Bangalore: Come summer, and roadside vendors can be seen busy chopping and selling coconut-like near-black fruits. The dark brown/purple black fruits, about the size of a small coconut, are ice apples - the most sought-after fruit in summer. In addition to quenching thirst, the fruit has nutritional and medicinal value too.

The fruit, locally called as Taati Nungu, is brought from Tamil Nadu. You cut into the hard shell and out pop three heart-shaped cream-coloured nungus (kernels) with sugary juice inside. Sometimes you can find up to four kernels in one fruit.

Taati Nungu is the tender fruit of the palmyra tree. The British called it 'ice apple' for its cooling effect and translucent ice-like flesh. On storing the loose kernels, the fruit sugar ferments to alcohol, giving it a mild astringent taste.

It is said that this is one fruit that is never contaminated with chemicals and has remained organic for decades.

"The fruit grows naturally absorbing the minerals in the ground and does not require fertiliser. It is not only an organic fruit but also keeps up the glucose levels and helps us withstand the heat wave. Ice apple provides a balanced nutrition comprising glucose, minerals and other necessary energy for the consumers. The fruit is loaded with minerals, especially phosphorous and calcium. With absolutely no fat and protein, it is a boon for those on a diet," says Dr Sunny Chunkapura, RMO of St John's Hospital.

An ice apple vendor, Muthuswamy on Hosur Road says that the fruit is plucked from the tree in the early hours and transported to the city. "I buy it at the City Market and cut the fruit. Daily I sell about Rs 800 worth of ice apples which makes our day during summer," he says.

Now when prices of organic fruits have shot up, ice apple is probably the cheapest fruit that one could afford. A tender fruit will cost about Rs 10.

The matured tree starts flowering when it is around 12 to 15 years old. Each tree bears six to 12 bunches with 10 to 20 fruits in each bunch. Like tender coconut, nungu is harvested from these bunches when it is still not ripe.

Nungu is the tender fruit of the palmyrah palm (Borassus flabellifer), a member of the Palmaceae family. Also known as toddy palm or jaggery palm, the plant is believed to have originated in Africa and grows well in the arid zones of the sub-continent.

Almost all of its edible parts, including fruits, tender and ripe, sprouts and inflorescence satiate the hunger and thirst of those toiling under the sun. The tree has been declared the state tree of Tamil Nadu.

Nongu mixed with tender coconut and immersed in chilled, sweetened milk flavoured with cardamom is the best way to serve the fruit. The fruit along with other edible parts of the palmyra is used for treating stomach and skin disorders. But eating over-ripe kernels can cause stomach pain.

Courtesy: Cityplus