It is pretty exciting to find bael fruit here in Sri Lanka where it is popularly known as “beli” fruit. It is new to me and considered promising due to its perceived health and medicinal benefits. Bael is actually the fruit of a gum-bearing middle sized slender aromatic subtropical tree indigenous to the dry forests of central and southern India, southern Nepal, Sri Lanka, Myanmar, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Nepal, Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia and Thailand. It is currently cultivated all throughout India, in Sri Lanka, northern Malay Peninsula, Java, Fiji Islands and surprisingly, the Philippines.
I cannot recall having encountered the exotic fruit anywhere back home in the Philippines where I have been to about less than 20 of its magnificent 7,107 islands. :-) It is reported to have first fruited in the northern region of the island of Luzon. While I came from the same island, only from the central region, the fruit seems very elusive and probably marketed only to small areas close to where they were produced and may have not yet reached our areas and key cities.
The tree and also the fruit are called by many other names, among them are “bilva”, “bel”, Bengal quince, stone apple, Indian quince, golden apple, holy fruit, “matum”, “phneou”, “bau nau”, “bilak”, “maja pahit”, “modjo”, “oranger du Malabar” and “marmelos”. Sometimes it is called elephant apple and wood apple although there is another popular wood apple in Sri Lanka which refers to a different tree or fruit. The tree grows up to 15 meters tall, with short trunk, thick, soft, flaking bark and spreading sometimes spiny branches with the lower ones drooping. It has a trifoliate leaves and bears fragrant flowers.
A close relative of citrus, the fruit has generally pale green-orange smooth, hard, woody shell about the size of a big orange (5–15 cm in diameter). The skin or shell of the fruit is so hard that it must be cracked open with a heavy knife, bolo or hammer. It has numerous seeds, which are densely covered with fibrous hairs and are embedded in a pale orange-colored, gluey, thick, aromatic pulp. Each seed is encased in a clear, glutinous substance which is valued for its medicinal properties.
The ripe pulp is sweet at first taste but then becomes rather irritating to the throat in the end due to its astringent flavor. The pulp is combined with palm sugar and usually eaten during breakfast. Fresh juice is strained and sweetened to make a drink similar to lemonade and is also used in making a refreshing drink where the pulp is mixed with lime juice or by combining with tamarind.
Mature but still unripe fruits are often made into jam added with citric acid. The pulp can also be prepared into marmalade or syrup, both for food and therapeutic use. The marmalade is usually eaten at breakfast and beneficial for those recuperating from diarrhea and dysentery. A jelly can be made from the pulp either on its own or better yet, in combination with guava to counter the astringency.
There are also varieties of the fruit that are soft shelled and can be broken open by bare hands, but the variety I purchased is so hard that the protective shell is like that of a coconut.
When we eat the first fruit, the pulp taste like a combination of papaya and tiessa or canistel called “atiesa” in the Philippines. The flesh is juicy but sticky, slightly sweet and fragrant but with a hint of astringency. It is not very tasty but not really bad. Eat it with the thoughts of its many health and medicinal properties and the pulp will easily slide down the throat. :-)
I tried making a smoothie from one of the fruits sweetening it with simple sugar syrup. Here are the ingredients for 2 tall glasses of beverage packed with healthy goodness like guyabano shake: flesh or pulp of one ripe bael fruit, about 1½ cup, seeds removed, 2/3 cup simple syrup (equal parts sugar and water), 1 cup chilled water and 1 tray or about 10 pcs ice cube.
Just like in my other fruit shakes or smoothies recipes, just put everything into the blender: ice cube first, followed by water, bael fruit and simple syrup then cover tightly and pulse it several times until the ice cube and bael pulp are broken down and have blended evenly with the other ingredients.
Blend it a couple of times more until a smooth, rich and creamy consistency is attained. Do not over blend.
Pour the healthy drink in 2 tall glasses and serve with a smile. The beverage came out okay but not really great. You can not expect the drink to taste like mango shake, pineapple shake or even avocado shake from a fruit that is prized more for its medicinal purposes than its edible quality. :-)
However, we cannot yet judge the fruit’s food importance right now as the proper preparation might still be waiting to be discovered. I will try a new concoction next time in combination with other fruits, probably guava or lime juice and using other sweeteners, perhaps the also healthy “kithul” treacle and jaggery. c“,)