Thursday, January 31, 2013

All About Nungu, Ice Apple or Taal



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

Origin of Nungu
Botanists point to India as nungu’s country of origin, but the fruit’s ancient history makes it difficult to be certain. As explained in the book, “The Encyclopedia of Fruit and Nuts,” what appear to be wild nungu trees outside of India are actually specimens that have been carefully cultivated over a thousand years ago. It’s theorized that the fruit’s distribution is closely linked with India’s prehistoric trade routes. Nungu may have an ancient ancestor, too: Africa’s Borassus aethiopum is palm that bears orange colored fruits that otherwise resemble nungu.


Today, nungus grows from the Persian Gulf to the shores of Indonesia. Nungu growing countries include Cambodia, Vietnam, Sri Lanka, Pakistan, Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore, parts of tropical Africa, and even Hawaii and Florida. 



Availability of Nungu in India
Nungu grows in the dry, tropical regions of mid and southern India. The trees are ubiquitous throughout Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra, Goa, and Kerala. These plants thrive in sandy soils, but are also hardy, drought resistant plants.

There is no uniform cultivar of nungu. Each region may have a slightly different type of fruit that varies in size and color. The taste, however, is generally uniform throughout these cultivars.


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. Few (if any) shops sell packaged fruits because of cut nungu’s rapid deterioration.


Nungu derivatives, however, are available year-round. Examples of palm fruit products include jaggery, a type of sugar made from palm fruit; and a sweet alcohol known as toddy, or, arrack.

Nungu from
4thsensecooking.com

Checking for Ripeness in Nungu
Nungus turn a brilliant shade of deep, blackish purple when fully ripened. Full-sized fruits share the same size and shape of large eggplant, although their tough texture resembles a coconut.

One lesson imparted in a news article by “The Hindu” is to be nice to the vendor—he has the greatest insight as to the best, most tender fruit. Furthermore, eating overripe fruits may cause a gut-clenching stomachache.

Taste of Nungu
Nungu has a variety of textures but a uniformly sweet, watery flavor with a sometimes-bitter aftertaste. The gelatinous casing of liquid inside the fruit has a texture like lychee or longan: its jelly-like consistency yields easily at first bite, and gives way to a sweet, albeit tad bland flavor. Inside of the gelatinous pod is refreshing, sugary liquid akin to coconut water.

Some eat the fibrous skin housing each pod, and others choose to remove it. Each fruit yields 1-3 pods, though some may have 4.


The kernel inside of the fruit is mildly sweet, and has a texture resembling 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:

43kcal
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, 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 may help digestion and proper elimination. Jaggery is one of the only sugars available on the market with its vitamins and minerals kept in tact during the refining process.

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


According to a study published in the 2013 edition of the “Pakistan Journal of Pharmaceutical Sciences,” extracts from the root may have antidiabetic potential based on their ability to decrease blood sugar levels and improve glucose tolerance when tested in rats.

How to Open/Cut:
Unless there’s a vendor armed with a machete, anticipate some difficulties in opening and cutting a nungu. Where possible, employ a local cut and separate the skin from the pods. Otherwise, there are three methods:


These two videos exemplify the ways to prepare the fruit. The first is carefully extricating each pod from the shell. Hack away the shell, starting at the top, and then slicing the purple, fibrous shell away from the middle. Next, pry away the gelatinous pods from the white skin.




This method entails cutting into skin and into the pods, draining it of the fluids into a palm leaf, and then scooping the gelatinous casing of each pod for further consumption. This is an easier method, albeit not as neat and clean. 




Storage:
Cut and drained nungu is sensitive to oxidation, and the fruit’s flavor begins to change immediately. Indeed, the fruit’s rapid fermentation over the course of a mere three hours is one 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 intact, with the tan, fibrous skin still encasing the pod. This preserves the life of nungu placed in the refrigerator, only by a day or so. The fruit 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. In fact, nungus pair beautifully with other tropical summer fruits, such as mango, pineapple, papaya, and coconut.

Nungus’s sweet taste and gelatin 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
4thsensecooking.com

Flavor Complements:
Coconut, lime, mango, pineapple, papaya, sweet lime, orange, pomegranate, lychee, longan, kiwi

Herbs, spices, and oil: sugar, cardamom, rose water, saffron, nutmilk, coconut milk, coconut flakes and cream, jaggery, almond, pistachio

Random Facts:
Nungus grow on the grounds of Cambodia’s Angkor Wat.

Scientific Name:
Borassus flabellifer

Other Names:
Palm fruit
Palmyra palm
Toddy palm
Ice apple
Tadgola
Taalah (Sanskrit)
Taal, taad, trinaraaj (Hindi)
Taad (Marathi, Urdu, Gujarati)
Talam (Tamil)
Karimpana (Malayalam)
Tatichettu (Telugu)
Olegari, taalegari (Kannada)
Taala (Bengali)
Eroal (Konkani)
Talle Hannu

Nungu






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