Few living in India know much about bignay, despite its attempts to be noticed during its showy, multicolor fruiting period. Indeed, a single tree can bear 200 kg of berries in one season.
While Indians might give bignay the cold shoulder, the fruit has a better reputation abroad. Strolling through the Naga City Market in the Philippines, one can find a bottle of rich, heady bignay wine. In the small Filipino town of Barangay Lumbagan, farmer Clarito Caisip offers a therapeutic tea made from bignay bark and leaves that he claims will solve any ill. Out in Indonesia’s Java, locals will gladly explain a dish’s perfect ratio of bignay fruit to fish.
According to the World Agroforestry Centre, bignay is native to India’s lower Himalayas, Sri Lanka, and many parts of Southeast Asia up to the Philippines.
From the Asian tropics, bignay spread to southern China, Hong Kong, Laos, Vietnam, Thailand, Singapore, Java, Indonesia, New Guinea, and then eastward to Tahiti, the Hawaiian Islands, and then Cuba and Florida. While bignay has great commercial potential, only Indonesia and the Philippines sell the fruit in noticeable quantities.
Today, bignay’s Antidesma genus has over 100 species, the majority of which grow in Southeast Asia.
Availability of Bignay in India:
Bignay grows wild in wetter, hotter regions of the south and eastern Himalayas. More specifically, bignay grows wild from the border of Nepal eastwards throughout Arunachal Pradesh and Manipur. A few trees appear sporadically in the south as well. According to the book, “Trees of Andhra Pradesh,” botanists categorize India’s bignays as a “threatened tree.”
Bignay flowers in April through August, fruiting shortly after during the rainy months of August and September.
Where to Find Bignay in India:
In India, bignays are not sold commercially, fresh or otherwise. The best bet of finding the fruit’s vibrant clusters is by going to the lower Himalayan cities and looking for the tree in its native habitat.
Checking for Ripeness in Bignay:
When in season, bignay trees explode with color by showing off their yellow, pink, red, and purple clusters of fruit.
Look for dark purple and red bignays: These are the ripest and sweetest in the cluster. If it’s too laborious to pluck individual fruits from the tree, cut the entire cluster from the branch. The unripe green and yellow berries will continue to ripen off the tree.
Ripe bignay’s texture resembles cranberries: firm and taut.
Taste of Bignay:
Unripe bignays taste like cranberries: tart, pungent, bitter, and overwhelmingly sour. While fruits lose some of their sourness upon ripening, bignays still resemble currants with their vibrant puckering flavor. The sweetness varies between trees.
Though bignays are too sour and acidic to eat out-of-hand, they still make a pungent, flavorful addition to several dishes.
Nutritional Value of Bignay:
The Encyclopedia of Fruit and Nuts lists the nutritional value of bignay per 100g as follows:
5% composition of protein (negligible)
3% composition of fat (negligible)
10% composition of carbs
81% composition of fiber
23mg of calcium (3% RDA)
.8 mg of iron (1% RDA)
4mg of vitamin C
.01mg of thiamine (B1)
.03mg of riboflavin (B2)
.04mg of niacin (B3)
According to a study published by the Pakistan Journal of Biological Sciences bignay contains these flavonoids: catechin, procyanidin B1, and procyanidin B2.
Health Benefits of Bignay:
These small, berry-like fruits have several medicinal compounds. According to the book, “Encyclopedia of World Medicinal Plants,” traditional healers use boiled leaves to treat syphilitic ulcers and to reduce excessive sweating. A concoction of bignay leaves also treat snakebites and indigestion. In the Philippines, an old wives’ tale claims that bignay remedies measles. Like cranberries, bignay treats urinary tract infections and intestinal issues such as dysentery.
--Bignay’s dark, purple skin has potent antioxidants and resveratrol: these compounds are anti-cancerous, anti-aging, and ward off strokes and cardiovascular diseases.
--Bignay’s flavonoid, procyanidin B2, has a few well-documented benefits. As per a 2009 study published in Food and Chemical Toxicology, this tannin possesses epithelial cell growth-promoting compounds, and thus shows potential as a natural hair growth agent. Additionally, a 2011 study from the Journal of Nutritional Biochemistry found that procyanidin suppressed toxicity caused by dietary acrylamides (carcinogenic free radicals naturally occurring on foods heated at high temperatures).
--A 2011 study published in the Journal of Food Biochemistry indicates that bignay seed and skin possess anti-bacterial and anti-microbial activities against strains like Staphyoccocus aureus and Streptococcus faecalis.
Note: The tree’s roots are poisonous and should not be consumed.
How to Open/Cut:
Few people eat bignays out of hand, but it’s possible to eat them like a grape cranberry: whole and with the skin. Spit out the fruit’s one or two hard, sharp angular seeds.
Refrigerated bignays keep for up to a month. If a vendor sells whole clusters of bignay, pluck bignays as they ripen. Bignays also freeze exceptionally well—place individual ripe fruits a freezer bag, mark the batching date, and enjoy for up to a year.
Bignay Recipe Ideas:
Bignay’s piquant, tart flavor goes well in several recipes.
--Locals in Indonesia and the Philippines make wine by fermenting bignays using a similar process to grapes. In fact, aficionados appreciate the fruit for its stability and quality. Several Asian countries also make bignay vinegar, teas and stews.
--Make bignay jam using a 1:1 ratio of sugar to fruit. Bignay preserves will require pectin in order for the mix to gel and thicken properly.
--Make a bignay sauce de-seeding and then by boiling water and sugar. Add bignays and simmer for ten minutes, or until the fruits have burst. When cooled in the refrigerator, the concoction will thicken. Serve atop pancakes, ice cream, glazed tofu, vegan cheesecakes, and other sweet breads.
--Create bignay syrup: simply boil the fruits in water, leave to cool, and then thoroughly blend the mix into a thick juice. Take a pan and add cornstarch, slowly mixing in the bignay juice until it is smooth and free of lumps. Next, add sugar and orange juice. Heat the concoction at low heat and stir constantly, at which point the sauce will thicken. Set aside to cool.
--Add this bignay syrup to sangria mixes, mojitos, or as the base of other sweet cocktails
--Use bignay as cranberry substitute: add chopped, de-seeded fruit to sweet bread recipes. Also experiment using bignay as a tomato or vinegar substitute for salad dressings.
--Sweeten chopped bignay fruits in sugar overnight. Then, use in the batter of pancakes, muffins, cookies, cupcakes and other sweet breads. The fruits pair well with orange, pomegranate, oatmeal, lemon, and chocolate.
--Add sweetened, cut bignays to roast vegetable dishes like pumpkin and Brussels sprouts. Sweetened fruits also go well atop salads.
Fruits: Cranberry, grape, currant, strawberry, cherry, raspberry, amla, Ceylon gooseberry, harendong, jamberry, jamun, karonda, Nanking cherry, phalsa, plum, pomegranate, fig, lychee, orange, pomelo, roselle, myrtle, coconut
Vegetables: pumpkin, Brussels sprouts, carrot, eggplant, onion, rhubarb, artichoke, celery root
Herbs, spices, and oil: white wine vinegar, olive oil, balsamic vinegar, cranberry juice, grape juice, orange juice, lemon, lime, citrus zest and rind, rosemary, basil, mint, cinnamon, verbena, pepper, ginger, almond, cashew
A 2003 article from the “Philippine Daily Inquirer” cited several accounts of anecdotal health benefits from drinking bignay bark tea: sexual performance, academic achievement, cured alcoholism, and youthful looks were but a few of the improvements cited by tea drinkers.
Only female bignay trees bear fruit.
Black currant tree
Janu Polari (Telegu)