Friday, September 21, 2012

All About the Amla (Emblica officinalis)


In India, denouncing amlas would be as impolite and ill mannered as criticizing apples in the United States. “Yes, they have an unusual flavor,” he’d say, “but the health benefits are incredible! Why, I remember my great aunt had a cough that wouldn’t go away until she ate amla for four days straight, every day for breakfast and dinner.” Indeed, the country is replete with such anecdotes of the wonder berry’s health benefits.  

Amla Fruit Origin:
Amla’s home to subtropical regions of India, where it’s resided for centuries. Ayurvedic scriptures, Indian folklore and Sanskrit texts mention the fruit exhaustively. The famous Tamil poet, Avvayar claimed that a celestial amla was given to Prince Adhiyaman to promote longevity. In turn, this would enable the prince to continue with his good deeds to the people. India’s father of ancient medicine, Sushruta, wrote of amla’s rejuvenating health benefits during his life circa 1500-3000BC.


Few countries cultivate amla today, with the most common growers being China, Malaysia, and of course, India.

Panoramio photo of amla and ginger seller in Chennai
Availability of Amla:
Authors K.V. Peter and Z. Abraham explain that the fruit’s natural distribution covers several states and regions of India:  Chota Nagpur, Bihar, Deccan, Karnataka, and Odisha are just a few of its naturalized habitats. According to the book, “Biodiversity in Horticulture,” the fruits have evolved to adapt to several diverse regions.  
--At sea level, amlas grow in the dry, deciduous forests along Western and Eastern Ghats, the Vindhya Hills and Aravali.
--At elevations up to 1300 meters, amlas thrive in the northern states Jammu and Kashmir, Himachal Pradesh, and Uttarkhand at elevations up to 1300 meters.
--Amla trees grow in the eastern regions of Assam, Meghalaya, Manipur and Tripura, and Mizoram. 

Uttar Pradesh is the nation’s primary commercial grower of amla, with Varanasi’s deemed to be of particularly high quality. A few of India’s commercial varieties include banarasi, bansi red, desi, chakaiya, hathijool, and pink-tinged.

Where to Find Amla in India:
Amla season is October through April, with the south enjoying the longest duration. Indeed, once the monsoon season subsides, amlas are everywhere: Beverage shops offer cups of the heavily diluted, sugary juice; stall owners sell fresh amlas piled atop custard apples on steel plates; and grocery stores stack amlas in heaps in their dusty wooden bins.

If looking for the fruit during the off-season, other amla products are available. Several shops sell pasteurized juice, amla tablets and the occasional bag of dried amla. Though the tablets might be somewhat costly, dried amla is inexpensive.

Checking for Amla Ripeness:
Amla season brings a variety of colorful fruits: When ripe, some are neon-green while others possess a golden, yellowish hue. Some become tinged with dusky pink or grow rust red; some are even white.

Choose fruits that are slightly firmer than a green grape. Amlas should not be bruised or imperfectly shaped—ideally, they are round, taut and full.

Raw Taste of Amla:
Adventurous souls wishing to try a flavor of Indian culture should take a hearty bite of its juicy, watery flesh. The only people who would enjoy the experience, however, are the same minority that has an affinity for eating raw lemons like candy. Amlas are are sour, bitter, and highly astringent, resembling an unripe crabapple. Although Indians may wax poetic about amlas, few can stomach eating them whole. The most optimistic claim that the fruit is an acquired taste.

The country is full of personal amla experiences:  One man recalled his days as a schoolboy, eating raw amla and chasing it with water: in his words, doing so gave the fruit a sweeter taste. Some mention that adding a pinch of salt makes amlas more palatable, while others advise eating amla sections only after they have been soaked in turmeric water for half a day.

Astringent is the best word to describe the Indian gooseberry—if ever one wanted a reminder of the difference between sour and astringent, one bite of an amla would explain it. Though pungent astringency is the initial sensation, amla’s aftertaste is sweetly pleasant—so much so, that between bites, it is easy to forget the cause of not wanting to eat the whole fruit all at once.

In texture, amla resembles a sour apple without the graininess: compact and crisp, hydrating, and watery.


