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Sunday, 12 January 2014

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The resourceful biling fruit

Averrhoa bilimbi, commonly known as bilimbi, bimbli, belimbing, blimbling, biling or bimbiri is a sour, tangy, juicy fruit which makes a regular appearance in Sri Lankan cuisine, if available.

Itís shaped like a small cucumber and tastes almost like a star fruit. It is crisp when green and slightly soft and juicy when ripe. Biling is an attractive, tropical tree, reaching 5-10 m in height; has a short trunk that divide into a number of upright branches.

Its leaves are mainly clustered at the branch tips. Crispy when unripe, the fruit turns from bright green to yellowish-green, ivory or nearly white when ripe and falls to the ground. The outer skin is glossy, very thin, soft and tender, and the flesh green, jelly-like, juicy and extremely acid.

There may be a few (6-7) flattened, disc-like seeds, 6 mm wide, smooth and brown.

A. bilimbi is cultivated throughout the Asian region including Indonesia, Philippines, Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore and Sri Lanka. The plant is frequently seen in gardens across Sri Lanka. Ideally, the plant prefers humid climates and the rainfall should be rather evenly distributed throughout most of the year.

The tree makes slow growth in shady or semi-shady situations. It should be in full sun. The tree does best in rich, moist, slightly acidic, well-drained soil, but also grows and fruits quite well on sand or limestone. In Sri Lanka, the Biling tree in season all year round.

A. bilimbi is generally regarded as too acidic for eating raw, but some Sri Lankans savour it with salt and chilli powder. To reduce its acidity, the bilimbi fruit is first pricked and soaked in water overnight, or soaked in salted water for a shorter time; then it is boiled with sugar to make a jam or an acid jelly. The fruit is used for the preparation of vinegar like pickles. The half-ripe fruits are salted, set out in the sun, and pickled in brine and can be thus kept for three months. A quicker pickle is made by putting the fruits and salt into boiling water.

This product can be kept only four to five days.. With one of these trees around, you almost donít have to buy tamarind or any souring agent for your curries. It is added to dal/lentils, coconut based curries, chutneys, pickles and used in many other ways in the kitchen. In addition to the sourness, it has a very unique flavour which gives the curries a special taste which is very different from tamarind. In Sri Lanka, Beling is used in chutneys, usually as a replacement for the mango fruit.

The Beling flowers are sometimes preserved with sugar. It is claimed that bilimbi has extensive medicinal properties. The leaves are applied as a paste on itches, swellings of mumps and rheumatism, and on skin eruptions and stomach aches. It is also used as a treatment for bites of poisonous creatures. A leaf infusion is a remedy for coughs and is taken after childbirth as a tonic. A leaf decoction is taken to relieve rectal inflammation.

A flower infusion is said to be effective against coughs and thrush. A paste of pickled bilimbis is smeared all over the body to hasten recovery after a fever. The fruit conserve is administered as a treatment for coughs and biliousness.

Syrup prepared from the fruit is taken as a cure for fever and inflammation and to stop rectal bleeding and alleviate internal haemorrhoids.

The fruit is used to treat bleeding gums, haemorrhoids, mouth ulcers and tooth decay. It is also used to treat acne, mums and swellings. The bilimbi fruit has been used for the treatment of hypertension and diabetes. It has the ability to eliminate phlegm and reducing heat from the body.

The fruit is also used as a key ingredient to manufacture ointments for dry skin and skin allergies. Its anti-hyperlipidemic, anti-inflammatory properties and healing properties are beneficial for inflamed or erupted skin.

Potential

The Biling fruit has many innovative uses. The the oxalic acid content of the fruit juice is useful for bleaching stains from the hands and rust from white cloth. It is also used to remove tarnish from brass.

Sri Lanka has not yet harnessed the true potential of Averrhoa bilimbi.

Till recently, the bilimbi fruit was not used for economic gain. However, lately, Sri Lanka is exporting foods made with the biling fruit such as pickles, jam, jelly, squashes and toffees.

It is recommended that Sri Lanka explores the possibilities of developing medicinal items for export. Research can be done into formulating new skin ointments, herbal tonics and dietary supplements using the Averrhoa bilimbi fruit. By creating awareness about the benefit of this resourceful fruit, it is hoped that the general public will be more inclined to use this fruit that is growing in the home gardens.

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