Pearls of Power, from Soil to Soul
Their goodness has been proven for centuries across history, and even today, these four native Indian superfoods make for inextricable ingredients of a healthy life
With seasonal changes and viral onslaughts come health vulnerabilities, and strange times call for the strongest fortification of the body and immune system. It is here that certain superfoods, indigenous to Indian cuisine for thousands of years and recommended by experts, play an important role even — and especially — today. The Charak Samhita, an ancient Sanskrit text that talks about traditional Ayurvedic medicine, mentions each of these foods as a source not only of nourishment for the body, but also of protection against diseases.
Some of these gems of the earth include makhana (lotus seeds / fox nuts), kamrak (carambola/star fruit), bael (wood apple) and amaranth. In addition to their common origin, these date back to ancient times – their popularity also stemming from the fact that they are all part of the traditional Indian vrat ka khana (food for fasting and detoxing). Here’s a quick reckoner to remind you why they must already be on your shelf!
Bael (wood apple)
An elixir for the digestive system and intestinal health, nothing beats bael. Legend has it that emperor Ashoka found the wonders of the fruit on one of his conquests, when a farmer offered him its juice instead of water. The king went on to incorporate bael juice as an essential summer drink in his court. Although the fruit is best consumed in summer, its vitamin, mineral and antioxidant-enriched composition makes it suitable for all seasons. Be it as a concentrate, a flavouring agent in desserts or as a murabba (in candied form), the fruit is recognized not only for its medicinal value – protecting you against various diseases – but also functioning as a natural coolant agent.
Benefits: Bael is a well-known home remedy for diarrhoea, dysentery and peptic ulcers, and is a mild laxative. It is also a fantastic source of many important minerals, including calcium.
Often known as rajgira or ram dana, Ayurveda considers it an important addition to the diet and recommends it to those suffering from anaemia. Before it was acknowledged as a modern superfood, its 60-odd varieties were regarded in ancient times as a magic potion that kept the sufferings of ageing at bay.
Today, it remains a prized crop not only as fresh produce, but its leaves make for delightful culinary indulgence in salads its dried grains in instant breakfast cereal. Roasted, popped and ground amaranth are still breakfast staples in many parts of India.
Benefits: Rich in iron, zinc, calcium, phosphorus and fibre, amaranth trumps quinoa in terms of nutritional value.
Makhana (lotus seeds / fox nuts)
If ancient Indian texts are anything to go by, makhana – also known as fox nuts – have been harvested in India for several centuries now. Flowering at the start of winter, these little snowy globes are the earliest known puffed snack and were enjoyed for both satiation and nourishment even back in the day. The tasty bob-shaped pops are low in sodium and saturated fats, making them a guilt-free snack often roasted with salt and pepper, and they also make for delectable ingredients in Indian cooking, especially with potatoes and curry.
Benefits: Studies show they may be naturally superior to almonds, walnuts and cashews in terms of sugar, protein, ascorbic acid and phenol content, and are good sources of antioxidants and fibre.
One of the few naturally occurring foods offering a rare zing, kamrak is an instant palate lifter. The golden-yellow star shaped beauty is a versatile treat that works wonderfully during the seasonal transition towards summer. It can be enjoyed raw or ripe, made into a chutney, turned into a delicious beverage, rolled into little candy treats and savoured with rock salt, and more. In contemporary kitchens, it is also used as a flavouring agent in desserts while in traditional Indian cuisine, a variety of rasams in South India are based on its interesting flavour profile. Originating from the Sanskrit word karmaranga, meaning appetiser, carambola is also a natural palate cleanser.
Benefits: It is a great source of antioxidants, Vitamin C, Vitamin B, potassium, copper and fibre, and is low in sugar and acids. It remains one of the best home remedies for several ailments, especially those related to skin.