Sunday, October 7, 2012

All About Flacourtia

Flacourtia just rolls off the tongue, almost like a Shakespearean character name: Viola, Bianca, Juliet, Flacourtia… but in actuality, flacourtia is a type of plum. It also has the oh-so-regal sounding name, governor’s plum.

Origin of Governor’s Plum
There appears to be some debate over the flacourtia indica's origin: some say Africa, other sources claim India. The fruit grows in several parts of the world; in Florida, it’s regarded as an invasive species with many treating the shrub as a weed.

Availability of Flacourtia in India
Flacourtia requires dry, deciduous, tropical climates and thrive in thorn forest. The fruit grows best in warm temperatures and is drought resistant, but shies away from frost.

I found this map on the Envis Centre for Medicinal Medicine's website, which basically shows the fruit grows just about everywhere in India:

Where to find Governor’s Plum in India
Because Flacourtia is not as sweet and juicy as other varieties of plum, it’s not harvested as a commercial crop. Still, it’s not uncommon to find sellers purveying them on small tables in the streets and villages as a way to make a quick buck from taking them off of a nearby tree. 

Checking for Ripeness in Flacourtia
Flacourtia’s ripeness is apparent in the color of its flesh. It’s green and tough when unripe. It turns a purplish red hue when ready for consumption, not unlike other varieties of plums.

Taste of Flacourtia
Flacourtia’s texture is much less juicy and giving than a standard plum, and it better resembles a cucumber’s or a very firm grape. Its skin is smooth and thin like a grape’s. Flacourtias have an acidic bite and are bitterer than European varieties.

Some people enjoy eating the plum in its raw state with a bit of salt and chili; when ripened, the fruit is a crisp, hydrating refreshing snack that can be enjoyed directly off the tree.

Nutritional Value of Flacourtia

The Encyclopedia of Fruit and Nuts lists per 100g of edible flesh, flacourtia’s nutritional value is…

.5g Protein (negligible)
.6g Fat
24.2g Carb
1.2g Fiber
33mg Calcium
.7mg Iron (3.8% RDI)
17mg Phosphorous (>1% RDI)
171mg Potassium (4.8% RDI)
5mg Vitamin C (8.3% RDI)
.01mg Thiamine/B1 (negligible)
.02mg Riboflavin/B2 (negligible)
.4mg Niacin/B3 (2% RDI)
30iu Vitamin A (negligible)

Health Benefits of Flacourtia
Governor’s plums with their dark purple skin are loaded with nutrients like antioxidants and polyphenols. Numerous studies of fruits with purple/dark skin (such as grapes, blueberries and specifically flacourtia) indicate that these nutrients are known to:
--Prevent aging
--Improve skin conditions
--Prevent heart disease
--Reduce risk of cancers.
--Act as an antidiabetic
--Treat malaria

The vitamin C in flacourtia offers the following nutritional benefits:
--Strengthens the immune system
--Prevents cardiovascular diseases
--Fights eye diseases
--Wards off strokes
--Improves eye health

Fruitipedia lists other governor’s plum health benefits such as
--The juice treating jaundice and enlarged spleens

The leaves offer the following medicinal benefits, according to The World Agroforestry Centre:
--Remedies gynecological problems
--Alleviates asthma
--Fights pneumonia
--Is an antihelminthic (ie, worm killer)
--Treats intestinal worms and hydrocele
--The bark is infused and gargled to remedy hoarseness
--The ash and roots treat kidney issues, snakebites, arthritis. lists flacourtia’s additional root and leaves as remedies for diarrhea, and as a pain reliever.

How to Open/Cut Flacourtia:
The skin is tart but edible and contains up to 10 seeds per fruit. Thus, you consume flacourtia as you would large globe grapes: either spit out the seeds, or cut in half and manually remove them.

Flacourtia Recipe Ideas and Uses:
--Many sources explain flacourtia is ideal for jam and compote due to its high pectin content.
--Others ferment governor’s plum and make wine
--The fruit can be stewed with sugar for a nice dessert
--The shrub makes an attractive fence though it must be pruned often.

Random Facts:
Eating plums 72 hours before a carcinoid tumor exam may result in a false positive. This is because of the fruit’s high level of serotonin: doctors check for cancerous tumors by measuring serotonin levels in urine. If higher than normal, doctors give the prognosis of cancer. 

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