Fruits in Sri Lanka
One of the earliest mentioned fruits in Sri Lanka is the mango. Other fruits growing wild in the dry and wet zone jungles in Sri Lanka include divul (woodapple), palu, weera, mora, kon, nelli, madan, goraka, tamarind, beli, koholle lavulu, timbiri, himbutu.
@ WS / By: Chandra Edirisuriya
Fruits are by far the most natural and valuable source of nutrition for man because fruits can be eaten uncooked and cooking destroys the nutrients in most foods. The story of Adam and Eve eating the forbidden fruit is symbolic of the importance of fruits. It was very natural for man to pluck sweet-smelling ripe fruits that grew in the wild when man lived in caves. As long as man lived in the jungle in the natural setting, fruits formed the principal diet.
Fruits available in this country can be categorised into endemic, those brought from overseas and grown here and imported fruits. One of the earliest mentioned fruits in this country is the mango. The well-known questions Arahant Mahinda asked King Devanampiyatissa, to test the king's intelligence was about a mango tree.
Other fruits growing wild in the dry and wet zone jungles in Sri Lanka include divul (woodapple), palu, weera, mora, kon, nelli, madan, goraka, tamarind, beli, koholle lavulu, timbiri, himbutu.
Fruits brought from other countries and propagated here include jak, papaw, bananas and plantains, guava, pomegranate, avocado or alligator pear, mangosteen, rimbuttan, cashew apple, jambola, tangerine, orange, pears, peaches, strawberry, gooseberry, mulberry, loquats, lime, star-fruit, anona, passion fruit, pineapple, sapadilla, durian, rata goraka, breadfruit etc. Mulberry fruits when fully ripe make an excellent jam and a single tree in the garden will supply enough fruits to eat as fresh fruit also.
Breadfruit is not eaten uncooked. It is said even wild animals like elephants do not eat the ripe breadfruit fallen on the ground from trees in the African jungles because it contains some strong acid. It is because of this that boiled breadfruit is eaten with liberal quantities of scraped coconut or made into a mallun with a scraped coconut and turmeric etc or into a curry with coconut milk and spinach, to neutralise the acid.
Breadfruit is also peeled, cut, sliced and dried to make a sweetmeat by frying in oil and coating it with sugar or treacle.
Breadfruit was introduced to this country by the Dutch, from the East Indies, because they wanted to export the rice produced here. In Fiji, Tonga Islands Hawaii and other islands in the Pacific ocean it is eaten roasted with pork. A pit is dug and lined with banana leaves. Peeled breadfruit and pork with salt etc. added, is laid in the pit, covered with more banana leaves and topped with soil. A fire is lit with firewood on the covered pit for the contents to be roasted.
Jak is a versatile fruit eaten as a curry when tender (polos), boiled and eaten with scraped coconut or pork curry or made into a curry (kiri kos) to eat with rice, when mature. Tender jak mallun is also prepared with scraped coconut, turmeric, black pepper etc also to eat with rice. Mature, cream or yellow-coloured pods of the jak fruit are boiled and dried as atu kos, fried in oil and put in hot sugar syrup or treacle to make a sweetmeat.
Ripe jak as wela or waraka was available canned sometime back but not now, and is a delicacy. The ripe pods are usually golden yellow but waraka with pink-coloured pods is also to be enjoyed. The mature jak seed is preserved in sand (veli kos eta) to be eaten during scarcity. An excellent melluma (niyambalawa) is made from jak seed so preserved. Raw mature jak seeds are also made into a curry with roasted and ground scraped coconut (kalu pol maluwa). Jak seed can also be eaten boiled or roasted under embers in the fire place, with coconut.
Aggala, a sweetmeat ball is made from roasted jak seeds mixed with scraped coconut, sugar or jaggery, black pepper and salt to taste, pounded in the mortar with a pestle. Both jak and breadfruit are dehydrated now to make various preparations.
Divul (woodapple) is now cultivated as a plantation crop in the Southern province, because this fruit has a big demand, to make divul kiri, mixing the pulp of the fruit with coconut milk, jaggery or sugar and salt to taste and to make jam on a large scale for domestic consumption as well as for export. It is difficult to get mature, well-ripened divul fruit in the market because unscrupulous traders pluck the tender fruit and ripen it artificially. However, good-quality fruits can be bought from supermarkets and reputed dealers at reasonable rates.
