|Jackfruit||Bitter Gourd||Snake Gourd||Bottle Gourd|
|Cooking Melon||Luffa||Banana Blossom|
Sri Lanka is known for more than idyllic scenery and golden sandy beaches. Native vegetables from Sri Lanka are being rapidly recognized by consumers from all around the world, mainly due to the high levels of nutritional and medicinal values they come with. Often peculiar looking and depicting an exotic taste, native vegetables from this tropical country are truly a feast, one that will keep your doctor away for a long time.
The locals call the Jackfruit tree the ‘bath gasa’, which translates into English as the ‘rice tree’. The dubbed name is very apt indeed, as the plushie meat of the Jackfruit has often served as a substitute for rice, especially during those times when rations were scarce and starvation was rapidly becoming an unavoidable reality. In Sri Lanka, though orchard growing is not extensively practised, most locals have at least a couple of Jackfruit trees in their backyards.
Proudly wearing the title of the ‘largest known edible fruit,’ these multiple fruits that grow on the Moraceae tree’s trunk are edible at all stages of its ripening process. (1) What is more, almost all components of the fruit can be consumed including the “inflorescence, young fruit, mature starch-rich fleshy perianth, starch-rich seed, and perianth of the ripe fruit (2).” The young fruit and the mature perianth of the fruit can be consumed cooked while the ripe fruit can be eaten raw. The seeds are eaten boiled, ground, added as flour in baking, roasted, and cooked in dishes(1).
Jackfruit has become a worldwide sensation as a star superfood as well. It has a revered reputation amongst healthy eating enthusiasts and this translates seamlessly into the hip culture as Jackfruit wraps (like Starbucks Jackfruit wraps) and a filling for tacos. It is also embraced by vegans thanks to the diverse ways it can be prepared to bring out its meaty texture.
According to a study conducted by Sri Lankan scientists, Jackfruit is a low GI (low glycemic index) food that contains a high level of fibre and thereby slows down the digestion process. This in turn helps with maintaining good blood sugar levels (3). The presence of high fibre content in Jackfruit (3.6g/100g) further improves the digestion system of consumers and leads to smooth bowel movements.
According to research, Jackfruit contains phytonutrients such as lignans, isoflavones, and saponins. With the range of health benefits they bring to consumers, the phytonutrients in Jackfruit are known to prevent the formation of cancer cells in the body, to lower blood pressure, to fight against stomach ulcers, and to decelerate the degeneration of cells and thereby slow- down the ageing process. (4)
Jackfruit is a rich source of vitamin C. The human body does not generate vitamin C and therefore requires the consumption of vitamin C- rich food sources. Thankfully, Jackfruit contains 18% of the Required Daily Intake (RDI) of Vitamin C that “protects the body against free radicals, strengthens the immune system, and keeps gums healthy. (4)”
The amount of Vitamin C in Jackfruit may also prevent inflammation and thereby reduce the risk of chronic diseases like heart disease and cancer (5)
As the name itself suggests, bitter gourd has a bitter taste, though it can be alleviated by adding various condiments and by following different cooking techniques. A tropical and subtropical plant usually found in Asia, Africa, and the Caribbean, Momordica charantia belongs to the Cucurbitaceae family. Several varieties of Bitter Gourd that come in various shapes can be found and the Sri Lankan Bitter Gourd has pointy ends with somewhat thick spikes on the rind. Apart from orchard cultivation for commercial purposes, many Sri Lankans grow Bitter Gourd in their backyards for personal consumption too.
One cup or 94 grams of Bitter Gourd contains 20 calories, 4 g of carbs, 2g of fibre, 93% of the RDI of Vitamin C, 44% of the RDI of Vitamin A, 8% of the RDI of potassium, 17% of the RDI of Folate and 4% of the RDI of Iron.
