Fruiting Burmese grape trees are a sight to behold: clusters of the orange, golf ball-sized fruits drape the branches that often bend from the weight. Indeed, the trees offer a veritable bounty for those interested in taking a bite of an unknown, curious fruit.
Burmese grapes have cultural significance in India: during the Rath Yatra festival’s holy procession, locals offer Burmese grapes in tribute to Lord Jagannath. Hindus know this god as “Lord of the Universe,” enshrined in the form of a wooden stump with large, round eyes and no appendages. The deity’s ambiguous appearance is intentional, as it symbolizes openness to multiple interpretations. His image, along with two other deities, gets paraded in wooden chariots throughout the city during this yearly two-day gala.
Burmese grapes originate in South Asia. The Baccaurea genus has hundreds of species, several of which are in Thailand. One, the Bauccarea courtalensis tree, develops bright, flaming red flowers throughout the branches. As explained in the book, “The Encyclopedia of Fruits and Nuts” Burmese grape grows wild in Nepal, India, Myanmar, South China, Indochina, Thailand, the Andaman Islands and peninsular Malaysia.
Outside of these regions, the fruit remains relatively unknown. As its name suggests, Burma cultivates the fruit extensively, and to a lesser degree, is harvested in northern Thailand, Assam, Java, Sumatra, Bali, and Vietnam.
Availability of Burmese Grapes in India
Burmese grapes grow best in moist, humid tropical fields and lowland forests up to 1,000 meters. India’s growing regions extend from Sikkim’s hills to the border of Nepal; the Darjeeling hills, Arunachal Pradesh, Tripura, and Assam.
The major Burmese grape regions in the northern West Bengal are Cooch Behar, Jalpaiguri, Darjeeling, and the Uttar and Dakshin Dinajpur districts. The country has no centralized cultivation efforts, and thus, the fruits vary considerably in taste. Burmese grapes are often local homestead cultivation projects.
Burmese grape season begins in mid-April, and lasts through the rainy season until early September. Peak season is during June and July, but expect higher prices near the festival season on account of increased consumer demand.
Where to Find Burmese Grapes in India
Burmese grapes are rarely found outside of the Northeast. Shipping outside of these regions is difficult due to the fruit’s high perishability and sensitive skin.
Every summer, people living in growing states enjoy a bounty of Burmese grapes. In Siliguri, for instance, vendors park outside offices and schools and sell stick bundles of the fruits in June and July. Other shops display dangling tied bouquets of the fruits from their eaves. Those living in the south, central, and northwestern states are unlikely to find Burmese grapes.
Checking for Ripeness in Burmese grapes:
As the grape ripens, its yellowish gold skin becomes brown. Some types develop a reddish exterior. A good Burmese grape should have soft, pliable skin, like a thicker lychee or longan. Avoid waterlogged fruits with a soft, overwhelmingly brown, wilting exterior.
Taste of Burmese Grape:
Burmese grape segments taste sweet and brightly sour with a hairy, fibrous pit waiting on the inside. Its texture resembles a lychee fruit, but is less juicy and more fibrous.
Nutritional Value of Burmese Grape:
As per the Encyclopedia of Fruit and Nuts, 100 grams of Burmese grape’s nutritional value is as follows:
Fat .73% (negligible)
75mg of Calcium (7.5% RDI)
504mg of Magnesium (144% RDI)
132mg of Phosphorous (14.6% RDI)
730mg of Potassium (16.2% RDI)
35mg of Sodium
273 mg of vitamin C (455% RDI)
For perspective, one peeled fruit weighs 9-10 grams.
Health Benefits of Burmese Grape
Though not well published, Burmese grapes have significant health benefits. Traditionally, the fruits treat arthritis, injuries, abscess and other skin diseases. In Mizoram, the plant aids in stomach aches, colic, and stomach ulcers. When applied topically, a concoction of the pounded leaves and vinegar treats acne. A study published in “The Indian Journal of Biotechnology” tested Burmese grape wine and found it to be a rich source of phenols, flavonoids, flavanols and proanthocyanidins. Though not hyped, Burmese grapes outweigh the nutritional values of other more popular foods:
--Gram for gram, the Burmese grape contains over twice the amount of calcium as some tofu brands.
--Gram for gram, Burmese grapes contain twice as much potassium as bananas.
--Burmese grapes contain more magnesium per gram than watermelon seeds, chocolate/cocoa powder, flax seeds, Brazil nuts, almonds and sunflower seeds.
--Burmese grape’s high magnesium content helps the body assimilate potassium, stabilize blood pressure and ward off heart diseases.
--The vitamin C and high magnesium found in Burmese grapes keep bones healthy and strong.
--Magnesium regulates the brain’s serotonin levels, and thus keeps the brain sharp.
--Burmese grapes are rich in potassium, a nutrient that aids in the performance of the heart, kidneys and other organs.
--Burmese grape’s high potassium may contribute to a reduced risk of developing arthritis, cancer and digestive issues.
How to Open/Cut a Burmese Grape:
Open a Burmese grape like a thick-skinned lychee or longan: Pry the thick skin from the fruit by using fingers, or bite into it to open with teeth. Peel out the pulpy, pink translucent pods, chew the flesh, and spit out the fibrous pits.
Burmese grapes keep for 5 days. A common preservation method is boiling the peeled fruit in salt, then storing in an airtight container in the refrigerator.
Burmese Grape Recipe Ideas:
--One of the most popular uses of Burmese grapes is Latkan wine, fermented in Malaysia and parts of India. Preparation entails peeling the fruit, removing the core, and squeezing the fruit to collect the juice. The juice chills in a fermentation vessel while water and sugar boil to make syrup. The syrup gets poured over the fruit juice, and the two mix in the vessel until chilled for a few hours. At the final stage, yeast gets added to the mix and is left to sit for at least two weeks at room temperature.
--Make stewed Burmese grapes: cut the fruit into segments while separately reducing sugar and water in a shallow pan. Add the chopped fruit and cover until the concoction has been reduced and the fruits soak the flavors. Enhance with seasoning like cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, orange juice, or lemon juice.
--Burmese grapes make for a nice bright and tart jam, although pectin is required to achieve a thick consistency.
--Experiment using the fruits as a lychee substitute.
--In Thailand, locals make a simple “mafai” beverage by adding the fruit’s juice to water, sugar, and ice.
--Make a salad dressing using juiced fruits—match its tanginess with a sweet balsamic, orange juice, garlic and olive oil blend.
Fruits: Lemon, lime, orange, lychee, longan, rambutan, citron, pomelo, grape, kiwi, bignay, bilimbi, starfruit, pomegranate, wampee, tomato
Herbs, Spices, and Oil: Balsamic vinegar, coconut oil, salt, sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg, clove, ginger, vanilla, orange juice, lemon juice, citrus rind, vodka, black tea, spritzer
Groups in Northern Thailand use the wood to make furnishings.
Northwest Indians eat the flowers raw in addition to the fruit.
Burmese grapes have many loud, even flashier cousins: