Used in street food, chutneys and perfumes, the climate-resistant fruit is a clear option for farmers
In Delhi, guava assumes the status of street food in winters. Vendors carrying carts full of guavas pick out the fruit, based on the customer's choice; some like it pale green with a firm texture, while others prefer yellow-green ripe ones that are easy to bite, have a sweeter pulp and a strong musky smell. Then there are those who are fond of the seedless varieties or the ones with pink or red flesh. To woo the customers, some vendors also patiently slice the guava to give it the shape of a flower or sprinkle chaat masala over it. But other than its taste, what makes the fruit a favourite of most is the ubiquitous nature of the plant in the country.
Guavas (Psidium guajava) are native to Central America and are believed to have been introduced to India by Portuguese traders in the early 17th century. But today, India is the biggest producer of the fruit. It is, in fact, the fourth most important fruit in the country after mango, banana and citrus. Both the area under the fruit and its production has also been steadily growing. In 2022, the area under guava was 315,000 hectares (ha), up from 94,000 ha in 1991-92. Similarly, in 2022, some 4.92 million tonnes of guava were produced in India, an increase from 3.99 million tonnes in 2015. According to the Agricultural and Processed Food Products Export Development Authority, in 2021-22, Uttar Pradesh reported the highest guava production followed by Madhya Pradesh and Bihar.
Two aspects make the cultivation of guava extremely attractive for farmers in India. First, being a shrubby tree that is adapted to both tropical and sub-tropical climate, guava plants can survive high temperatures and drought conditions. In fact, excess watering of the orchard affects the quality of the fruits and drip irrigation has been found useful. Second, farmers can choose when the tree fruits. Simple methods such as withholding water, spraying with urea, root pruning and shoot pruning and bending of branches can be used to control flowering.
Guava has three distinct flowering periods or bahars. These are called — Mrig bahar when the tree flowers in June, Hasta bahar with flowering in October and Ambe bahar with flowering in February. The fruiting periods are November, March and July, respectively. About 80-90 per cent flowers of guava bear fruit initially of which 35-60 per cent reaches maturity. Usually, the winter guava crop is preferred the most, but in South India, farmers choose the rainy season crop as the price is high at this time.
Being a perennial plant that can withstand drought conditions, guava is not only useful for those practising subsistence farming; it can also help farmers deal with climate change impacts. To help farmers earn more from guava, efforts are on to develop improved varieties, such as the ones with fewer seeds and sweeter pulp.
While pink-fleshed fruits were a rarity some 50 years ago, there are now hybrid varieties that produce only red fruits. The Allahabad Surkha guava is pink on the outside and inside, is sweet and has fewer seeds. Other pink varieties include Arka Kiran, developed by Indian Institute of Horticultural Research, and Lalit, released by Central Institute for Subtropical Horticulture, Lucknow. Such fruits find a good market.
Cultivation techniques have been improved too. While earlier, only 275 plants could be accommodated per ha, the Central Institute for Subtropical Horticulture, Lucknow, has developed a meadow orchard system under which 5,000 plants can be grown per ha.
Rich in vitamins
Being highly nutritious, guava is in demand in domestic as well as in international markets. The fruit is a good source of vitamins C, B and A; flavonoids like beta-carotene, lycopene, lutein and cryptoxanthin and minerals like calcium and phosphorus. Guavas are up to five times richer in vitamin C than oranges. The fruit is also rich in pectin and used to prepare juices and jams, as well as a tasty sabji or a chutney at home (see recipes).
The fresh fragrance of a guava is also being used extensively in perfumes. In 2007, Elizabeth Arden Inc, a major American cosmetics, skin care and fragrance company, launched a lightly scented perfume called Believe for women in which the top notes are Guava and Tangerine.
RECIPE - GUAVA CORIANDER CHUTNEYIngredients
Cut and de-seed the guava. Slice it into small pieces. Slice chilli and ginger too. Put all the ingredients in a mixer jar and grind to a paste. This digestive chutney can be consumed with all kinds of meals.
Cut and de-seed a guava. Slice it into small pieces. In a pan, heat the oil; add bay leaf, cardamom, cinnamon and cumin followed by grated ginger, turmeric powder, chilli powder, green chillis and coriander powder. Add the guava pieces, salt and mix the ingredients well. Cover the pan and cook till the guava is soft. Turn off the flame and add lemon juice. The sweet and sour sabji is ready to be eaten with rice or rotis.
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