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
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
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
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 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.
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
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