Bael is as Indian as the ambassador car. Along with coconuts, cannonball trees, and jamun, bael is sacred in the Hindu faith. Worshippers offer bael fruit and leaves in honor of Shiva, the country’s famous blue-skinned deity responsible for death and destruction.
Note—despite interchangeable use, bael and wood apple are not the same fruit. They differ in taste, color, and binomial categorization. The British are the likely culprits for naming bael to wood apple, as they had a habit of naming Indian fruits with an “apple” suffix: pineapple, rose apple, custard apple, and java apple, to mention a few.
Origin of Bael
Bael’s likely origin is India—ancient texts from the Vedic period (2,000-800 BC) reference the fruit and its religious significance. According to Hindu scriptures, bael’s inception coincided with the world’s creation: The book, “Handbook of Tibetan Buddhist Symbols,” states that goddess Parvati’s sweat beads fell and created bael trees while she was churning the oceans and creating life on Earth. Hindu iconography is replete with bael, too—its trifoliate leaves emerge on Shiva’s crown and trident, and the points of three-pronged leaves also represent the holy trinity of Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva.
Today, the fruit grows wild throughout Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Pakistan, and Burma. Other countries with minor cultivation include Thailand, northern Malaysia, Indonesia, the Philippines, Egypt, a few Caribbean islands, and Surinam.
Availability of Bael in India
Bael grows in the subtropical hills and plains of India. It thrives in dry, hilly forests up to 1200 meters, and has a reputation for surviving in conditions unsuitable for other fruits. Given its ancient history and evolution, it is no doubt craftier and more adaptable than newer monoculture fruits.
Regions growing bael include the lower Himalayas of Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Odisha, Madhya Pradesh, Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra, and West Bengal. A few trees are scattered in the lower south of Tamil Nadu and Kerala, too. No standardized varieties exist, although each region has a name for its particular type of fruit. Examples of these localized names are Kaghzi, Dhara Road, and Faizabadi Local.
India’s bael season is February through May. In the south, fruits form on the trees as early as October, although they do not ripen until early winter. Though finding fresh bael in the off-season is difficult, some suppliers store unripe fruits and gas them into ripeness during key festivals. These off-season fruits fetch high prices.
Where to find Bael in India
Several Indian temples have a sacred bael tree or two growing on the grounds. When in season, bel features prominently in weddings and other religious ceremonies. Despite the fruit’s religious and cultural significance, most Indian baels are not sold in markets; rather, they grow in the yards of friends, neighbors and relatives.
If fresh fruit is unavailable, many health food stores sell dried bael. Do not expect dried bael to have the same sweetness as fresh fruits, as manufacturers choose the green, unripe fruits for drying.
Checking for Ripeness in Bael
Unripe bael has gray-green skin. Others have the green color of a sweet lime fruit. As the fruit ripens, the gray yields to a golden yellow hue but maintains some its green coloring. Some bael fruits become speckled like an egg, while others develop an orange blush. When ripe, the stem should easily fall off the fruit.
Overripe bael shows cracks and mold at the stem end.
Note: The soft-shelled fruit tends to be sweeter and easier to open, whereas the astringent, sour, hard-skinned variant is known for its medicinal uses.
Taste of Bael
Bael’s orangey flesh tastes like a mix of sweet papaya and sour lime, with the ratio depending on ripeness and particular cultivar. Some may be pleasantly sweet, while others are too sour to eat without a pinch of sugar. Because of bael’s incredible genetic diversity, the fruits have no uniform flavor profile.
The texture of a ripe bael fruit ranges from sticky, slimy and creamy. Bael may irritate the throat of some who try its resinous, pasty flesh.
Its scent, while off-putting to some, resembles peach, lime, and passion fruit.
Nutritional Value of Bael
According to the book, “Nutritive Value of Indian Foods,” 100g of bael contains the following values:
55UG Beta Carotene
8mg Vitamin C
Health Benefits of Bael
Bael is a natural remedy for countless afflictions.
--To alleviate constipation and thoroughly scrub the intestines, folk remedies suggest drinking a beverage of blended ice and bael flesh.
--For diarrhea and dysentery, traditional remedies prescribe consuming unripe dried or powdered bael.
--Soaking bael leaves overnight and drinking the strained water supposedly helps peptic ulcers.
--To treat ear problems, ancient healers suggest taking the stiff root of the tree, dipping it in neem oil, then lighting the root and collecting the dripping oil. This oil can then be applied to the ear topically.
--Drinking blended bael pulp with pepper and water reduces acidity; upon adding honey, the mixture alleviates asthma and respiratory problems.
--Consuming bael leaves blended with Bermuda grass and sugar supposedly combats painful urination.
--When massaged into the scalp, a concoction of juiced bael leaves mixed with ginger, oil, black pepper and cumin wards off respiratory problems.
Note: Word of warning accompanies these remedies: eating too much bael will wreak havoc on the stomach, often causing gas, bloating, and gastrointestinal discomfort. Additionally, consuming bael leaves lower sperm count, and may induce miscarriages. The pulp’s high concentration of tannins could, over the long-term, be anti-nutritive and carcinogenic.
