The jamun fruit has a host of therapeutic properties and the best time to eat it is during the monsoon, when the tree is fruiting
In Delhi, the onset of the monsoon coincides with the fruiting of the jamun tree. The smell of squashed ripe and unripe jamun that fall on the ground mixes with the smell of the soil and creates a heady aroma that I use as my personal indicator for the impending monsoon.
The jamun fruit (Syzygium cumini) grows bigger, sweeter and more luscious as rains progress and the best time to eat them is during pouring rains. The fruit has antimicrobial properties which make it perfect for this time when infections, especially those of the stomach, are common.
The pulp of is nutritive and contains minerals like sodium, potassium, calcium, phosphorous, iron and zinc; water soluble vitamins like ascorbic acid, thiamine and niacin and even amino acids like alanine, asparagine, tyrosine, glutamine and cysteine.
The fruits, the pulp and seed both, are very popular among diabetics. Fruits are prescribed in Siddha, Ayurveda and Unani systems of medicine. The seeds have flavonoids which have hypoglycemic properties.
For example, the presence of compounds like jambosine and jambolin halt the conversion of starch into sugar. As the fruit is available only for a brief period, diabetics depend on the seed for the most of the year.
The fruit has a wider utility in improving health. Researchers from the Department of Agricultural and Food Engineering at IIT Kharagpur listed down the various health benefits attributed to the fruit in a review paper published in the Indian Journal of Natural Products and Resources in 2014.
They found that researchers across the world have studied the tree — fruit pulp and seeds — and found them to possess antidiabetic, antimicrobial, gastro-protective, hypolipidemic, cardioprotective, immunomodulatory, chemopreventive, radioprotective and anti-inflammatory, antipyretic and hepatoprotective properties.
Jamun, also known as Malabar plum, Java plum and black plum, is said to be a native of India and is cultivated throughout the Indian subcontinent. The fruit has a combination of sweet, mildly sour and astringent flavour and tends to colour the tongue purple. The presence of this colour, given to it due to the presence of anthocyanin, has made it popular as a colourant for foods and pharmaceuticals.
Traditionally, jamun fruits are used to prepare vinegar which was also used by diabetics. It has been found that this vinegar also leads to weight loss and is therefore becoming even more popular.
Entrepreneurs have come up with many more products. Products like dry fruit powder and juice are quite popular. The shelf life of the powders is as long as a year and this helps increase availability.
In many cases, jamun is added to other fruit juices too. The dried pulp is also available in the form of chips. Even wines are now being prepared from the fruit.
While the fruit tastes best when sprinkled with black salt and eaten raw, it can be converted into juice easily at home too. This might make it more attractive to those who do not want to keep spitting out the seed every minute or so.
Its shelf life can be increased by a couple of days by turning it into a sweet chutney or jam too. The purple colour makes it an interesting ingredient to play with in ice lollies, smoothies and even raitas (curds).
In Delhi, indigenous tree species such as neem, peepal, pilkhun, jamun, arjun, khirni and imli were planted along the sides of roads when British architect Edwin Landseer Lutyens was entrusted with the task to plan New Delhi in 1911.
These trees were planted for the purpose of shade and to act as windbreaks. These trees come under the purview of the municipality which auctions the trees for fruit collection every year. However, these trees do not have very good fruits and most of them are wasted.
Though the jamun tree is important, there is very little information on cultivation and high yielding varieties are not available. It would also help if dwarf varieties were developed as the tree is very high and this makes collection of fruits very difficult.
News reports suggest that this year, a subsidy has been being provided for buying equipment for collecting the fruit in the state of Maharashtra.
There is no data on the area under these trees in India as they are scattered across the tropical and subtropical regions of the country. The major production of this tree, which thrives in dry conditions, is in Maharashtra.
Other producers include Uttar Pradesh, Tamil Nadu and Assam. A few varieties have been developed under the ICAR-funded National Network Project on Underutilised Fruits at the Central Institute for Subtropical Horticulture, Lucknow.
RECIPE - JAMUN JAMIngredients
Wash the fruits properly, put them in a pan and mash them with hands to remove the seeds. Add a little water if needed. Put the pan on flame and cook the mash. Add sugar and cook till the jam thickens. Add lemon juice after the jam cools down. Store in a clean jar. This can be used for a few days now.
Remove the seeds from the fruit and put in a mixer. Add mint leaves, sugar, salt and ice cubes and pulverise. Pour into shot glasses and enjoy.
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