Nitya and Jayalakshmi Ganapathy, residents of Mumbai, launched Nei Native, a venture that aims to bring back the traditional bilona method of ghee making.
Nei, or ghee, is an integral part of Indian cooking. Though rich in fat, the fatty acids support a healthy heart and cardiovascular system. The properties of nei are such that it immediately elevates the flavour of the food. Whether it is the humble khichdi or a flavour-packed bisi bele bhat, adding a dollop of nei can take most dishes to the next level.
While the market is flooded with all kinds, what one misses is the aroma, texture and flavour that a good homemade ghee has to offer. From having anti-inflammatory properties and aiding in digestion to proving to be a great immunity booster, ghee is surely a superfood. It is no wonder that ghee is referred to as ‘liquid gold’.
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Nei Native, the brainchild of Mumbai resident Nitya Ganapathy (47), came into being in 2021 with an intent to bring back the traditional method of making ghee.
She is ably supported by her mother Jayalakshmi Ganapathy (68), whose recipe is what makes the business a success.
Speaking to The Better India, Nitya says, “While most entrepreneurs do their research work and due diligence into the market they want to enter pre-launch, I dived straight in. I launched the brand, started marketing the product, and then decided I should do some research. The reason the brand got so much appreciation was because of the top-notch quality that it offers.”
With a career in media spanning over two decades, the decision to quit and become an entrepreneur wasn’t an easy one. “Entrepreneurship happened to me on a whim,” she says.
Having said that, Nitya has taken the change very well. When she just began in May 2021, she was shipping around six to eight orders a day. Presently, the number has increased to about 90, which is around 2,500 jars a month. Needless to say, Nei Native has grown.
Bringing Back an ‘Art’
During the COVID-19 lockdown, Nitya’s parents were in Mumbai. She says that her mother, whom she describes as a busybody, found the lockdown to be restrictive. “Mom was used to being outdoors and was involved in many activities. She wanted to do something to keep herself busy. So when she received encouragement from family about the nei she made, she decided to make more of it,” says Nitya.
Adding to this, Jayalakshmi says, “I have been making ghee for decades, and learnt to make it from my mother and mother-in-law. Making the perfect homemade cultured ghee is an art but nowadays, very few families do it as they just don’t have the time. Somewhere, I felt that the fragrance and authenticity was lost.”
She continues, “When so many from our family and friends circle encouraged me to make more of our very traditional family recipe-based ghee, passed down through generations, my daughter and I suddenly realised the need for this. And that is how Nei Native was born.”
It all began when the mother-daughter duo made 20 jars of nei to be sent to relatives on the occasion of a grand-niece’s first birthday. They started work with a week’s time on hand, and Nitya says that the nostalgia the end product evoked in each person who used it was gratifying. “When I started getting calls for more, I saw how this could be a business to pursue,” adds Nitya.
Holding on to Traditions
While making nei following the traditional bilona method is laborious and time consuming, the flavour makes up for all the effort one puts in. “One doesn’t have the time to spend on making nei using the traditional method. Therefore, if there is a product in the market that brings you that taste, wouldn’t you pick it up?” asks Nitya.
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A family-owned farm in Vikramgad proved to be a great place to start. “Having access to the farm was useful for us to start a slightly large-scale production unit. While we began from my home kitchen, with the orders growing in size, we needed a larger space to work out of,” says Nitya. Even though the production moved to a different physical space, Nitya says that each batch that is dispatched is personally curated and checked on by her and Jayalakshmi.
The process of making nei requires almost 24 hours of work. The full cream A2 milk is first boiled in a large pot on a wood fire. Once the milk is boiled, it is allowed to cool down before it is transferred into an earthen pot. This is then set to curd, and allowed to rest overnight in a cool place.
“My mom still carries out the next step in the wee hours of the morning, when the sun’s rays have not yet touched the earth,” says Nitya.
The curd is churned using a wooden ladle to make it into butter. This butter is then carefully separated from the rest of the buttermilk. Using an uruli (traditional south Indian brass vessel) the butter is heated on slow flame. The liquid obtained after this stage is strained and stored in glass jars ready to be dispatched after quality check.
After all this is done, there is one “secret ingredient” that Nitya says is added to the liquid gold. “That is what gives it that extra flavour,” she chuckles.
To get one litre of nei, it takes approximately 25-30 litres of full-cream milk, says Nitya.
Susmita Singh Deo, a customer based in Mumbai, says, “Nei Native ghee is a true luxury. Its nostalgia-inducing caramel notes takes me right back to my childhood, when ghee was crafted with love and care. Nei Native delivers the same promise in today’s world, lifting everyday meals to gourmet status. Once you have a taste, you can’t do without it.”
Dollops of Old Memories
Nitya says that given that the brand was looking at online retail, ensuring that all the licences and paperwork were in order was of utmost importance. “Ensuring that the GST number was applied for, sole proprietorship papers were in order, getting the FSSAI licence, brand logo, labels and shelf life testing done took us close to three months,” she says.
While these are all time-consuming processes, Nitya says that they are very important for a business. “Most people might not do this and our distinguishing factor is that we have all this in place. We are not into mass production. Each batch is hand crafted and that is why the prices, to a few, seem steep,” she says.
With babies as young as six months being fed the nei as part of their first meal to expectant mothers and senior citizens consuming it, Nitya says that the onus of ensuring good quality is of prime importance to her.
“While having these checks in place is important, the tedious process it follows can put an entrepreneur off,” she adds.
“Nei Native tastes exactly like the homemade ghee made by my mother when I was a child. It reminded me of Sunday family lunches and I just gorged on the nostalgia,” says Urmila Dasgupta, another customer.
Having started with sales of Rs 1 lakh per month in May 2021, the brand now has reached sales of Rs 10 lakh month-on-month, Nitya says. A 250-ml jar of nei will cost you upwards of Rs 750, while the 500-ml jar is priced upwards of Rs 1,350.
While currently one can buy nei, coffee powder, honey and therattipal (milk dessert) from the brand, Nitya says that they will add more products soon.
To check out the products and place your order, you can click here.
(Edited by Divya Sethu)