Though “elephant apple” is often used interchangeably with “wood apple,” the two fruits differ in taste, appearance and its scientific categorization. The most obvious difference is that wood apples exude a dusty, mottled skin, and elephant apples have a waxy green exterior.
Origin of Elephant Apple
Elephant apple is native to Indonesia, but some expand its origin to encompass India, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, southwestern China, Vietnam, Thailand, and Malaysia. Today, the fruit grows throughout Asia and even parts of Australia.
Availability of Elephant Apple in India
Elephant apple is a staple in the villages where the fruit grows, but isn’t well known in urban cities. The fruit grows in the northern tropical regions of India, particularly in Assam and Kolkata. Assam in particular utilizes elephant apple frequently in its cuisine.
Other parts of India growing elephant apple includes the dry hill areas of Bihar, Odisha, Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh. The fruit also thrives in swamps, semi-tropical forests, and the evergreen forests of the sub-Himalayan tract from Kumaon to Garhwal.
The tree bears aromatic, magnolia-like flowers in June for three weeks, then bears fruit from October through January.
Where to find Elephant Apple in India
If on a mission to find the elephant apple, visit one of the several forest reserves across India housing the fruit. Though it is illegal to collect elephant apples for commercial ventures, grabbing a fruit to taste is acceptable. The list of reserve forests growing elephant apple are the following:
Terai and Doars
If visiting India during the fruiting months of October-January, look for elephant apple trees: their long, ridged potato chip-like leaves are distinct.
Checking for Ripeness in Elephant Apple
Unripe fruits are green, and as they ripen, become straw yellow with a few green tinges remaining. Elephant apples will not continue ripening once plucked, and should only be removed when it’s fully ripe.
Here’s a video of the trees: as evident by the orange color, the elephant apples are ripe.
Taste of Elephant Apples
Inside an elephant apple, the gelatinous pulp surrounding the sepals is mildly sweet, but acidic. The fruit is seldom consumed raw, but those who choose to eat it typically add sugar to improve the taste.
Most locals value elephant apples not for its jelly-like pulp, but rather, its crunchy outer “petals.” At best, the taste of the petals resembles unripe apples. At worst, the flavor is mealy, astringent, and resinous. Some also find elephant apple’s odor offensive.
Nutritional Value of Elephant Apple
According to the book, “The Encyclopedia of Fruit and Nuts,” the nutritional value per 100g of edible elephant apple flesh is:
4mg Ascorbic Acid
|Photo credit: kavita-saharia-myroom.com|
Health Benefits of Elephant Apple
Indians have exploited elephant apple’s curative properties for centuries. In Ayurveda, parts of the fruit treat nervousness, stomach upsets and fatigue. Additionally, the bark and juice from the leaves are given as a treatment for diarrhea and cancer. When the fruit’s gummy substance is rubbed into the scalp, it treats dandruff and reduces hair shedding.
Mainstream scientific studies affirm the following properties of elephant apple:
--The International Journal of Pharmaceutical Sciences and Research published reports by scientists in Assam citing the fruit’s antidiabetic properties and high amount of phytochemicals.
--The Journal of Global Pharma Technology published a report lauding the fruit’s antimicrobial properties
--According to a study published in the International Journal of Pharmacology, elephant apple’s bark has analgesic qualities
--As per a 2009 study published in in Pharmacology, elephant apple has anti-inflammatory properties.
--A 2010 study published in the Journal of Young Pharmacists indicates that elephant apples contain potent cytotoxic activity.
--According to a 2010 study published in Phytomedicine, fruit extracts showed significant anti-leukemic activity when tested in human leukemic cell lines.
--One study published in a 2011 edition of the Asian Journal of Pharmaceutical Sciences found that chemicals from elephant apple contributed to the production of a nasal gel that exhibited favorable mucoadhesive properties.
How to Open/Cut:
Preparing elephant apple isn’t an intuitive process: if eating the fruit raw and out of hand, the edible portion is the gelatinous flesh surrounding the pistons, as well as the crunchy “petals.” These may be cut lengthwise into strips, pressure cooked with a pinch of turmeric to soften, and then sautéed and stewed as a curry fry.
A more primitive method of opening the fruit is to take a hammer and crack it open, or by dropping the elephant apple on a hard surface.
Use caution when opening the fruit, as parts of the flesh can be slippery.
The fruit lasts in refrigeration up to one month.
Elephant Apple Recipe Ideas and Uses:
In Assam, locals add elephant apple to make a variety of dishes. Like several other edible yet acidic fruits, elephant apple is traditionally used in the following ways:
--Elephant apple aromatizes curry, and the flesh’s acidity counterbalances the curry’s oils.
--Villagers use the unripe petals of elephant apples to make pungent pickled chutneys
--Crushed elephant apple adds a piquant flavor to dal recipes: use half of a crushed elephant apple for every 250mg of lentils
--In Thailand, sour bamboo salad recipes incorporate elephant apple’s shoots and leaves.
--The jelly-like pulp is used for jams and preserves.
--Upon adding sugar, the fruit makes a light, refreshing juice. Mix the pulp with water and then strain with a fine sieve. Add cumin, pepper, and salt for slaking thirst.
--Sri Lankans mix the pulp with coconut milk and sugar to create ice cream, milkshakes and mousse.
--Indians in Uttar Pradesh use the leaves to wrap tobacco, as they possess ideal qualities such as texture, slow burn rate, resistance to decay, and flavor.
Fruits: Lemon, lime, coconut, wood apple, pineapple, guava, citrus, bael, bilimbi, carambola, feijoa, pomelo, raw mango, apple, ambarella/hog plum, Indian plum
Vegetables: Raw mango, raw papaya, bamboo shoots, banana stalk, banana flower, bell pepper, breadfruit, cempedak, tomato, onion, carrot, potato, chickpea
Herbs, spices, and oil: Ginger, garlic, onion, chili oil, chili powder, green chili, coconut milk, coconut powder, coconut oil, sugar, jaggery, tamarind paste, lime juice, lemon juice, citrus rind, vinegar, olive oil, asafetida, mustard seed, mustard, bay leaf, coriander, fenugreek, fennel, cumin, asafetida, turmeric, chili powder, curry leaf, pandan leaf, lemongrass
Elephant apples were the center of a fight between Kolkata villagers and their neighboring elephants. Unfortunately, the villagers’ illegal overharvesting of the fruit caused the elephants to stray outside of the forests and into the villages in search of food. This intrusion was not well received by the locals.
|Enjoying India's fine produce|
Chalta, karambel (Hindi)
Ou tenga (Assamese)
Ram phal, karambel (Nepali)