As a country with a rich history of a predominantly agrarian society, cultivating and farming is an integral part of Sri Lanka. The island of Sri Lanka is located near the equator and thereby benefits from tropical climate conditions perfect for farming. Having realized that these climate and soil conditions are ideal for the cultivation of fruits and vegetables, our ancestors cultivated legumes, fruits and vegetables for their daily consumption. Today, as a major exporter of tropical fruit and vegetable varieties, Sri Lanka has marked its presence in global markets, serving exotic varieties to consumers worldwide.
In terms of fruits, Sri Lanka exports generally lesser-known yet widely sought-after fruit varieties such as Rambutan, passion fruit, mangosteen, star fruit, soursop, Uguressa and star fruit. Grown on the fertile soils of Sri Lanka under favourable climate conditions, these fruits are known for the nutrients they contain and the health benefits they bring to consumers.
Going by the scientific name Passiflora edulis, passion fruit has a sweet-sour tart taste. The fruit is round and about 2-3 inches in diameter. It has a thick rind. Once you slice it in half, you are greeted with the consumable juicy yellow pulp and the distinct aroma of it that is often reproduced in bath soaps and scented candles.
A spoonful of passion fruit pulp is packed with vitamins and minerals. As the aroma of the pulp itself will tell you, passion fruits are a rich source of vitamin C. It helps with inflammation, reduces the risk of getting the common cold and keeps your skin looking young. The vitamin A contained in the crunchy seeds and the pulp keeps your eyes healthy and increases immunity; it is known that one passion fruit contains 8% of the daily Vitamin A requirement. Further, passion fruits are packed with minerals like phosphorus, calcium, magnesium, potassium and folate.
The hairy rambutan fruit looks just as exotic as it sounds. Native to Southeast Asia, the rambutan tree belongs to the Sapindaceae family. The edible mushy fruit is covered by a somewhat thick rind that comes with a hairy spike coating. You have to peel off this scarlet or yellow skin to reach the edible part of the fruit. In Sri Lanka, the Malwana region is famed for growing the tastiest and the fleshiest rambutan that is tended to and harvested with utmost care.
The health benefits of rambutan are multiple. Not only is it packed with vitamins like vitamin A and C, but it is also rich in minerals like iron. The high levels of iron in rambutan prevent anemia and increase overall health. Rambutan also helps to reduce the level of LHD cholesterol aka bad cholesterol that can lead to heart diseases and ultimately death. It has been found that rambutan is capable of lowering blood pressure too. The high amount of antioxidants packed in rambutan further keeps those unwanted cancer cells at bay. Also credited for skin rejuvenation and immunity-boosting, this sweet fruit helps those who suffer from constipation too.
Mangosteen, or purple mangosteen, is a tennis ball-sized fruit with a very thick fleshy rind. The rind develops a deep purple color when ripened, hence the name. The edible fruit inside the rind is stark white, contrasting with the purple skin outside. The fruit has a juicy soft texture and National Geographic describes its taste as “a delicious mix of lychee, peach, strawberry, and pineapple.”
Mangosteen is rich in vitamins and minerals. For instance, 96 grams of canned and drained mangosteen offers 9% of the Reference Daily Intake (RDI) of vitamin C, 15% of the RDI of vitamin B9, 7% of the RDI of vitamin B, 6% of the RDI of vitamin B2, 10% of the RDI of manganese, 7% of the RDI of Copper and 6% of the RDI of Magnesium. This exotic fruit is also a powerhouse compacted with antioxidants and is believed to have inflammatory properties. It is further known to promote weight loss.
Also known as Carambola and Five fingers, star fruit is a bright yellow coloured fruit found in the Asian region. It has a sweet taste with a mild sour tinge and a crunchy light texture. Its skin is waxy and thin. Star fruit is found in abundance in Sri Lanka and a bushy tree, studded with saffron-hued stars is a common sight in most backyards.
In terms of the health benefits it brings to consumers, its nutritional profile is quite impressive. Just 91 grams of star fruit contains 1.21 milligrams (mg) of potassium, 2.73 mg of calcium, 0.9 mg of phosphorus, 9.1 mg of magnesium and 1.8 mg of sodium. Rich in antioxidants, the same serving of star fruit brings you beta carotene and 31.3 mg of vitamin C thereby preventing cellular damage. As star fruit is rich in insoluble dietary fiber, it will help food pass through the digestive system easily. And if you are looking for a low-carb, low- calorie and low-sugar snack, this is your best friend. An average portion of star fruit contains only 28 calories and that is why this fruit is popular among clean recipes. Start fruit is also known to have antibacterial, antifungal and antimicrobial properties. In addition, due to the high levels of flavonoids and antioxidants it contains, it can help you with inflammation.
Anoda, or soursop as it is known in English, is a sweet fruit with a creamy texture and a thick full-bodied aroma. It can be eaten fresh or made into a delicious smoothie. Many prefer soursop smoothies with a little honey and milk added. It is one of those fruits that are low in calories and high in nutrients, making it very popular among healthy-eating enthusiasts with a discerning taste.
Rich in antioxidants, soursop can fight against harmful compounds called free radicals that cause damage to cells. Also featuring antibacterial properties, soursop can reduce inflammation. Some studies suggest that it can be used to treat high blood sugar levels too. In addition, it has been found that this fruit is even capable of lowering the risk of certain chronic illnesses.
Flacourtia indica is a plant that is native to Asia and Africa. Producing a fruit that is about half an inch (12-13 mm) long, this tree goes by many names such as Madagascar plum, Ceylon plum, Governor’s plum, Indian plum etc. It is commonly known in Sri Lanka as Ugurassa. It depicts a sweet-acidic taste that some characterize as mildly astringent with a touch of sweetness. The flesh of the fruit can be consumed raw or cooked, usually as jams and jellies in case of the latter.
This tropical fruit comes with a range of health benefits. For instance, it can be used to treat arthritis as it contains high amounts of minerals such as phosphorus, calcium and zinc. Rich in iron, the Governor’s plum works well for those suffering from anemia too. It can be used to prevent cough and the common cold due to its high content of Vitamin A, C and riboflavin. It is also known to boost the immune system of consumers.
Elaeocarpus serratus, or wild olives, is a species that is indigenous to Sri Lanka. It is found in the dry zones of the country. Known as Veralu among locals, it makes a creamy smoothie when blended with milk and added a little sweetening. It has a somewhat acidic flavor that is well complemented by milk and a touch of sugar.
Though small in size, the nutrients and health benefits it contains are multiple. It is a versatile companion in the cold and flu season; chock full of Vitamin C, it will keep those sneezes and headaches away from you. Ceylon olives are widely credited for their constipating effects that can be used to treat diarrhoea. In traditional medicine, this fruit is used to treat dysentery. It is also compacted with minerals and fibre that increase overall health.