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Wood apples look like small coconuts with a hard brown shell and a rough exterior similar to tree bark. To test for maturity, the fruit is dropped on the ground from a height of about 1 foot; if it bounces, it isn’t ripe yet. Fruits are left to mature in the sun for 2 weeks until fully ripe. The pulp of the Wood apple is brown, strongly pungent, mealy in texture, resinous, astringent, and tastes acidic or sweet depending on the variety. Ripe Wood apple pulp is similar to tamarind in texture and in scent; with an aroma reminiscent of raisins. Within the pulp are numerous small, crunchy, white, edible seeds.
Wood apples are available in the late summer and into the fall, and can be available through the winter.
Wood apples are considered a national treasure in Sri Lanka. The hard-shelled fruit was known as the “poor man’s food” until processing techniques were improved in the 1950s. There are two varieties of Wood apple; the larger, more common variety and a small variety known for more acidic fruit. Wood apples are often given as offerings to Lord Ganesh, the elephant god. Wood apple is sometimes confused with Bael, or Aegle marmelos which is a similar looking, smaller fruit.
Recent studies show that Wood apple has antioxidant properties and is a natural antimicrobial agent. The Southeast Asian fruit is also known to promote healthy digestion.
Most often the Wood apple is cracked open using the back of a knife and a steady hand, and the flesh is scooped and eaten fresh from within the shell. In Sri Lanka, the pulp is mixed with coconut milk and palm sugar for a refreshing beverage which can also be frozen and made into ice cream. Wood apple is used to make chutneys, jellies and jams. Wood apple doesn’t store well after opening its shell. The pulp can be frozen or mixed with water and strained for mixing with other fruit juices.
In India, Wood apple pulp is used in Ayurvedic medicine as a tonic for the liver and the heart. The unripe fruit is used to treat gum disease, hiccups and sore throat.
Wood apple is native to the dry areas of India and Sri Lanka, and grows throughout Southeast Asia and in northern Malaysia. They are often cultivated along roadsides and sometimes in orchards. Buddhist scholar Xuanzang mentioned Wood apple in his writings which date back to 602 and 664 AD. The fruit’s medical properties are referenced in the writings of military commander and poet Chauvundaraya, dated to 940 AD.
Recipes that include Wood Apples. One is easiest, three is harder.
|Sanjeev Kapoor Recipes||Wood Apple Chutney|