Camachile’s many names are more interesting than the fruit’s bland taste: devil’s necklace, monkey earrings, monkey pod and black bead are just a few. Indians know this fruit as a “Manila tamarind” despite having no relation to the well-known, molasses-colored tamarind. With no roots in Madras/Chennai, its other name, “Madras thorn,” is also a misnomer.
Camachile is native to the tropics of Southern Mexico, South America and Central America. According to the book, “Florida Ethnobotany,” botanists thought India was camachile’s native land based on reports sent by Europeans exploring India’s coasts in 1705. In the reports, they describe several sightings of the bizarre, twisted fruits. Earlier records from 1650, however, revealed that the Spaniards brought the fruits from the New World to the Philippines. From the Philippines, the fruits spread throughout the rest of Southeast Asia.
Countries growing camachile trees include Venezuela, Brazil, Peru, Guyana, Colombia, Mexico, Jamaica, Dominican Republic, Haiti, Guam, Virgin Islands, Dutch Antilles, Cuba, Puerto Rico, and Florida and Hawaii in the United States.
In Asia, camachile is exotic, growing in Thailand, Myanmar, Malaysia, Laos, China, the Philippines Indonesia and India. African countries growing camachile include Kenya, Tanzania, and Zanzibar. Though uncommon, they’re found in a few Middle Eastern counties like Qatar.
The Philippines and Indonesia are the only countries selling camachiles in the market—In Hawaii, the fruit’s an invasive species, and Peru’s only use for the tree is to make charcoal.
Availability of Camachile in India
In tropical conditions at an elevation below 300 meters, camachiles grow like weeds. The durable tree can withstand poor nutrient soil, saline, and rocky terrain.
In India, camachiles grow wild throughout Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Maharashtra, West Bengal, Andhra Pradesh, and Delhi. Few, if any, farmers grow the trees commercially. Instead, they’re found growing as a hedge tree or as road shrubbery.
Manila tamarinds bear fruit from February through March, but may continue until May.
Where to find Manila Tamarind in India
Most manila tamarind trees are stumbled upon while driving along tree-lined roads and through small villages. Perhaps a vendor will be selling bags of them along the highway, gathered from his farmhouse behind him. Or, village locals will be purveying them to schoolchildren after exploiting the nearby trees.
Older generations of the South are most familiar with the fruits. Those growing up in Mittur or the Chittoor district, for example, have fond childhood memories of peeling back camachiles and eating their papery flesh as a snack. Such recollections are lost on the younger, urban generation.
Checking for Ripeness in Manila Tamarind
Unripe Manila tamarinds are greenish white. When ready for picking, their skin becomes pinkish gold. Do not think that the fruit has spoiled on the tree when the white flesh peeks out from its flimsy shell. This is, in fact, a sign that it’s ready to eat.
The flesh of some fruits are pinkish red, while others are snow white.
Taste of Camachile
As a wild fruit with no serious commercial cultivation efforts, manila tamarind’s flavor varies considerably. All possess a sweet, musky acidic taste that resembles desiccated coconut meat. Some people detect astringent and metallic notes. Of the two types of fruit, the red-fleshed variants are sweeter, whereas the white fruits may cause mild throat irritation.
Camachile’s texture is chewy, doughy, slightly papery and mildly grainy, with a flesh that dissolves on the tongue. Like the tamarind, the fruits have large, shiny black seeds surrounding the flesh. These are not edible, and must be spit out.
Nutritional Value in Manila Tamarind
From Purdue University’s horticulture department, the nutritional value of a manila tamarind is, per 100g:
The composition of the fruit is:
13 mg calcium (1.3% RDI)
42mg phosphorous (4.2% RDI)
.5mg iron (2.7% RDI)
222mg potassium (6.3% RDI)
15mg vitamin A
.24mg thiamin/B1 (16.6% RDI)
.10mg riboflavin/B2 (5.8% RDI)
.60mg niacin/B6 (3% RDI)
133mg vitamin C (221% RDI)
Health Benefits of Manila Tamarind
Natives use camachiles in a number of traditional remedies: a concoction of the fruit and astringent bark treat ailments ranging from bronchitis, diarrhea, hemorrhages, sores, liver problems and spleen issues. In Eastern Nepal, parts of the camachile treat fever, the stem combats dysentery, and the leaves help with intestinal disorders. The Spaniards initially assumed that camachiles were beneficial for the liver: they extrapolated that the seeds represent the liver itself, and the white aril surrounding the flesh symbolized the liver’s fat. No studies support this theory. According to the book, “Huastec Mayan Ethnobotany,” the Huastec Indians of Mexico’s San Luis Potosi used parts of the tree to manage toothaches, sore gums and mouth ulcers.
--Manila tamarinds are exceptionally high in vitamin C, which bolsters the immune system, staves off strokes and reduces phlegm. It’s also full of cancer-fighting antioxidants
--Its high thiamine content helps the body convert sugars into energy, which impacts the mood: greater conversion helps stabilize stress levels.
--According to a 2012 study published in the Journal of Ethnopharmacology, camachile fruit extracts exhibited strong anti-ulcer activity comparable to the standard drug, omeprazole.
--A 2011 study published in the Evidence Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine found that fruit extracts protected the liver from oxidative stress.
--Researchers found potential in the camachile’s antioxidants’ ability to fight off liver disease (hepatic oxidative dysfunction, to be specific).
--A 2012 study published in Natural Product Research indicates that camachiles are non-toxic and safe for consumption despite the occasional minor throat irritation.
How to open/cut
Like tamarinds, camachiles require peeling off the thin exterior and eating the flesh surrounding the large black seed. Unlike the tamarind, though, camachiles have a soft skin that can be peeled like a green bean’s.
Because it’s laborious to de-seed camachiles, many eat the fruit out-of-hand.
Storing Manila Tamarind
Fresh camachile is highly perishable, and the white aril will quickly brown once peeled. At room temperature, the fruits keep for three to four days.
Manila Tamarind Recipe Ideas
--In North Mexico, locals make a lemonade-type beverage by de-seed the fruit, blending the arils with water, and straining through a sieve. Sugar is added as necessary, and it’s possible to add orange juice, ginger, lemon juice, mint, or coconut water for a boost in flavor.
--Roast the black seeds surrounding aril. Once cooled, remove the shiny black layer to expose the edible seed. Add these seeds into curries and stir fries, as is common in rural areas of southern India.
--Create a paste for sauces, soups and stews: mix the pounded camachile pulp with jaggery, water, salt, and a dash of chili powder.
--Make a stir fry by adding the paste above to sautéed tofu and vegetables.
Fruits: Coconut, lemon, orange, sour orange, lime, coconut, baobab, monstera, pomegranate, soursop, sweet lime, wood apple
Herbs, spices, and oil: Sugar, shredded coconut, orange juice, lemon juice, ginger, mint, coconut water, jaggery, water, salt, chili powder, cocoa
In the South of India, brick kiln workers use camachile branches as fuel. A 2007 study published in “Small Ruminant Research” also advises farmers in nutrient-poor land to let livestock graze on camachile as a good source of calories and protein.
Camachiles are the most recognizable fruits in the Pithellobium group. However, djenkol beans (Pithecellobium lobatum) are the black sheep of the genus. A number of studies have been published with regards to the djenkol beans’ poisonous chemicals. Despite the risks, they are still a popular ingredient amongst the natives of Indonesia and Malaysia.
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