DIG INTO FIG

Goolar or wild fig is loaded with pre­bi­otic prop­er­ties

Down to Earth - - CONTENTS - SANGEETA KHANNA

IRE­MEM­BER MY grand­mother telling me bed­time sto­ries when I was a child. Her tales of an­i­mals, birds, trees and forests took me to un­known lands of fan­tasy. One of the sto­ries that has stayed with me was called Goolarkephool. The story was about goolar (fig) flow­ers which were seen by only lucky people, and who­ever was able to see them would find a trea­sure or a lost king­dom. Ex­cited at the prospect of com­ing across a hid­den trea­sure, I would of­ten look cu­ri­ously at the wild fig trees along the road­sides in the hope of find­ing the flow­ers.

Small won­der I never got lucky. I came to know later in school that the small figs I saw on the trees were ac­tu­ally flow­ers which I mis­took for fruits. I learnt in my bi­ol­ogy class much later that the fig is an in­flo­res­cence (clus­ter of flow­ers) called syco­nium. This is an urn-shaped struc­ture with the flow­ers hid­den in­side. The re­cep­ta­cle is fleshy, which makes fig a pseudo fruit. The flow­ers are pol­li­nated by small in­sects that crawl in through tiny open­ings in the cup.By the time a fig is ripe, the in­sects com­plete their life cy­cle—a per­fect ex­am­ple of sym­bio­sis be­tween flow­ers and in­sects.

People in In­dia con­sider the fig tree sa­cred and it is of­ten planted around houses and tem­ples.They are also planted as shade trees in cof­fee plan­ta­tions in south In­dia. In­ter­est­ingly, fig was never cul­ti­vated in the coun­try. It was for­aged dur­ing the harsh sum­mer months and at the be­gin­ning of mon­soon when green veg­eta­bles were scarce. Ven­dors who sold the fruit in the mar­ket had to col­lect it from the jun­gles or road­sides. Figs are a favourite of macaques, squir­rels and most birds, par­tic­u­larly bar­bets, tree pies and para­keets. Thanks to the dis­per­sal of seeds by an­i­mals, fig grows in the wild all over the coun­try.

Sci­en­tif­i­cally called Fi­cus­race­mosa, the In­dian fig tree is a rel­a­tive of banyan and is pop­u­larly known as clus­ter fig or coun­try fig. The fruit is called an­jeer in Urdu.The name is pop­u­lar in Hindi as well. Ben­galis bet­ter know it as du­mur. Al­though goolar and an­jeer re­fer to the same fruit, the names are nowa­days used for two dif­fer­ent va­ri­eties,

prob­a­bly depend­ing on the place of ori­gin.

Goolar ( Fi­cus­race­mosa ) is the lo­cal va­ri­ety which grows in the wild.It is small in size and mildly sweet when ripe. Figs that are im­ported from Per­sia, Iran and Afghanistan are known by the Per­sian name an­jeer ( Fi­cus

car­ica). This va­ri­ety is larger and sweet when ripe. The Per­sian fig is pre­ferred for its taste and at­trac­tive­ness—it is fleshy and has a deep pur­ple colour. To­day these are sold in In­dia in up­mar­ket stores at a pre­mium price. For the past few years, a hy­brid va­ri­ety of fig is be­ing cul­ti­vated in Ma­ha­rash­tra by cross­ing the In­dian goolar and the Per­sian

an­jeer. This va­ri­ety is called Puna fig or pune­r­i­an­jeer.

Goolar comes with a host of health ben­e­fits. It has cool­ing, pu­ri­fy­ing, heal­ing and anti-in­flam­ma­tory prop­er­ties, ac­cord­ing to Ayurveda. Sci­ence, too, val­i­dates these medic­i­nal claims. A re­view pub­lished in the In­ter­na­tional Jour­nal of Phar­ma­ceu­ti­cal Sci­ences Re­view and Re­search in 2010 shows that the fruit can help re­duce choles­terol. The sol­u­ble and in­sol­u­ble fi­bre in the fruit is pre­bi­otic in na­ture, which helps main­tain a healthy gut.

I have al­ways as­so­ci­ated goolar with my grand­mother. She not only told me sto­ries about this won­der fruit, but also knew how to use it to cure day-to-day ail­ments. Liv­ing up to a ripe old age of 105,she al­ways turned

to goolar when she had an up­set stomach.

She would mostly make goolarka­chokha (boiled and mashed fig with sea­son­ing), al- though she loved the spicy meaty curry cooked with it.Dur­ing my days in Jhark­hand, I learnt from the tribes there that the de­hy­drated and pow­dered raw goolar can be taken with su­gar candy to treat E.coli in­fec­tions.

Goolark­isabzi has al­ways been a fam­ily favourite.The last time I tasted this curry was a cou­ple of years ago when I was vis­it­ing my home in Varanasi. I miss the del­i­cacy here in Delhi. Al­though I had no­ticed a few goolar trees around my colony, I never took the pain to pluck the fruit my­self. But last month I de­cided to try out a few recipes I learnt from my grand­mother. I asked the gar­dener to bring me some figs from the nearby trees and he obliged. I cooked chokha and kabab and made pickle with the re­main­ing figs.

To cook raw goolar, one has to cut the fruit in quar­ters, clean the in­te­ri­ors of all the flo­ral parts and in­sects.The fleshy re­cep­ta­cle is par­boiled and then ei­ther cur­ried or mashed to make bharta, or chokha. Ripe figs of all va­ri­eties are highly per­ish­able—they start soft­en­ing very fast and rot within a cou­ple of days.

De­hy­drat­ing can pre­serve them.The im­ported figs are de­hy­drated and called sookhi

an­jeer. This is an ex­cel­lent rem­edy for con­sti­pa­tion. Just soak it overnight and take it with milk the next day. The nat­u­ral sweet­ness of

sookhi­an­jeer is sim­i­lar to that of raisins and cur­rants; this makes it use­ful in flavour­ing su­gar-free desserts such as kulfi and ice cream.

Goolarka­chokha is a de­li­cious rem­edy

for an up­set stomach

While goolar is abun­dantly avail­able in the

wild, an­jeer (ex­treme right)

is sold in the mar­ket at a high

price

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