can boost your immunity levels by more than 50 per cent.

Black carrots can be hard to find in the US, though some organic stores do carry them. If you can’t find any black carrots, then you may substitute them with red carrots and add small amount of beetroot to give the dark purple color but not alter the taste of carrots.


1 kilo kali gajar (black carrots)
1 large glass jar of pani (water) – use jar with screw top cover
2 tablespoons raai seed powder (mustard seed powder)
2 tablespoons namak (salt)
1 tablespoon lal mirch (red pepper)


1. Peel the black carrots, wash and drain them. Chop each carrot into three pieces then slice them lengthwise.
2. Place the sliced carrots in the glass jar of water then add the salt, red pepper and mustard seeds and close the jar.
3. Place the closed jar in the sunshine for three or four days but stir two to three times a day with a wooden spatula. Taste to see if the juice is slightly sour, if so then it is ready then take out of the heat.
4. If there is no sunlight, then place it indoors, but not in a cool area as it needs to ferment. You could place it inside the pantry at room temperature for four days. Again, remember to stir two to three times a day with a wooden spatula.
5. The kanji will be ready to drink after the third day. Then place the jar in room temperature to conserve and drink for no more than two weeks. Placing it in the fridge will reduce the desired bitter taste.




Black carrots can be difficult to find in most places in the US, except at farmers markets and specialty stores, and then they may be quite expensive. For those who know the taste of kanji and long for its unique taste and want the benefits of black carrots, there is another way, though, to get close to the same type of juice.

Make the kanji using red carrots; the redder the better, and when placing them in the jar of water, add a small chukandar (beetroot), peeled and sliced. The beetroot will bring out the color and also add taste close to that of black carrots. Beetroots contain folate (vitamin B9) and are a very good source of manganese, potassium and copper and also dietary fiber, magnesium, phosphorus, vitamin C, iron and vitamin B6.




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Shakuntla Malhotra is a skilled cook of Punjabi dishes made in the old-fashioned style that she learnt as a young woman in her ancestral home in Lyallpur (since renamed Faisalabad), India before it became part of Pakistan after the Partition in 1947. People have often admired her cooking for its simplicity and taste that comes with each mouthful. Even in her mid-eighties, she continues to cook daily and agreed to share some of her delectable Punjabi recipes