by Iyath Adam
Hilibeys is a traditional, medicinal snack made in the Maldives, typically given to women during their postpartum period. The herbs and spices in it are said to aid in the healing and recovery from birth. It is also said to be good for people with gastrointestinal problems.
Also known as harubeys or kulhibeys, this snack is made from a mixture of dried roots and bark found in the Maldivian islands, Dhivehi beys (traditional herbal medicine), ground spices such as cinnamon, cardamom, cloves, fenugreek seeds (obaiy) and dhiyaa hakuru (Maldivian coconut honey). The main base of hilibeys is rice – either cooked (without salt) or puffed (handoomaa in Dhivehi).
Hilibeys has a sweet, underlying spice-like taste to it – mainly from fenugreek seeds. It is a dark blackish-brown in colour and kind of resembles rihaakuru (Maldivian fish paste) or killi (a after-meal snack made of areca nuts and spices)
To make hilibeys, roots and bark from various trees are foraged, which is then washed, dried out in the sun, sieved, and ground to a powder. This powder, along with the Dhivehi beys ingredients, other spices, sugar and rice, is mixed and stirred over heat until it becomes viscous and turns into a thick, paste-like substance.
Stirring the hilibeys is a long and arduous process and not for the impatient! Coincidentally, this is also where the food gets its name from – hilibeys in Dhivehi roughly translates to “stirred medicine.”
Some people use chopped kanamadhu (sea almond) in place of rice or a mixture of both. Nowadays, along with dhiyaa hakuru, honey is also added to the mix for its healing and antioxidant properties.
Although typically poured into glass jars and eaten with spoons, hilibeys can also be rolled and made into small, bite-sized balls. Due to the slow-cooking process, hilibeys has a long shelf-life and can be stored and eaten for months on end.