It is hailed in indigenous medicine for containing properties that can be used to treat various ailments. For instance, Bitter Gourd has been traditionally used to treat “tumours, asthma, skin infections, gastrointestinal problems, and hypertension.” In addition, leaves, fruits and roots of the bitter gourd plant are used to treat fevers. In India, tribal people use bitter gourd extensively, for “abortions, birth control, increasing milk flow, vaginal discharge, menstrual disorders, constipation, etc.” In Sri Lanka, it is used as a “tonic, emetic, and laxative.” (6)
Thanks to its ability to reduce blood sugar levels, Bitter Gourd extract is often prescribed for those who are suffering from diabetes. Its ability to control blood sugar has been confirmed by scientific research too. For instance, a study that involved 24 patients receiving 2000mg of Bitter Gourd a day for 3 months found that the blood sugar levels of participants decreased significantly upon consuming the extract. (7)
Research shows that bitter melon has increased cell regeneration and wound-healing properties. According to a study that focused on the extract of Bitter Gourd pulp, it “significantly stimulated the production of hepatocyte growth factor (HGF) in different cell types,” thereby hastening the healing process. (8)
The potential effects of Bitter Gourd on cancer cells have been explored in many studies. According to one study, “a hexane extract of bitter melons not only had protective activities against cancer but also possessed antioxidant properties.” (9) Another study on cervical cancer patients undergoing radiotherapy found that the e P-glycoprotein level was significantly reduced in NK cell membranes, suggesting that Bitter Gourd may be beneficial to patients undergoing radiotherapy. (10)
Scientifically known as Tricosanthes cucumerina, Snake Gourd is a vine that produces a long fruit resembling a snake, hence the name. Though not widely known in the West, Snake Gourd is a staple vegetable in several Asian countries including Sri Lanka. In Sri Lanka, Snake Gourd is consumed both raw and cooked. Raw Snake Gourd dishes are made of tender fruit plucked before they reach maturity and are often mixed with scraped coconut and presented as a salad. Cooked Snake Gourd is consumed as a curry that comes boiled in coconut sauce.
No matter which way it is prepared, snake gourd is always packed with nutrients. A100g serving of snake gourd is loaded with 3.9 g of fat, 12.5 g of carbohydrates, 0.6 g of dietary fibre, and 2.0 g of protein, 9.8 % of Vitamin A, 11.3 % Vitamin B6, 30.5 % Vitamin C, 12.5 % Manganese, and 5.0 % Phosphorous. In tropical countries, it is known to lower fever and is commonly used as a traditional remedy that accelerates the healing process. According to research, it plays a central role in other forms of medicine such as “Ayurveda and Siddha due to its various pharmacological activities like antidiabetic, hepatoprotective, cytotoxic, anti-inflammatory, larvicidal effects (11).” Snake Gourd is also used to treat dandruff. As a low-calorie food, it helps weight loss while also curing constipation thanks to its high fibre levels content.
Snake Gourd possesses detoxifying abilities and has been used as a diuretic in traditional medicine to stimulate the liver and increase urination, thereby detoxifying the body. (11)
This vegetable is a rich source of antibiotic properties and contains high levels of antioxidant carotenoids and vitamin C. When combined, they can significantly benefit your immune system and improve overall health (11).
Snake Gourd extract is a well-known remedy for arterial disorders like palpitation. It also improves circulation, which leads to a reduced risk of heart disease. In addition, it can save consumers from “other conditions like pain and stress on the heart (11).”
Bottle Gourd is known by many names like New Guinea bean, Tasmania bean, Calabash, and White-Flowered gourd. And it has many shapes too; from huge bottle-like shapes to round and serpentine shapes, Bottle Gourd is a vegetable that always promises to amuse. Climbing or running vine is harvested before the fruit reaches full maturity. Its white flesh can be consumed as a vegetable or made into a refreshing beverage.
One cup or 145g of bottle gourd contains 17 calories, 0.3g of protein, 3.6 g of carbohydrates, 2.9 g of fibre, 36.5% of RDA of Vitamin C, 8.7% of RDA of Vitamin B9, 10.7% of RDA of Magnesium, 7.25% of RDA of Calcium, 2.68% of RDA of Potassium and 2.41% of RDA of Phosphorus.
Bottle Gourd is also known to prevent premature greying of hair and its ability to detoxify benefits skin. It is also a known stress reliever and drinking Bottle Gourd juice treats sleeping disorders too. In traditional medicine, Bottle Gourd is used as a treatment for many ailments.
According to a study where Bottle Gourd was orally administered to human subjects with dyslipidemia and hyperglycemia, the consumption of Bottle Gourd extract led to a significant improvement in biomarkers of oxidative stress. Oxidative stress is associated with all lifestyle disorders including coronary heart diseases and the regular consumption of Bottle Gourd reduces the risk of such diseases (12).
The same study found that the daily administration of Bottle Gourd for three months to those who suffer from high cholesterol levels leads to marked reductions in total cholesterol, triglycerides, low-density lipoprotein cholesterol, very-low-density lipoprotein cholesterol and fasting blood glucose levels (12).
It has been found that the regular consumption of Bottle Gourd helps weight loss; it is reported that there was a “reduction in body weight and body mass index of the subjects in normal health and dyslipidemic subjects” following the regular consumption of bottle gourd, suggesting that it is a superstar in clean diets (12).
Going by the scientific name Cucumis melo, cooking melon is locally known as ‘Kekiri.’ It grows in the dry zone in Sri Lanka and is also found in Japan, India, and Korea. The Cooking Melon fruit comes in round or oval shapes with stripes lining its yellow-green skin. It has white flesh inside and can only be consumed cooked, unlike the other varieties of the Cucurbitaceae family, like cucumber.