Medical studies confirm bael’s astounding health benefits:
--Food Research International published a 2012 study indicating bael has antidiabetic qualities: the fruit had insulin-like activities, inhibits alpha-glucosidase, and reduced oxidative stress in rats.
--Researchers in Rajasthan found that bael’s antioxidant activities may remedy chemical induced skin papillomas (or, a type of skin cancer)
--The Food and Chemical Toxicology published a finding from Chennai-based scientists illustrating bael bark’s potential to treat hyperglycemia
--The Indian Journal of Pharmacology published findings out of Rajasthan showing that bael leaf extract may combat chronic fatigue syndrome
--The Saudi Journal of Gastroenterology published a report indicating that bael combats gastric ulcers caused from aspirin
--Indian researchers confirmed unripe bael’s traditional use against diarrhoeal diseases after measuring its anti-proliferative effects of bacterial colonization
--The Asian Pacific Journal of Tropical Biomedicine published a report touting bael’s use as a highly potent antifungal
How to Open and Prepare Bael:
Here’s a video showing how to open and prepare the bael fruit, Nepali villager style. As you can see, opening a bael involves applying force to open the shell, then scooping out the sticky resinous orange flesh.
There are several ways to extract bael’s sticky resinous flesh, none of which are high tech. One, use a hammer and gently pound the shell until it cracks. Or, use a mortar and pestle: place the bael in the mortar and use the pestle’s weight to crack the shell. For a third option, drop the fruit on the ground. Hard. The last option: Place a cloth over the fruit, and then place a knife on top of the cloth. Ensure that the blade sits flat on the cloth-covered shell, and then add a second piece of cloth on top of the knife. Next, use a hammer to pound on the flat blade of the knife—this method should achieve a clean cut. Pound gently at first, and increase force as necessary. Soft, gradual blows will prevent the shell from splaying everywhere.
Each fruit has approximately 10-15 seeds. Removing these small, hairy (yet edible) seeds are advisable but not necessary. Use a food processor’s S-blade to blend the pulp fine enough to extract the seeds without crushing them. If a food processor is unavailable, scoop the flesh into a shallow bowl, add water, and squish the flesh with the fingertips. Manually remove the seeds once the flesh is pasty and watery.
To prepare the tough wheels of dried sour bael, soak overnight and then boil the next morning until tender.
|Bael tea from|
Distributors pick bael while it’s still greenish yellow, with the expectation that it will ripen in 8 to 10 days. Bael does not require refrigeration and can be kept at room temperature up to 30C. In warm conditions, the fruit will last up to two weeks. In cool storage with relative humidity between 85 to 90 percent, baels will keep for four months.
Avoid storing the fruit below 9C, as this will cause chilling injuries.
Bael Recipe Ideas and Uses:
--Eat bael like a grapefruit by adding just a pinch of sugar. Just as some Floridians may eat half a grapefruit and drink strong black coffee to start their day, many Indonesians eat a bael for breakfast to jumpstart their digestive juices.
--Make bael toffee by combining the fresh or dried pulp with sugar, coconut powder, and vegetable oil.
--The fruit’s texture and consistency make it ideal for jam and thick, gooey marmalade. Syrup is another common bael concoction.
--Make bael juice and shakes by blending the pulp with soymilk and sugar. Consider adding other fruits such as mango, papaya, or coconut meat.
--Add bael pulp to sticky rice. This will impart a tangy zest to the dish.
Bael has many practical purposes as well.
--The fruit pulp doubles as laundry detergent and soap
--Some vinegar producers use the pulp to get rid of residue scum.
--Jewelry makers in remote areas use the gum coating bael seeds as an adhesive.
--When mixed with lime plaster, bael pulp doubles as a waterproofing agent
--Artists use bael pulp to make a golden watercolor. Applying a thin layer of watery pulp also protects a painting’s integrity.
--Shampoo manufacturers use the fruit’s limonene oil for scent.
Here’s a video showing how to prepare it. While it’s in Telegu, it does a decent job of giving English subtitles to get the point across. Bonus: you’ll also listen to the language I hear on a daily basis thanks to my Hyderabadi mother-in-law.
Fruits: Elephant apple, wood apple, tamarind, lemon, garcinia cambogia, Cochin goraka, orange, sour orange, sweet lime, passion fruit, mango, papaya, raspberry, cacao, coconut, date
Vegetables: bell pepper, carrot, tomato
Herbs, Spices, and Oil: Salt, sugar, black pepper, turmeric, orange juice, lemon juice, limejuice, pomelo, soymilk, coconut milk, coconut oil, honey, jaggery, coffee, cumin, garam masala, licorice, mint, lemongrass, pine, vinegar, soy sauce, mustard
Although significant in Hinduism, bael fruit has no relation to the demon god or pagan god, Bael.
In Nepal’s Newari community, bael plays unusual role in marriage ceremonies: as long as the bride keeps a bael fruit un-cracked and unblemished throughout her marriage, she will avoid the stigma of widowhood in the event of her husband’s death.
Adhararuha, Sivadruma, Tripatra (Sanskrit)
Bel (Hindi, Urdu, Assamese and Bengali)
Vilvam (Tamil and Malayalam)