A new study conducted by the International Centre for Tropical Agriculture has found that most of the food that we eat on a regular basis has travelled a long way before reaching our homes, and that the origins of two-thirds of the fruits, vegetables, legumes and other agricultural produces can be traced to far away ancient civilisations. Hence, food items that are important elements of our diet, like potatoes, tomatoes and many other vegetables, actually have foreign origins. However, there are a number of vegetables and fruits, which are loaded with health boosting and disease fighting nutrients, that are indigenous to the country. We take a look at eight such fruits and vegetables, and their health benefits:
Brinjal: The humble brinjal, also called egg plant or aubergine, is native to the Indian sub continent. The Sanskrit name for brinjal is ‘vatinganah’, which became Badinjana, when it travelled to Persia. The Arabs then took it to the west, where the French called it ‘Aubergine’ - a name that the English use as well. Back home, the original ‘vatinganah’ became Brinjal, and the name is used in South Africa and the West Indies, as well.
Used in various India cuisines, the brinjal is loaded with fiber and nutrients such as potassium, vitamin C, vitamin-B6 and phytonutrients which protect the brain cells from damage, and preserve the memory function. The vegetable also has a high water content and so is ideal for people looking to lose weight.
Pigeon pea: Used widely in Indian cooking, the pigeon pea or toor dal is known to have been domesticated in India at least 3,500 years ago, from where it travelled to East Africa and West Africa. The Europeans encountered it in Africa and introduced it to the West. The Indian subcontinent is currently the leading producer of pigeon pea.
The toor dall is a good source of proteins, especially for vegetarians. It also contains other vital nutrients such as thiamin, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, copper, and manganese, and is also high in folate, which plays an important role in DNA synthesis and repair, and is a necessary vitamin for pregnant women.
Sugarcane: Indigenous to south Asia, the Saccharum barberi variety of the sugarcane, which is used for the production of sugar, has its origins in northern India. While the exact period when sugar cane started to be used for sugar production is unclear, the earliest evidence comes from ancient Sanskrit and Pali texts. In the 8th century, the Arab traders took sugar to other parts of the ancient world such as Mesopotamia, Egypt, Andalusia, North Africa and the Mediterranean.
While the refined form of sugar may not be healthy, sugarcane in its natural form, or the juiced version, is a great energy source and is known to contain traces of vitamin-B9, calcium and phosphorus. Sugarcane juice has also been known to help combat cancer, as it is alkaline in nature due to the high concentration of calcium, magnesium, potassium, iron, and manganese. It also contains Alpha Hydroxy Acids (AHA) which are known to keep the skin clear from acne, blemishes and prevent ageing.
Ginger: An essential ingredient in almost all Indian dishes, the ginger has its humble origins in India. The root takes its name from the Sanskrit word ‘stringa-vera’, which means ‘with a body like a horn’. Apart from being used in cooking, ginger is known for its medicinal properties, as well.
Ginger contains phenolic compounds known as gingerols and diarylheptanoids, which have antioxidant properties. It is also known to help relieve gastrointestinal irritation, has anti-inflammatory properties and is known to help relieve muscular pain. According to a 2003 study conducted at the University of Minnesota, ginger can help combat colon cancer. Ginger is also known to cure nausea, and can be consumed by pregnant women to combat morning sickness.
Bitter gourd: Called karela in Hindi, and pavakai in Tamil, the bitter guard is another vegetable-fruit which can trace its origins to India. It is the most bitter among all fruits and vegetables, and among the most nutritious as well. Rich in vitamins A and C, iron, phosphorous and carbohydrates, the bitter gourd also contains polypeptide-P, a plant insulin which is known to lower blood sugar levels and charantin, which increases glucose uptake and glycogen synthesis -both of which are useful for the reduction of blood sugar levels and in the treatment of type-2 diabetes.
Jackfruit: Used as both a vegetable, in its raw form, and as a fruit, in its ripe form, the jackfruit traces its origins to the southwestern forests of the Western Ghats. According to archaeological findings, the jackfruit has been cultivated in India since 3,000 - 6,000 years. The English word ‘jackfruit’ originates from the Portuguese word, jaca, which has been derived from the Malayalam name, chakka pazham.
The fruit is a good source of energy and carbohydrates, while being low in saturated fats and containing no cholesterol. It is made up of 80 per cent water, and is also rich in vitamins and minerals such as Vitamin B6, potassium, Vitamin C, and antioxidants, phytonutrients and flavonoids, which help protect the body from cancer. Jackfruit seeds, which are used in many Indian cuisines, contain Vitamin A, which is great for the hair and aids in blood circulation.
Mango: Native to southern Asia, the mango has been referred to in ancient Sanskrit literature as Amra, and has been under cultivation since 4,000 years. Known in India as the King of fruits, the mango is believed to have been first introduced to East and West Africa, and then taken on wards to Brazil, in the 16th century.
When ripe, the mango is delectably sweet, with one cup containing around 100 calories, giving you instant energy, while being fat free and cholesterol free. It is also loaded with infection fighting vitamin C, vitamin B6, folate, vitamin K, copper, potassium and some iron and calcium. While the ripe form is eaten as a fruit, the raw green mango is also used in curries in various Indian cuisines.
Drumstick: Widely used in South Indian cuisine, the drumstick, is native to the southern foothills of the Himalayan mountains. According to records, Indians have been using drumstick in the their diet for more than 5,000 years. The scientific name, ‘Moringa’, is derived from the Tamil word, murungai and the Malayalam word, muringa.
Both the drumstick pods and the leaves can be consumed, and are highly nutritious. The leaves are known to enhance gall bladder function, hence maintain glucose levels, while the pods are a rich source of vitamin C. The pods are also high in calcium, iron and, when consumed regularly, has been found to increase the bone density and enhance bone health. Because of its strong anti-inflammatory function, drinking a cup of drumstick soup can also help relieve cold, cough and sore throat.