Eating dried amla is a mouth-filling evolutionary experience: The initial impression is tangy and bitter. Next, astringency overwhelms the mouth and creates a strong desire to spit it out. Amla then gets bitter again before leaving a surprisingly, highly sweet after taste. The finish resembles the taste of artificial sugar with its cloying, metallic sweetness.

Nutritional Value of Amla:
The nutritional value of 100g of edible amla is:

58 kcals
82 percent water
No fat
3 g of fiber: 25% RDI
14 grams carbohydrates
50 mg calcium: 7% RDI
20 mg phosphorous: less than 5% RDI
1.2 mg iron: 10% RDI
.03 mg thiamin (B1)
.01 mg riboflavin (B2)
.01 mg niacin (B3)
600 mg vitamin C: over 240% RDI*


*Some sources list its Vitamin C content as 430 grams, but the Indian gooseberry is still one of the highest natural sources of vitamin C. In fact, one small berry contains as much as approximately two oranges. 

Medicinal Amla Juice!
Health Benefits of Amla:
Though fresh amla may not be to everyone’s liking, India lauds the fruit for its incredible medicinal values. If the marketing campaign and advertising budget was large enough, the amla could easily be exported and marketed in Western countries as a super food on par with mangosteen juice. 

Amla features widely in Ayurvedic textbooks. According to the book, “Ayurvedic Drugs and Their Plant Sources,” amlas act as an astringent, digestive, aphrodisiac, laxative, tonic, and diuretic. Cosmetically, the fruit’s juice adds a natural boost to the hair when applied topically. Additional benefits outlined by the book include its treatment for cough, burning sensations, blood toxicity, eye inflammation, jaundice, fever, diabetes and hemorrhages.

Scientific studies have validated many of amla’s traditional uses:
--According to a 2009 study published in “Lung Cancer,” a catechin compound in amlas known as pyrogallol shows incredible anti-cancer activity against human lung cancer cells.
--A 2001 study published in the “journal of Ethnopharmacology” found that amla extracts exhibited antitumor activity, extending the life of tumor-bearing mice by 20 percent and, when given an herbal compound containing the extract, 60 percent.
--As per a 2005 study published in the “Basic and Clinical Pharmacology and Toxicology,” ethanol extracts of amla showed potent heart-protecting benefits against doxorubicin, a type of cancer medication.
--A 2005 study published in “Phytotherapy Research” found that mice given amla plant extracts had a significantly higher survival rate and decreased mortality against sublethal gamma radiation. This indicates the fruit’s remarkably high radioprotective effects.
--A 2007 study published in the “British Journal of Nutrition” found that amla extracts might prevent age-related hyperlipidemia, thus illustrating its potency as an anti-aging food.
--A 2009 study published in the “Annals of New York Academy of Sciences” found that amla extracts slows bone loss and reduces the risk of osteoporosis based on the fruit’s ability to induce cell death in osteoclasts. These are the cells responsible for triggering bone loss.
--A 2011 study published in the “International Journal of Food Sciences and Nutrition” reveals that amla powder significantly improved the blood glucose levels and lipid profiles of type II diabetes patients.

How to Open/Cut:
Peeling amla’s papery thin skin is not necessary for consumption, but it is advised to remove the grape-like seeds concentrated in the middle of the golf ball sized fruit.

If using in recipes, slice the fruit into wedges and cut out the seeds.

If juicing, cut the amla half and scoop out the seeds with a teaspoon. Throw the de-seeded halves into a blender, pulse, and strain with a sieve. Because of the fruit’s pungent, concentrated taste, adding water for dilution is highly recommended. In fact, only 1 teaspoon of juice is necessary per cup of water.

Storage:

Amla’s high ascorbic acid keeps the fruit fresh for a long time. At room temperature the fruits will keep for three weeks. Though frowned upon in Ayurveda, the fruit can be refrigerated for another two weeks with no adverse vitamin and mineral loss. To preserve amlas after the season, juice the fruits and freeze into ice cubes.

