The Importance of Fruits In Indian Cooking

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Where would any tropical country be without its fruits? Besides, India is fairly unique, even amongst tropical countries. Apart from its hot and humid coastal regions, it has dry plains, with extreme summers and winters; an annual monsoon that drenches the whole country; and the most imposing mountain range in the world. The result of this phenomenal climatic and geographical variation is that India is able to grow virtually every known fruit. Apples, berries, mangoes, melons, peaches, bananas, coconut and a range of other fruits all grow in abundance. Fittingly, fruits play a prominent role in Indian cooking and eating. Here are some of the most common uses.

Pickles and Chutneys

For most people, an Indian meal is unimaginable without pickles and chutneys (local Indian sauces), and fruits figure prominently in both these kinds of accompaniments. As far as pickles go, raw mango, lime and amla (Indian gooseberry) are the first fruits that come to mind. It is no surprise that mango, the countrywide favorite amongst fruits, is a highly favored pickle ingredient everywhere. Naturally, specific recipes and styles of preparation vary regionally, even if pickle ingredients are similar.

The sweet-and-sour flavor of most chutneys would be unimaginable without the right fruit ingredients. Tamarind, tomato, mango and coconut all have their own chutney recipes. While some of them are popular meal accompaniments, there are others, which are also used as cooking ingredients. Tamarind chutney especially is used as a strong flavoring ingredient in certain North Indian street snacks and a yoghurt preparation known as raita.

Coconut and South India

The relation between fruits and Indian cooking would not be complete without considering the heavy influence of coconut on South Indian cooking. The coastal climate and fauna dominate, the further South you get, and that invariably means coconuts. The hard-shelled fruit is used in the world-famous South Indian coconut chutney, a range of vegetable and fish curries and a wide array of desserts. Of all the Southern states, it is in the cuisine from Kerala that coconuts features most prominently.

Kerala is also the country’s most prominent producer of bananas, and probably the only region that not only uses bananas in desserts, but even has a curried preparation made from banana stems!

Fruits in Indian Desserts

The association between fruit and desserts is basic to any form of cooking, and Indian cooking is no exception. There are more fruit-based desserts in India than can possibly be listed in one article. Besides, Indians have adopted puddings, pies, tarts and cakes from non-indigenous cultures over centuries of foreign influence. Some popular native Indian fruit desserts are carrot pudding (gajar halwa), fruit cream/custard, mango kulfi (a local ice cream), coconut kheer, kajoo barfi (a cashew-sweet) and fruit raita (chopped fruits in whipped yoghurt).

Indian Fruit Drinks

Since most of the country reels under intense summer heat, fruit juices, drinks and chillers are very common everywhere. People on the move generally stop somewhere during the day for a glass of fresh juice. At home, drinks such as lemon water and fruit sharbats (squashes) are commonly sipped during meal times and afternoons. Coconut water is also highly sought after, especially in the coastal regions, and aam ras and aam panna, two traditional mango drinks are popular all over North and West India during the summer.

It is safe to say that the Indian cuisine would be incomplete without fruits. Almost every household in the country finds a role for nature’s sweet delights, and rest assured, there are so many uses of fruit in Indian cooking that there is no way one article can cover everything!

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