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How the humble Indian gooseberry caught the attention of the world

By Zubin D’Souza

I don’t know about you guys, but I like to think that most of us have got some food horror story to tell. I know that for some of you Aunty Celeste’s pies with their tough, doughy texture may feature at the top of the list and still others may be reeling at the thought of having Sunita drop in uninvited (again!) and force-feeding the entire batch of her stone ground, organic flour, jawbreaker cookies, but I have another terrible childhood experience. I hated the amla fruit and I hated my parents for sticking that absolutely disgusting, sour excuse for a berry down my throat.

To top it all, my parents displayed pure delight on their faces as they pretended to munch on the same fruit for close to half an hour. Well they wore my patience out, which was okay, but I could not handle the fact that they insulted my intelligence simultaneously.

Now as it always happens with most things Indian, we wait for the West to discover it and then we find that the entire notion was sexy in the first place. We have done it with yoga, with transcendental meditation, Buddhism and chicken tikka makhani. Of course, we did the same thing with amla, but therein lay a twist. Amla and its beneficial properties have been known to us for years, and silly kids like me may have ignored it, but the majority of the population stood by it and made sure that sour or not, it was swallowed without much of a fuss.

The amla did not just get elevated to the status of a superfood by accident. The mythological stories that set the tone for amla consumption are pretty amusing and interesting.

The tree is considered sacred by the Hindus as the Lord Vishnu is purported to dwell in there. There is also another story that says that the tree sprouted out of drops of the nectar of immortality or amrit when they fell on the Earth during the fight between the gods and the demons as to who should have possession of it.

The amla is a sour and astringent tasting fruit with bitter, sweet and pungent secondary tastes, which makes it probably the only food in the world to contain five of the six tastes mentioned in the Ayurveda.

The amla or Indian gooseberry as it is popularly known is considered as one of the most powerful remedies in Ayurveda. It has been mentioned in ancient Vedic texts and even the great Charaka, a sage who was renowned for his knowledge of pharmacology referred to it as the greatest ‘rasayana’.

A ‘rasayana’ incidentally refers to any product that brings about energy and vitality and loosely speaking could also be clubbed under the heading of aphrodisiacs.

The fruit is considered as one of the richest sources of Vitamin C in the world and has been known from ancient times as an antidote to ageing. This small, literally one-inch, spherical, yellowish-green wonder contains anti-oxidant properties, tannins and more Vitamin C than the combined forces of two oranges.

The fresh amla fruit is seasonal and ripens in autumn. Being rather fibrous, it is difficult to eat a whole lot of it raw and it is often prepared and served in the form of pickles, vegetable side dishes or the famous ‘Chyawanprash’.

Amongst the many properties that the fruit possesses, it is a good cardio tonic and helps to increase the working of the heart and thereby the flow of blood, it also helps to enhance metabolism and eases the functioning of all the mechanisms of the body.

Since the vitamins in amla are heat stable, they are not lost in the process of cooking or drying. Should you find it difficult to procure fresh amla berries, the dried versions are available the world over and they are just as healthy.

An amla a day may be able to keep the doctor, physician and undertaker at bay. And since they are not really expensive, you do not need an alternative therapy to keep your creditors at bay!

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