Manjuskitchen.co.uk: Amla Pickle
Amla Recipe Ideas:
--Make amla juice by adding one tablespoon of juice per one cup of water. Add sugar or honey if desired. Many choose to drink amla juice with a pinch of turmeric mixed into the beverage, as this promotes digestion.
--Or, make a variation on mint lemonade by adding some amla juice to the pitcher.
--Create sweet amla chew candy by cutting segments of the fruit while boiling water and sugar into a syrupy consistency. Once cooled, add amla pieces to the syrup and leave overnight. Repeat yesterday’s process by removing the slices and add more sugar to the syrup, bringing the mixture. Once cooled, add the amla slices and set the mixture aside for 4-5 days. Dry the pieces in the sun or on very low heat in the oven. When the sugars crystalize, transfer to a container. 
--Amla pickle is one of the most common uses for the fruit: Stir-fry quartered wedges of the fruit in light oil, mixing other spices such as fennel seeds, chili powder, turmeric, mustard oil, and nigella seed. Serve alongside rice.
--Another popular recipe is amla curry, made by frying and stewing amla chunks in standard Indian spices like turmeric, cumin, green chilis, and garam masala.
--Make amla muraba, a sweet preserve made by grating the fruit and stewing it in a syrupy concoction with sugar, cardamom powder, and saffron.

If you want to view a gallery of curated amla recipes, go to our page here.

Flavor Complements:
Lemon, lime, orange, pomelo, star gooseberry, coconut, avocado, bael, wood apple, elephant apple, grape, kiwi, kumquat, garcinia cambogia, kiwi, kokum, pomelo, ambarella

Herbs, spice, and oil: Chili oil, turmeric, cumin, ginger, garlic, garam masala, honey, sugar, salt, cardamom, saffron

Random Facts
Devout Hindus often eat an amla as a way to break their fast.

Amla is the name of a city in Uttar Pradesh, India.

Having one foot under an amla tree during Akshay Navami, the ninth day during the holiest month of Kartik, will purportedly lead to happiness and prosperity.

Binomial Name:
Emblica officinalis
Phyllanthus emblica

Other Names:
Dhatri, Amalaka (Sanskrit)
Aonla (Hindi, Gujarati)
Betta nelli (Kannada)
Ambala (Gujarait)
Amla (Manipuri, Marathi)
Nelli (Tamil)
Usirikai (Telegu)
Indian gooseberry

Related Fruits:
Star Gooseberry (Phyllanthus acidus)

Law’s Gooseberry (Phyllanthus lawii)








11 comments:

  1. i can eat raw gooseberry's in no. 1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8,9 or above because i have more endurance than anyone

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  2. With regards to eating it raw....In my childhood, we used to eat it raw and then will drink water soon after and the water will taste so super-duper sweet and nice ! That was the fun. We would have a glass of water in one hand and an Amla ( Amlaki in Bengali) in the other. We would take a bite of Amla, chew it and then drink the water. This is offcourse because the actual fruit taste is very soury and astringent.

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  3. Very Well Written Article..
    Thanks..
    I Recently Post an Article On Amla Juice Health Benefits 2015. Must Check..

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  4. This comment has been removed by the author.

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  5. Interesting, I m growing Amla trees in my back yard in Irvine CA, just anxious to see them flower. Plants are three years old. Anyone else in Orange County with similar interest

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    Replies
    1. Check out the California Rare Fruit Grower group--they're a large, active group!

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  6. Thanks for sharing these information with us. I love trying new things as most of them are really healthy. You can also go for the Acai Berry Juice as it is also very healthy and this one is my new experience.

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  7. Thanks for sharing such an informative post.
    Amla has several health benefits and it is also used for hair fall treatment in Bangalore

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  8. What about the Vitamin E content of Amla. It's rarely talked about. One study in 2009 that appeared in the Indian journal of clinical biochemistry found extremely high concentration of vitamin E in amla. One Ayurvedic site did a nutrient analysis of Amla and reported 1225%(245mg alpha tocopherol) of the RDA in 100g.

    Link: https://www.google.co.in/amp/s/www.ayurtimes.com/nutrition-facts-analysis-of-amla-amalaki-indian-gooseberry-emblica-officinalis-phyllanthus-emblica/amp/

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  9. Emblica Officinalis is useful against acne and wrinkles too.

    ReplyDelete