Sep 25, 2017

Ingredients: Indian Gooseberry, Amla, Amalika, Emblic, Myrobalan

Indian Gooseberry, Amla, Amalika, Emblic, Myrobalan, ingredients, indian, gooseberry, Phyllanthus emblica, fruit,mirobala

The Indian gooseberry, emblic, amalaki, myrobalan, or amla is the fruit of a small to medium-sized tree native to India. The spherical berries are greenish yellow with a fibrous texture. Hand harvested in Autumn, the fruit has a tart, bitter, and astringent taste. The amla tree is considered sacred in Hinduism and is a a staple of traditional Ayurvedic medicine.


Indian Gooseberry, Amla, Amalika, Emblic, Myrobalan, ingredients, indian, gooseberry, Phyllanthus emblica, fruit,mirobala

The amla tree or Phyllanthus emblica grows from 1 to 8 meters (pictured below) in height. It can be found on the plains and sub-mountainous regions of the Indian subcontinent up to nearly 2000 meters above sea level. Its varied natural habitat spans from Burma to Afghanistan and from the Deccan plateau in south India to the foothills of the Himalayas.

Indian Gooseberry, Amla, Amalika, Emblic, Myrobalan, ingredients, indian, gooseberry, Phyllanthus emblica, fruit,mirobala

The Indian gooseberry tree has smooth, gray-brown bark. The leaves are fern-like, oblong, narrow, and up to 2 cm in length much like a tamarind tree. The flowers are inconspicuous and light green in color. An amla tree takes around 5 years to start producing fruit when propagated from seed. It also requires a well-drained loamy soil and full sun exposure. The Indian gooseberry is a deciduous tree that often drops branchlets as well as individual leaves, but generally retains some of its greenery at all times. Amla cultivars are available such as "Chakaiya" or "Banarsi" which reportedly produce better and more prolific fruits than their wild cousins.

Indian Gooseberry, Amla, Amalika, Emblic, Myrobalan, ingredients, indian, gooseberry, Phyllanthus emblica, fruit,mirobala

Amla berries are preferably picked by hand after they turn from green to greenish yellow or greenish white in the Fall. It is recommended to check the seeds inside one berry before picking all of the berries. Seeds that have turned from white to black indicate the fruit is ripe.

Indian Gooseberry, Amla, Amalika, Emblic, Myrobalan, ingredients, indian, gooseberry, Phyllanthus emblica, fruit,mirobala

Amla is described in the ancient texts of Ayurveda as a peerless panacea. The fruit, seed, leaves, roots, bark, and flowers of the plant are used in various preparations in Ayurvedic and Unani healing. Amla not only balances all three doshas but purportedly cures everything from dandruff to diabetes! Most advertisements for therapeutic amla products attribute the fruit's benefits to it's rich content of vitamin C. The advertisements sometimes bizarrely claim vitamin C from amla is far more potent than ordinary vitamin C. Recently, it has been shown that amla does not contain any significant amount of vitamin C at all!

Indian Gooseberry, Amla, Amalika, Emblic, Myrobalan, ingredients, indian, gooseberry, Phyllanthus emblica, fruit,mirobala
β-glucogallin 
What does amla contain? A  mix of organic acids, common tannoids, and some unique tannins. One or more of these unique tannins was mistaken for vitamin C in the initial qualitative analysis conducted on amla more than 50 years ago. In 2014 a new HPLC method for the characterization and analysis of the various constituents of amla fruit was developed by the Sabinsa Corporation. This new spectral technique allowed a research team at Sabinsa Corporation to determine that β-glucogallin and mucic acid gallates are the predominant active molecules in amla rather than ascorbic acid (vitamin C).  This novel combination of  β-glucogallin and mucic acid gallates appears have high antioxidant activity and is much more stable than vitamin C (ascorbic acid). I was unaware that tannins had antioxidant properties. I hope these tannins do not cause bezoars, liver or kidney damage as some can.

Indian Gooseberry, Amla, Amalika, Emblic, Myrobalan, ingredients, indian, gooseberry, Phyllanthus emblica, fruit,mirobala
A happy and prosperous amla grower.
The popularity of amla for use in Ayurvedic remedies has led to problems for wild amla trees. Foragers often take a deleterious short-cut in collecting the fruits from wild trees. Instead of climbing the wild trees and carefully picking each fruit by hand they resort to lopping off large fruit-laden branches which can eventually kill the trees. As a result some areas have been virtually denuded of these valuable wild trees. Government and non-government agencies in India are undertaking efforts to educate foragers to avoid such destructive practices and encourage the development of commercial plantations of amla trees.

Indian Gooseberry, Amla, Amalika, Emblic, Myrobalan, ingredients, indian, gooseberry, Phyllanthus emblica, fruit,mirobala


The Indian gooseberry or amla is often confused with the common gooseberry for some reason. The common gooseberry is grown in cooler regions of Asia but is not related to the Indian gooseberry. The Indian gooseberry is similar in color to the amla fruit but contains a smooth pit, grows on a tree, is quite fibrous, and is about the same size as a golf ball.
Indian Gooseberry, Amla, Amalika, Emblic, Myrobalan, ingredients, indian, gooseberry, Phyllanthus emblica, fruit,mirobala
Common gooseberry (Ribes uva-crispa
In contrast the common gooseberry is slightly larger than a grape, grows on a bush, has a multi-seeded core, and is much sweeter than an Indian gooseberry when ripe. Common gooseberries are belong to the genus Ribes and are closely related to currants.

Indian Gooseberry, Amla, Amalika, Emblic, Myrobalan, ingredients, indian, gooseberry, Phyllanthus emblica, fruit,mirobala

Amla fruits keep well on the tree, but they do not keep as well after they are picked. They must be used or preserved as soon as possible after harvesting. Amla berries are so tough they must be smashed on a mortar before being cut into pieces to dry!





Indian Gooseberry, Amla, Amalika, Emblic, Myrobalan, ingredients, indian, gooseberry, Phyllanthus emblica, fruit,mirobala


One of the most common ways to quickly preserve amla is to cut them into small pieces, mix them with salt and/or lime juice and allow them to sun dry. Dried amla can be used as a souring agent much like amchur in lentil preparations. 


Indian Gooseberry, Amla, Amalika, Emblic, Myrobalan, ingredients, indian, gooseberry, Phyllanthus emblica, fruit,mirobala

Amla can also be candied much like ginger. Even though the box says the candy is sweet be forewarned it is VERY sour. This is a good treat to buy and share with unsuspecting non-Indians - watch their faces when they take a bite of this!
Indian Gooseberry, Amla, Amalika, Emblic, Myrobalan, ingredients, indian, gooseberry, Phyllanthus emblica, fruit,mirobala
Amla berries can also be preserved in sugar syrup like jam or a traditional murabba. These are still quite tart!
Indian Gooseberry, Amla, Amalika, Emblic, Myrobalan, ingredients, indian, gooseberry, Phyllanthus emblica, fruit,mirobala
In some regions amla is commonly pickled with salt, oil, and spices to make achaar. The fiery spices and astrigent amla make for quite the hot and sour accompaniment to a meal. I was served these for breakfast one morning in Delhi alongside a paratha and a little yogurt. Oh my. Having never tasted amla before that was a puckery surprise!

So, I'm all ready to retire and plant an amla orchard! The Sheikh says no and shook his head. Well, darn. What a party pooper. 
Ever tried any amla or Indian gooseberry in any form or fashion?
Is it not the most sour thin you've ever tasted (verging on caustic)?

Calmly currying on,
Bibi

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