The most common varieties of bananas and plantains grown in this country are ambul (sour plantain), ambun (brought from Ambonia, where porridge made from flour obtained by pounding sliced and dried ambun is given to infants, kolikuttu, anamalu (ripe anamalu with boild eggs is given to those recovering from food poisoning) rath kehel (red banana) called merandavalu in Tamil because of its medicinal properties, ash plantains (alu kehel) made into curry after frying or just raw but more nutritious when ripe (an ayurvedic rasayanaya is prepared by mixing ripe ash plantains and kithul jaggery and burying it under the fireplace in a clay pot), suwandel, seeni kehel, rata honnaravalu, puvalu etc. Ati kehel grows in the wild. The high potassium content in bananas is said to prevent strokes.
Bananas and plantains are best eaten tree-ripened or left to ripen in the shade. Smoking used to be the method of ripening in the villages when it was necessary to ripen large quantities in a short time of two or three days in view of festivals or wedding ceremonies. A pit is dug in a shed and burnt with dried plantain leaf and straw. Bunches of bananas are cut into combs and stocked on a layer of keppetiya, biling and caju (cashew) leaves held to the fire and covered with more such leaves.
The pit is then covered with planks, gunny bags and topped with soil. A hole is bored in the soil leading to the chamber where the fruit is to blow smoke into it, every six hours or so. Now traders use smoke rooks to ripen large quantities of fruit. Application of chemicals is now recommended by the Department of Agriculture to ripen fruits all at the same time on condition that the chemicals do not come into direct contact with the fruits.
Bananas are by far the most widespread fruits in this country. Matara and Alawwa are famous for kolikottu. Anamalu is confined to the wet, cool areas in the hill country starting in the Rambukkana area. Ambun is cultivated in the wet zone both low country and up country.
Ambul plantains are grown throughout the country. Ambul plantains of record size used to be grown in Jaffna by the industrious Jaffna farmers. Rath kehel, the most nutritious of all bananas needs very fertile soil. Puvalu and suwandel are delicious varieties found in the country. Every home garden can accommodate at least one kind of banana to advantage.
Mango is also one of the most popular tropical fruits. It is extensively grown and consumed in India. Mango juice and milk was the favourite and the only diet during the latter part of Mahathma Gandhi's life.
In Sri Lanka mangoes have been eaten from time immemorial. Half a century ago there were only the indigenous varieties like ambul amba, etamba, walu amba, mee amba. Rata amba, pol amba, betti amba, gira amba, dampara, kohy amba, pilikuttu amba were propagated from seeds. Then there were the famous Jaffna mangos like kartha kolomban, vella kolomban etc. All these kinds and the red villard are now also grown as budded trees in plantations mainly in the dry zone.
Pineapple is grown on a large scale in this country in plantations because it has a ready demand in the international market. Fruits like cantaloupe melons and water melons are grown in the Mahaweli areas also for export.
Many other fruits like mangoes, bananas and others can be grown on a large scale for local consumption as well as for export. The export of passion fruit juice was thriving at one time but owing to inability to follow basic rules of quality control it had to be abandoned.
The demand overseas for most tropical fruits exceeds supply. Imported fruits enjoy a good market here because of the stringent quality control exercised by authorities in other fruit exporting countries.
The country has much to gain by growing fruits systematically on a large scale both for local consumption and export. Jams are made from local fruits like divul, mangoes, pineapples, passion fruit etc and from imported fruits like apricots, strawberries etc.
Mixed fruit jams with a combination of those fruits are made. Jams made of fruits like plums, black berries, blue berries etc are imported into the island.
Mango, orange, lime, nelli and mixed fruit cordials are made here. Orange, mandarin, grapefruit, apricot, mango, apple and black current cordials and juices are also imported. Divul kiri also used to be canned by a reputed cannery but no longer. Papaw jam is also not made now because papaw today is one of the most popular fruits eaten fresh. Fruits are best in their natural form rather than preserved.
Almost all kinds of fruits grown in the Mediterranean and temperate climates can be had here. Apples take pride of place among imported fruits. In the 1940s and the 1950s there were only green apples which were very sweet smelling, each one wrapped in tissue paper and packed in pinewood boxes.
Apples of different colours, shades ranging from red to pink to green are imported from the US, Australia, China, India and Pakistan. Jaffa oranges came first and now oranges and tangerines come from Australia and Pakistan as well.
Red and green grapes come from Mediterranean climates. Even plums, kiwi fruit, nectarin and grapefruits are available at the supermarkets at a price for those who can afford to buy such exotic fruits.