Thursday, January 31, 2013

All About Nungu, Ice Apple or Taal

Nungu, also known as palm fruit, is a long-awaited treat for those undergoing India’s insufferably hot summers. Non-residents of India often post on message boards how they miss the taste of nungu, unable to find it on the shelves of the homogenous and predictable produce markets in Europe and the US.

Origin of Nungu
Horticulturists and botanists point to India as nungu’s original home, but the fruit’s ancient history makes it difficult to pinpoint the precise origin. As explained in the book, “The Encyclopedia of Fruit and Nuts,” seemingly-wild nungu trees found outside of India may be the result of careful cultivation thousands of years ago.

Today, the fruit grows from the Persian gulf to the shores of Indonesia. Countries that grow nungus include Cambodia, Vietnam, Sri Lanka, Pakistan, Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore, parts of tropical Africa, and even Hawaii and Florida.  

Availability of Nungu in India
Nungu requires dry, tropical weather and is therefore grown in the mid to southern regions of India. Examples of such areas include Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra, Goa, and Kerala.

There is no uniform cultivar of nungu, though each region may have a slightly different type: varying sizes and color intensity marks these differences.

Palm fruit season is May through August.

Where to find Nungu in India
Street vendors readily sell the fruit in the summertime. Outside of these months, one must be content with coconut water.

Nungu derivatives are in the markets year-round. Examples are jaggery (sugar made from palm fruit) and toddy, or, arrack (sweet alcohol made from the fruit).

Nungu from

Checking for Ripeness in Nungu
Nungus turn a brilliant shade of deep purple (almost black) when fully ripened. These are the fruits that invariably reach the market for consumer purchase. One lesson imparted in an article by “The Hindu” is to be nice to the vendor, for she is the one who has the best insight as to the best, most tender fruit. Furthermore, overripe fruits may cause a tough stomach ache.

Taste of Nungu
Nungu has a variety of textures but a uniformally sweet, watery taste with a sometimes bitter aftertaste. The gelatinous casing of liquid inside has a texture like lychee or longan: its jelly-like texture yields easily at first bite, and gives way to a sweet, albeit tad bland flavor. Inside of the gelatinous pod is refreshingly sugary liquid akin to coconut water that hits the mouth once one has bitten through the jello casing.

Some eat the fibrous skin that houses each pod. Others choose to fully skin the nungu before eating. Each fruit yields 1-3 pods, though some may have 4.

The kernel inside every fruit is also removed, as it too is mildly sweet with the texture of a water chestnut.  

Nungu pods extracted from the fruit:
the tan part is the peel-able skin; the edible transluscent jelly part
houses the water inside

Nutritional Value of Nungu
According to the book, “The Encyclopedia of Fruit and Nut,” nungu contains the following per 100g of edible flesh:

87.6g Water
.8g Protein
.1g Fat
10.9g Carbs
1g Fiber
27mg Calcium
30mg Phosphorous
1mg Iron
.04mg Thiamin
.02mg Riboflavin
.3mg Niacin
5mg Vitamin C

Health Benefits of Nungu
Nungus provide hydration and, according to a Deccan Herald article, provide a good balance of minerals and sugar for the body. As indicated by the nutrition profile, the fruit is rich in B vitamins, iron, and even calcium. Traditionally, the fruit is used to treat digestive issues and stomach ailments.

Jaggery, the sugar made from palmyra, has Ayurvedic benefits as well. The book, “The Ayurveda Encyclopedia” lists jaggery as a rejuvinative and a tonic. Furthermore, the natural sugar—like the fruit itself—may help digestion and proper elimination. This is one of the only sugar forms available on the market with the vitamins and minerals kept in tact during the refining process.

Interestingly, palmyra root flour (made from the nungu tree’s roots) may be detrimental to health. Consumption of it has been linked to neurotoxicity and an increased risk of various cancers.

How to Open/Cut:
Unless there’s a vendor armed with a machete, anticipate a difficult time opening and cutting a nungu. These two videos exemplify the ways to prepare the fruit: The first is carefully extricating each pod from the shell:

This method entails cutting into the pod, draining it of the fluids into a palm leaf, and then scooping the gelatinous casing of each pod for further consumption.

Opened and drained nungu is quite sensitive to oxidation, and the flavor begins to change almost immediately. Indeed, the fruit’s rapid fermentation over the course of a mere three hours is a reason why villagers prefer nungu as a quick, cheap and easy source of alcohol.

If not purchased for immediate consumption, opt for each section to be scooped in-tact with some fibrous skin still encasing the gelatinous pod. This preserves the life of nungu, but probably not by much. The fruit is quite perishable and should be eaten within a day.

Nungu Recipe Ideas and Uses:
Villagers and manufacturers alike have revered the fruit’s ability to make tasty and potent alcohol, but palm fruit has several other culinary purposes.

Nungus’s sweet taste and jello-like texture make the fruit an ideal candidate for a number of sweet dishes:
--Create a nungu milkshake by blending with nut milk and adding a pinch of salt, vanilla and other flavors like cinnamon, cardamom, or rose water. Nungu milkshakes are best served chilled.
--Make payasam by heating nutmilk, coconut milk, and sugar. Add coconut powder and almond flour to thicken the concoction, finally allowing it to cool. Add chopped nungu and other tropical fruits like pineapple or mango, then place in the refrigerator to cool.
--Dehydrate the pulp of the fruit to make a leathery preserve.

Nungu payasam, with recipes again
available from

Flavor Complements:
Coconut, lime, sugar, cardamom, mango, pineapple, papaya, rose water, nut milk, sweet lime, orange, apple

Random Facts:
Nungus are also found in Angkor Wat, Cambodia

Scientific Name:
Borassus flabellifer

Other Names:
Palm fruit
Palmyra palm
Toddy palm
Ice apple
Talle Hannu

Related Fruits:
Nungu has few relatives, though there is an African palm fruit of similar origins (Borassus aethiopicum).

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