‘Kaale kale phalse, bade raseele phalse‘ – it was a routine cry every summer afternoon that made my brother and me scamper out of our rooms to get a handful of tart berries, phalsa, for a rupee from the vendor who carried a wicker basket atop his head. A rare sight in most cities now, an ‘exotic’ fruit in others, my grandfather would admonish us for eating what he said ‘donkeys and mules eat in the villages’.
Phalsa shrubs (about 10-15 feet tall) grow in the Himalayan regions of India and thrive at elevations up to 3,000 feet. This is a fruit native to tropical countries. It is available in India during the months of May and June, the peak hot months. Phalsa is purple to almost black in colour when ripe, with a sweet-to-sour taste. Phalsas have a sweetness beautifully counterbalanced by astringent, acidic and sour notes.
In India, the fruit is commercially cultivated in Punjab, Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Haryana, and Rajasthan. On a local level, phalsa also grows in Maharashtra, Gujarat, Bihar, Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh and West Bengal. The fruit needs sufficient sunlight and warmth to ripen fully. Since it is extremely delicate and quick to perish, phalsa is difficult to transport – and probably that explains why it isn’t so easily available, and also a tad expensive.
A very delicate and perishable fruit, it is difficult to transport. This is one of the reasons it is not available throughout the country. When consumed during summers, it provides a much-needed cooling effect.
Medicinal Uses of Phalsa
Phalsa has several traditional health benefits. According to the “Encyclopaedia of World Medicinal Plants,” phalsa is an astringent, coolant, and stomachic. In Vedic times, the bark was used as a demulcent and serves as a treatment for rheumatism. Most importantly, the fruit treats dehydration and acts as a coolant in the unbearably hot summer months. The ripe fruit is cooling. It is used to relieve heat conditions, throat disorders, and stomach aches. Phalsa is also a diuretic, relieves thirst, protects against heat stroke, vomiting, nausea, and uneasy feelings due to heat. This tart berry relieves headaches, pimples, burning sensations, acidity, leucorrhea, and food aversion and also cures anaemia and skin dryness.
Phalsa also has a really low glycemic index – making it a good choice for diabetics. The juice is digestive and alleviates stomach aches, normalises the heart rate and blood pressure.
A 2011 study published in Der Pharma Chemica found that phalsa fruit and leaves exhibited significant anticancer activities against breast cancer cells and liver cancer cells because of the high antioxidant content. According to a study published in the International Journal of Food Science & Technology, phalsa significantly inhibited fungal growth, thereby supporting its traditional use as an antifungal and antimicrobial.
Phalsa is mostly eaten fresh, with a sprinkling of salt and black pepper. However, there are various recipes that allow you to savour the taste of this healthy fruit for a longer time. Chef Anand Panwar, Executive Pastry chef for Roseate Hotels & Resorts, shares his favourite Phalsa recipe.
Phalsa and Raspberry Bomb
- Fresh Phalsa puree – 300 gm
For Raspberry mousse
- Raspberry puree – 100gm
- Mascarpone cheese – 100gm
- Egg yolk – 2 nos
- Sugar – 25 gm
- Milk – 100ml
- Elle and vire cream – 100ml
- Gelatin – 1 golden sheet
- In a pan boil milk and put it on low flame once boiled. Mix egg yolk and sugar separately and add in milk, whisk quickly. Once it is thick let it keep aside to cool down.
- Add soaked gelatin sheet to the above and mix well. In a whipping bowl mix whipping cream and cheese well until soft peaks form.
- Once the egg mixture is at room temperature, add cream cheese mix. Finally, add raspberry puree and combine gently. Pour this mousse mix in sphere mould to fill only about 1/3rd of the mould.
- Layer phalsa puree on this mousse so it fills the remaining sphere mould. Let it set – this should take about two hours. Once set, de-mould carefully and cover with red glaze.
Chef Anand Panwar is Executive Pastry chef for Roseate Hotels & Resorts. Trained at the Delhi Institute of Hotel Management, he has whipped up culinary delights at The Grand, Aman and Dusit Devarana among others. Chef Anand enjoys the alchemy of pairing unusual ingredients to churn out sinful desserts.
Text by Aarti Kapur Singh