Origin of Wampee
Wampee fruit originates in southern China and the northern and central regions of Vietnam. One of China’s famous poets, Fan Chengda (1126-1290AD) wrote of the wampee in his Song period book, Gui Hai Yu Heng Zhi.” In it, he states that the fruits resemble small jujubes. Other mentions include a “goat droppings fruit,” “woody lotus fruit,” and a “gumi fruit” with interior flesh “resembling grains of rice.”
It’s believed that Chinese migrants brought the fruit seeds with them to other Asian countries such as Malaysia, Hong Kong and Singapore. Wampees have been in India for centuries: documents from the early 1800s reflect evidence of its existence in Agra and throughout the Western Ghats. Today, other parts of the world growing wampee include Thailand, Sri Lanka, Cambodia, Laos, the Philippines, and, more as a curiosity, in Florida and Hawaii.
Availability of Wampee in India
Wampees grow on a limited scale in India and neighboring Sri Lanka. China, Vietnam and Malaysia have a much stronger relationship with this bright, juicy fruit. And yet, its ability to thrive in tropical and subtropical temperatures makes wampee conducive to growing in several parts of the country from Maharashtra to Tamil Nadu. Chennai, Calcutta and Poona are notable examples of select cities growing the fruit in their loamy soils. In the south, farmers grow the Clausena dentata variety, and Indian farmers also grow a variety called Clausena indica.
Wampee’s requirement for warmer soils and watering during extreme dry heat exclude it from cooler states like Jammu and Kashmir, and scorching states like Rajasthan. Farmers willing to monitor the fruit in temperature-controlled settings will not be disappointed—after all, wampees have been grown successfully within greenhouses in England. The crops also rarely succumb to pests and diseases. In India, wampees come into season from May through July.
Where to find Wampee in India
Wampees are a rarity in India, found only by rural vendors selling them near the trees when in season. Unfortunately, wampees are highly perishable and require chilling shortly after harvest. These impediments restrict widespread enjoyment of these fruits in larger markets.
Checking for Ripeness in Wampee
Unripe wampees blend in on the tree with a lime green to pale gold exterior. When ripe, wampees have golden yellow to golden brown skin marked with light fuzz. Light brown speckles on the fruit are perfectly acceptable. Avoid dark fruits with obvious bruising and cracks.
Taste of Wampee
Wampees are mostly sour mixed with a bit of sweetness. The texture is gelatinous like a grape, fleshy and juicy: expect sticky fingers when eating. The taste bears resemblance to its citrus relatives: tart, tangy, with a bit of a metallic chemical bite as an aftertaste. The sweetness hiding in wampees amidst the overwhelming sour notes has similarities to peaches and pineapple.
Because wampees are not a commercialized crop in India, the taste varies substantially: some may taste sweet and citrusy, others will be overwhelmingly sour, resinous and unpalatable.
Nutritional Value of Wampee
According to the book, “Edible Medicinal and Non-Medicinal Plants,” wampees contain the following values per 100g:
148mg Vitamin C
Health Benefits of Wampee
Wampee’s health benefits are outlined as a folk remedy in the book, “A Time Far Past: A Novel of Vietnam.” In the book, a wife advises her husband to steam wampee fruit, rose petals and honey as a cold remedy for their baby.
The health benefits of wampee extend beyond folklore:
--A 2013 article published in Inflammation Research mentions the fruit’s extracts benefits as an anti-inflammatory, anti-cancer, and anti-trichomial. When studied, fruit extracts reduced inflammation.
--A 2011 study published in the Acta Pharmacolica Sincica found that flavonoid extracts may serve as treatment for Parkinson’s disease.
--According to a 2009 study published in the Journal of Ethnopharmacology, the stem bark exhibits anti-inflammatory properties, confirming their traditional benefits against bronchitis and hepatitis. Additionally, the study referenced its usefulness as a treatment for diabetes and trichomoniasis.
--A 2010 study published in Food Chemistry found that wampee peel is anti-cancerous, reducing cancer cell proliferation in human liver carcinoma, human cervical carcinoma, and human lung adenocarcinoma.
--A 2003 study published in Biological Chemistry found that wampee seeds have a chemical indicating anti-HIV activities.
--According to a 2009 study published in the Journal of Biomedicine and Biotechnology, wampee peel extracts displayed anti-cancer activities against human gastric carcinoma, human hepatocellular liver, and human lung adenocarcinoma cancer cell lines. The results outperformed the conventional cancer drug, cisplatin.
How to Open/Cut:
First, wash the fruit—the hairy skin tends to collect dirt quite easily. Consume a wampee like a lychee or longan: peel the thin, pliable skin and slurp the insides. The one to five large greenish black seeds in the middle are not edible but easily removed. The mildly resinous skin is edible, for those who are impatient to get to the piquant flesh. In China, it’s common to smash the fruit using the knife blade before consumption, as it’s believed to release the flavors.
If possible, keep wampees on their branch until consumption. Wampees are quick to deteriorate once plucked, thus requiring instant storage once detached from the stem. Keep in the refrigerator between 2-4 Celsius in a perforated bag, where they will last for a week or two.
Wampee Recipe Ideas and Uses:
--Because of wampee’s high anethole oil content, it is used to make anisado—an anise wine common in Spain and a few South American countries. Asian countries ferment the fruit and make a champagne-like beverage.
--Use the juice in salad dressings and marinades. The juice will also make a quality glaze when caramelized.
--Its tangy flavor lends itself well to sorbets and popsicle recipes
--Wampis may be heated, boiled, grilled, simmered and baked as well.
--The anise flavor of the leaves makes them viable curry leaf substitutes
--In China, the fruit is often simmered for preserves and dried, where the fruit’s shelf life is extended to a few years.
--Use in fruit cups and gelatins.
Litchi, longan, calamondin, kumquat, lemon, lime, bael, elephant apple, pineapple, peach
Herbs, spices, and oil: citrus rind, star anise, cinnamon, nutmeg, vodka, champagne
China grows a few varieties of wampee, including “cow’s kidney” and “chicken heart.”
Wampi’s name comes from the Cantonese name, “Wong Pay,” which roughly translates to “yellow skin.”
The variants that grow in India are:
Clausena dentate dulcis
*Surprisingly, wampees are part of the broader citrus family. Some botanists have grafted wampees with rough lemons and grapefruits with some success.