Cooking melon is packed with micronutrients. For example, it is a rich source of Vitamin A and C and is highly effective for eye health. In addition, 100g of Cooking Melon contains 16 kcal of energy, 16mg of calcium, 13 mg of Magnesium, 24 mg of Phosphorus, 147 mg of Potassium, 2.8mg of Vitamin C, and 2mg of sodium.
This versatile fruit is also used to treat “excessive thirst, burning sensation, insomnia, headaches, jaundice, constipation, body pains, nausea and skin diseases (13).”
Cooking melon is loaded with micronutrients such as vitamins and minerals. For example, just one cup of Cooking Melon contains over 10% of your daily Vitamin K requirement and it is crucial for improving calcium absorption vital for bone health (14).
It has been found that cooking melon is capable of blocking the “JAK-SAT and MAPK signalling pathways that are utilized by cancer cells to survive and multiply,” meaning that Cooking Melon is capable of inhibiting cancer cells (14).
In Ayurveda medicine, Kekiri, or Cooking Melon is used to treat urinary tract infections and is known to prevent the formation of stones in the urinary system.
Luffa, also known as Ridge Gourd or Sponge Gourd, is a commonly found vegetable in Sri Lanka. The cylindric Luffa fruit contains white-coloured mushy flesh depicting a taste that resembles zucchini. It is grown across Asia and the United States as a vegetable and to produce scrubbers. In Sri Lanka, Luffa is mainly grown to be consumed as a vegetable due to the high levels of nutrients it contains.
An excellent source of Vitamin A and carbohydrates, it is packed with various vitamins and minerals like Vitamin B5 and B6, Vitamin C, Manganese, Magnesium, Potassium, Copper, and total dietary fibre.
Locals believe in its medicinal properties and consume it as a remedy for several ailments. For instance, Luffa is often used to treat eye ailments and Sri Lankans add it to their meals to maintain their eye health. Provided that Luffa is rich in Vitamin A, it is evident that it will be effective against macular degeneration that eventually leads to blindness.
Luffa is also known to treat muscle pain. The high levels of Vitamin C in it help to fight against wrinkles and fine lines, thereby slowing down the ageing process. In certain parts of India, luffa leaves and fruit powder are used to treat jaundice.
According to research, Luffa contains certain peptides similar to insulin, alkaloids, and charantin chemicals and the consumption of luffa helps to increase blood sugar levels and urine sugar levels, which in turn treats hypoglycemia (15).
Luffa contains anti-cancer properties that hinder the growth of cancer cells and reduce the risk of cancer. For example, according to a study conducted on Swiss albino mice, the methanolic and aqueous extract of the Luffa fruit is capable of significantly diminishing the development of solid tumours in mice (16).
As research suggests, Luffa can be used to treat constipation as it contains a significant amount of cellulose fibres. Similarly, Luffa is also an effective remedy for piles or haemorrhoids (15).
A tear-shaped flower cloaked in purple skin, the Banana Blossom has been consumed by Sri Lankans for centuries. It is consumed as a vegetable in many Asian countries and Sri Lanka produces more than 32 million banana bunches annually (17). It is now making its way into the West, gaining popularity as an up-and-coming staple in vegan diets. According to The Guardian, the Banana Blossom or the banana heart has a flaky flavour and is an ideal substitute for fish in vegan diets.
According to literature, the Banana Blossom is used to treat dysentery, ulcers, and bronchitis. Cooked fresh Banana Blossom is also considered an effective remedy for diabetes and further helps to maintain good heart health. In addition, “the flowers are taken as an infusion in normal doses for painful menstruation (18).”
According to a study published in the Journal of Chemical and Pharmaceutical Research, Ethanol-based extracts of banana flowers hinder the growth of pathogenic bacteria such as Bacillus subtilis, Bacillus cereus, and Escherichia coli in the laboratory, which suggests that the Banana Blossom may be effective in accelerating the healing process in wounds and preventing infections (18).
Free radicals are formed due to various metabolic processes of the body and they need to be neutralized. Unstable free radicals lead to several chronic diseases such as heart disease and cancer. Fortunately, Methanol extracts of banana blossom contain antioxidant properties and can stabilize free radicals, thereby reducing the risk of life-threatening diseases. Thanks to its antioxidant potential, researchers have even recommended the use of banana blossom extract to make food supplements (18).
Due to the country’s diverse climatic regions, Sri Lanka produces a wide variety of fruits, nuts, and vegetables. The manufacturing and exporting of more than 9000 tonnes of produce annually solidify Sri Lanka as a major exporter of fruits, nuts, and vegetables.