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Wood apples look like small coconuts, averaging 5 to 12 centimeters in diameter, and have a hard, woody, white-light brown shell with a rough consistency similar to tree bark. The rind also has a small hole at the top of the fruit where it was once connected to the tree, where it emits a pungent, buttery aroma often likened to blue cheese. It is nearly impossible to determine the ripeness of the fruit just by appearance alone. To test for maturity, the fruit is dropped on the ground from a height of about one foot, and if the fruit bounces, it is not ripe. The pulp or flesh of the Wood apple is ivory when immature, transitioning into orange-brown or dark brown with age. When the rind is cracked open, the flesh has a sticky, mealy, and creamy consistency. Inside the flesh are edible, crunchy, white seeds and the occasional fibrous string. Wood apples have a complex sweet, sour, and acidic flavor, reminiscent of tamarind, eggnog, raisins, and sharp cheeses.
Wood apples are available in the late summer through winter or post-monsoon season in Asia.
Wood apples, botanically classified as Limonia acidissima, are hard-shelled fruits belonging to the Rutaceae family. There are two varieties of Wood apple; the larger, more common variety and a smaller variety known for its acidic nature, found throughout Asia and Southeast Asia. Wood apples are especially favored in India and Sri Lanka for their unique flavor and purifying properties. The pungent fruits are also known by many different names in local markets, including Elephant apples, Monkey fruit, Ma-khwit in Thai, Kaith in Hindi, Katbel in Bengali, Gelinggai in Malaya, and Kramsang in Cambodian. It is important to note that Wood apples are sometimes confused with bael fruit and may be called bael in local markets, but the two fruits are different species.
Wood apples are an excellent source of beta-carotene, which is converted into vitamin A in the body to help improve skin complexion and protect against vision loss. The fruits are also a good source of riboflavin, calcium, iron, phosphorus, and contain some vitamin C. In Ayurvedic medicine, Wood apples are cooling, purifying fruits, believed to help stimulate digestion and cleanse the liver and kidneys. The fruits are also considered to have antimicrobial properties to soothe the throat and help heal insect stings or bites.
Wood apples are typically consumed fresh, out-of-hand, and can be cracked open using the back of a knife or crushed on the ground. Once opened, the flesh is scooped and eaten as is, or it can be sprinkled with sugar for a sweeter flavor. In Sri Lanka, the flesh is popularly mixed with coconut milk and palm sugar to create a sweet, slightly acidic beverage, which is a favorite drink for hot weather. Wood apples are also used to flavor smoothies and shakes, blended into ice cream, or cooked into jams, chutneys, and jellies. In rural villages of Southeast Asia, immature Wood apples are sometimes sliced thin and dipped into a sauce of shrimp paste, shallots, spices, and chile peppers. Wood apples pair well with citruses such as limes, calamondins, oranges, and lemons, chile peppers, onions, cardamom, and tamarind. Whole, unopened Wood apples can be kept at room temperature up to ten days or stored in the refrigerator for 1-2 months. Once opened, the flesh should be consumed immediately for the best quality, or it can be frozen in a mixture of lemon juice for up to six months.
In India, Wood apples are a popular fruit dedicated to the Hindu deity Ganesha during the festival of Ganesh Chaturthi, also known as Vinayaka Chaturthi. This ten-day event is celebrated annually on various dates in the fall, according to the moon calendar, and is known for its grandiose public gatherings. Towns across India create temporary shrines of Ganesha and display the shrines as a form of worship to celebrate the deity’s birthday. Ganesha is an elephant-headed deity, known to have over one hundred different names, and is believed to provide wisdom, happiness, and prosperity. During the festival, Wood apples are placed at the foot of Ganesha shrines, as they are believed to be one of the five favorite fruits of the god. Wood apples are also arranged in decorative piles on tables in homes to offer family and friends snacks when participating in celebrations. The fruits are typically used fresh or blended into beverages, and the shells of the fruit are used as small bowls and ashtrays.
Wood apples are native to regions of Asia and Southeast Asia and have been growing wild since ancient times. The first known reference of Wood apples is found in “Hinduism: An Alphabetical Guide,” which is a text dating to as early as 1 BCE. The fruit was initially considered to be a “poor man’s food,” but in the mid 20th century, it became a favored flavoring, digestive aid, and fruit to dedicate to deities. Today Wood apples have remained a prominent fruit found in markets throughout India and Sri Lanka and are often cultivated along roadsides and agricultural fields. The fruit trees also grow well in Thailand, Malaysia, Cambodia, Bangladesh, Pakistan, and Java.
Recipes that include Wood Apples. One is easiest, three is harder.
|Sanjeev Kapoor Recipes||Wood Apple Chutney|