Amra or Indian hog plum, Amrataka in Sanskrit, has been around forever, secretly flourishing in our backyards and enhancing our health and meals with its medicinal value and sweet-sour tangy flavour. Every monsoon, the tall amra tree in our backyard would become heavy, its branches hung low, drenched with droplets of rain and loaded with a bounty of nutritious goodness. Plucking the fruit also meant a rain bath, and later, delicious raw amra sliced into slivers, sprinkled with chilli powder and a dash of rock salt to tingle the tongue.
What is Amra?
The amra tree is semi-wild, native to Peru and also found widely across the world, including central America, western Africa and Asia. It belongs to the Anacardiaceae plant family or cashew family. The amra tree’s bark, leaves and dried stem too are believed to have healing properties, and is used for medicinal purpose in Ayurveda.
Amra fruit is small, 4-10 cm long, oval shaped, taper at the tip and grow in bunches. When raw and green in colour, amra has a sweet-sour taste and is an excellent source of vitamin C and iron. Mature fruit is yellow and tastes sweet. Inside the slightly leathery outer skin, is a fibrous pale pinkish pulp, with a seed in the core that turns stony when ripe.
Our ancestors didn’t scout far and wide in search of healthy, exotic fruit. They discovered the nutritious values in the fruit that was indigenous to their region, amra being one. The versatile amra can be consumed either raw or cooked. Raw amra makes a refreshing juice; cook it with yellow mustard, salt, turmeric and chilli powder to make a spicy pickle; add it to both red or yellow-split pea lentils for a tangy, soupy wholesome dish, or make a sweet and sour amra chutney, a delicious accompaniment sure to lift any meal.
Nutrient Value of Amra
According to Kavita Devgan, renowned nutritionist and columnist, “Amra is loaded with vitamin C, 100-gram portion of this fruit delivers 46 milligrams of vitamin C, almost 50-60% of our daily need; has lots of iron, some calcium, carotene (vitamin A) and vitamin B. Amra had phytosterols, (antioxidant) which when consumed can keep blood cholesterol levels in check and the heart healthy.”
The humble amra has innumerable health benefits and deserves more attention and appreciation. According to Ayurveda, when unripe, the sour fruit is astringent and aphrodisiac and the sweet, ripe fruit is cooling and soothing. Packed with vitamins, amra helps boost body immunity, fights anaemia, keeps the heart healthy and aids in digestion. And to these, Devgan adds,
- Vitamin C isn’t alone an immunity booster, it helps to improve skin vitality, to heal wounds quickly and reverse the harmful effects of free radicals.
- Iron keeps anaemia away and is especially beneficial to women. It also helps in producing haemoglobin and assists in the transportation and distribution of oxygen through the body.
- Amra is a good source of vitamin A that promotes healthy eyes, skin and overall health of vital organs.
- Also rich in calcium, regular intake of amra will ensure you have healthy bones, your heart and muscles function well, and to prevent osteoporosis.
- For good health good cell metabolism is a must and Vitamin B in amra promotes this, besides aiding digestion, cell health, brain function and boosts energy levels.
When we speak of amra, the first flavour that comes to the mind is that of amra pickle, rustic and authentic, eaten widely in rural India with a simple afternoon meal comprising rice, dal, a vegetable and a spoon of fresh, homemade amra pickle. The fruit is readily available in urban markets too, and can be sourced to prepare this easy pickle recipe.
Method: Wash the fruit, dry well and snip both ends. Cut it into half or in fours. Into a pan of hot mustard oil, add carom, fenugreek and asafoetida and sauté the mix. Then add the amra fruit and sauté for another few minutes, keeping the flame low. Turn off the heat, then add remaining spices; mustard, fennel, turmeric, red chilli powder and salt. Mix well, coating the fruit evenly. Fill the pickle mix into air tight jars and keep it out in the sun for few days, shaking the jar once or twice daily.
Best eaten after a few days, the taste of homemade amra pickle lasts long after you’ve savoured the very last piece of deliciousness.
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