Origin of Phalsa
Phalsa originates in India and other parts of Southeast Asia, including Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh. At of the early part of the 20th century, the fruit was introduced to Indonesia and the Philippines, where it has since naturalized. The Luzon province displays an abundance of the small, purple fruits in its lower elevations in dry zones. Today, it’s an exotic plant in Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos.
Few countries in the west cultivate phalsa, though some gardeners and research laboratories grow the fruit out of interest or for educational purposes. Examples include a few universities in Florida and Puerto Rico.
Availability of Phalsa in India
Phalsa shrubs grow in the Himalayan regions of India, and thrive at elevations up to 3,000 feet. The major areas in India cultivating the fruit commercially are Punjab, Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Haryana, and Rajasthan. On a local level, the fruits also grow in Maharashtra, Gujarat, Bihar, Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh and West Bengal.
Phalsa’s easy growing conditions are one reason they’re an invasive plant in Australia and parts of the Philippines. When it comes to fruiting, however, phalsas are awfully fickle plants: unless the region experiences distinct seasonal changes between summers and winters, the shrub flowers sporadically and yields poor fruits. Most farmers grow the trees on the outskirts of the city wherever the land has loamy soils.
Phalsa is a summer fruit, ready for picking in the south from March through April, and in the north, from May to June. The harvesting season itself is short, lasting only three weeks. There are other factors limiting phalsa’s availability: The plant ripens unevenly, and each small fruit must be hand-picked—a laborious task. The yield per plant is also quite low, offering roughly 11kg per tree.
Where to find Phalsa in India
Unless living in the vicinity of phalsa trees, do not expect to find the fruits for sale. Most of the crop is whisked away by manufacturers for processing into beverages and syrups. Several roadside hawkers sell phalsa with great gusto when in season, shouting their presence with wicker baskets on bikes or on street corners. But, unless living in the north near the trees, these fruits are not the easiest to find for the reasons mentioned above.
Perishability is high, and buyers must consume fruit within a mere day or two of purchase. This short shelf life and risk of spoilage make it difficult for vendors to buy phalsas for sale to the public. As such, most fruits get sold by a handful of vendors with direct access to the trees.
If encountering a phalsa hawker, expect to pay a steep price for these fruits based on their limited supply. The delectability of the pleasantly sweet, yet acidic fruit keeps it in strong demand.
Checking for Ripeness in Phalsa
Phalsa is green when unripe on the tree, slowly turning red when ripening and, at last, a deep purple when ready for harvest. Some falsa fruits get plucked once they turn red with the expectation that they will become blackish purple within a week’s time. At peak ripeness, the fruit’s thin skin should be pliable and tender.
Taste of Phalsa
Many people—especially those growing up in Pakistan and northern India—have fond memories of the tiny fruit’s vibrant taste. Phalsas have a sweetness beautifully counterbalanced by astringent, acidic and sour notes. If needing comparison to other fruits, grapes, cranberry, and jamuns are the best bet. Phalsas resemble blueberries in appearance, but their sharp notes shares no likeness with the shyer, milder fruits. The texture also mirrors a grape with its fleshy, whitish pulp.
Nutritional Value of Phalsa
According to a nutritional analysis conducted at Fort Valley, Georgia, phalsa fruits contain the following value per 100g:
16.11ug Vitamin A
4.385mg Vitamin C
Health Benefits of Phalsa
Falsa fruit has several traditional health benefits. According to the “Encyclopedia of World Medicinal Plants,” phalsa is an astringent, coolant, and stomachic. In Vedic times, the bark was used as a demulcent and serves as a treatment for rheumatism. Ground leaves treat pustular infections, and possess strong antimicrobial and antibacterial properties capable of remedying E. coli. Unsurprisingly, given the fruit’s arrival during the scorching summer months, the fruit treats dehydration and acts as a coolant.
Phalsa has several health benefits substantiated by the scientific community as well:
--According to an article published by the Pakistan Journal of Pharmaceutical Sciences, phalsa is a low glycemic index fruit, thereby having positive effects on blood glucose metabolism. Simply put, the fruit is a good choice for those with blood sugar problems such as diabetes.
--Like other purple-skinned fruits, phalsa has strong irradiation protection qualities due to its amazing free radical scavenging activities. Such findings were explored in a 2009 study published by the Journal of Radiological Protection, and affirmed again in another 2008 study published in the Journal of Complementary and Integrative Medicine.
--Amazingly, a 2011 study published in Der Pharma Chemica found that falsa fruit and leaves exhibited significant anticancer activities against breast cancer cells and liver cancer cells. This affirms traditional Native American applications of the fruit to treat cancer-like illnesses.
--According to a study published in the International Journal of Food Science & Technology, phalsa significantly inhibited fungal growth, thereby supporting its traditional use as an antifungal and antimicrobial.
How to Open/Cut:
When eating out of hand, larger fruits have two large seeds, whereas the smaller phalsas have only one. Unlike most fruits, phalsa’s seeds have a pleasant crunch and require no removal.
If desiring the juice, it is exceptionally difficult to de-seed each fruit. However, if in possession of a powerful blender, it’s possible to blend the fruits. Before doing so, soak the fruits overnight. Boil with sugar the next day if desiring sweetness; otherwise, skip this step. Next, blend until the mix is pulpy and then strain the concoction using cheesecloth.
Another method of getting to the juice is soaking the fruit overnight in a shallow amount of water, and then manually squishing the fruits by the fistful. Then, sieve the concoction.
If storing at room temperature, consume falsa fruit within a day or two. Otherwise, store the fruits in shallow clamshell containers (similar to the ones used for raspberries and strawberries) and place in the refrigerator—this will extend phalsa’s shelf life up to a week.
Phalsa Recipe Ideas and Uses:
--Some of the most common recipes for falsa fruit include juice and sherbet with rosewater. Note: fresh phalsa juice ferments quickly
--With the juice, it’s easy to reduce it by boiling with sugar to create syrups for use on ice creams, pies, teas, and sweet breads. Indeed, phalsa syrup is a delicacy in northern India.
--Use in any recipe calling for black currants
--Sprinkle liberally in morning granolas, cereals, and even salads
Grape, bignay, cranberry, strawberry, mulberry, cherry, hackberry, jamun
Phalsa (Hindi, Urdu, Marathi)
India grows several other lesser-known fruits in the Grewia genus. Most of these drupes are consumed by birds than humans, and are not nearly as delectable as phalsa:
Donkey berry (Grewia flavescens)
Crossberry (Grewia abutilifolia, Grewia laevigata, Grewia tenax, Grewia umbellifera)
Kukurbicha (Grewia hirsuta)
Dhaman (Grewia tiliifolia)