Elandha vada is a traditional nutritional snack that is fast disappearing from our food basket
My father used to narrate a story about a fruit when he was studying in Vellore, a district in Tamil Nadu. He and his school friends would often sneak out of the house to buy elandha vada, which was a popular snack during 1960s and 1970s, and even before that. His parents would not allow him as they were concerned about hygiene—the ripened fruits often contain small worms that need to be removed and washed before eating. But my dad and his friends would still go out and buy it from petty shops near the school. When my grandmother got to know about this, she herself started making the snack at home. She would just add dried chilies, which prevents fungal growth.
Landscape and varieties
The snack is prepared with a fruit (ziziphus mauritiana), and it is known by many names—the Indian jujube in English, elandha pazham in Tamil and ber in Hindi, among others. The fruit, which resembles small apples, grows on a tree that is drought-resistant. It is a crop recommended for arid and semi-arid areas. The fruit is red in colour and ripens from December to March.
There is one more species of the fruit called ziziphus nummularia, which is a small shrub and grows up to 3 metres, and grows mostly in dry areas. It is called nari elandhai in Tamil and jhahrberi in Hindi. Both fruits grow in south Asian countries including India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Nepal, and even in Africa. In India, it is found in Haryana, Punjab, Maharashtra, Uttar Pradesh, Gujarat, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Bihar, Andhra Pradesh, Telangana and Tamil Nadu.
The fruit is full of vitamins and minerals. It contains vitamin K, calcium, magnesium and also certain organic acids like succinic and tartaric acids. According to a paper of the Food and Agriculture Organization, these fruits are natural preservatives, and it has recommended them as food additives. The jujube fruits have lot of bio-active compounds which has been clinically proven. According to a study published in Pharmacognosy Reviews in 2015, the fruit has anti-cancer properties.
Similarly, it has been found that the fruit pulp can prevent diabetic neuropathy, a type of nervous damage that afflicts diabetic patients. This medical condition affects the nerves of the leg and feet causing intense pain. This study was published in the Iranian Journal of Basic Medical Sciences in March, 2015.
Its leaves and bark have been used to treat Chicken Pox and measles. According to a study published in Advances in Natural and Applied Sciences in 2010, traditional healers in Bangladesh boil water with the leaves and bark, and sprinkle the water on the affected people. Traditional healers in Kancheepuram district in Tamil Nadu too boil the leaves and bark, which is then mixed in bathing water. This helps treat severe body pain.
The fruit is also consumed in the powdered form. Young tender leaves are dried in the shade and then powdered. This powder is mixed in water and the decoction is used to cure Scurvy, caused due to the lack of vitamin C. This was published in the Journal of Pharmacognosy and Phytochemistry in 2017. A paper published in the Journal of Ethnobiology and Ethnomedicine in 2006 says that the dried bark powder can also be applied to treat wounds. A study published in College Science in India in May 2007 says that a decoction made from the roots of the jujube tree can be used to treat diarrhoea and dysentery.
In Zimbabwe, the fruit is called masau and it is used as food, fodder and biomass fuel. Local people also prepare a wine called kachasu. According to Rome-based Global Facilitation Unit for Underutilized Species, in traditional medicine, masau is used to treat a variety of ailments including flu, cold, malnutrition-related diseases, convulsions in children and indigestion.
The tree is part of stala vriksham—monumental trees that are indigenous to every historical Hindu temple. The fruit is offered to Lord Shiva, and in all Shiva temples, the fruit is given as much importance as the bael fruit, especially during Mahashivarathiri. The tree is also considered sacred in gurdwaras, because Guru Nanak is believed to have received enlightenment beneath this tree.
Wash the fruits in running water. Drain the water and wipe the fruits. This is very important as there should be no moisture. Then split each fruit to see if there are any worms. Remove the worms and wash the fruits. Mash the fruits by hand. In a separate container, add the dried chilies, asafetida and salt and pound it to a coarse powder.
Add jaggery and pound them together. You can also use a mixer to grind. Now add the pounded paste with the mashed fruits, mix well and pat it into round shape, like a vada. Then spread a butter paper or a cling wrap and place the vadas on it and sundry them for 3-4 days until they are crisp. This helps in preservation.
(This story was first published in the 1-15th February, 2018 issue of Down To Earth under the headline 'Tangy buds').
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