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Ber (Indian Jujube)
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Ber fruit are small, round to oblong shaped fruits, with thin, glossy skin. They ripen from a light green or yellow to an orange-red color. The fruit can be consumed both slightly under-ripe and ripe. When under-ripe, the white flesh is dense, crisp and astringent, while fully ripe fruits are more spongy with a somewhat mealy texture and muted floral flavor. Each fruit contains a rough, inedible, central stone. Ber fruits grow on small, bushy trees that can reach 12 meters in height.
Ber fruit are available in the spring and fall months.
Ber fruit is botanically classified as Ziziphus mauritiana, and is a member of the the Rhamnaceae, or jujube, family. Ber fruit are also referred to as Indian Jujube, Beri Fruit, Indian Plum, and Indian Cherry. There are some 90 cultivars of Ber fruit. A tropical and subtropical plant, Ber is related to the more common Chinese jujube, which grows in milder temperatures. The Ber tree may yield as many as 30,000 fruit per year, which is primarily harvested for consumption, however, a pigment extracted from the Ber fruit is also used as a natural dye for silk.
Ber fruit have antioxidant, anti-inflammatory and antibacterial properties, and they contain vitamin C, thiamin, riboflavin and pectin. Ber fruit are also high in flavonoids and bioflavonoids, which are essential for the absorption of vitamin C, and which help to stimulate digestion, promote circulation and prevent allergies.
Ripe Ber fruit are typically consumed raw. In Asia, they may be made into pickles, chutneys and candies, or crushed in water to make a cooling drink. Ripe fruits are often preserved through the sun-drying method. Under-ripe Ber fruit may also be eaten raw, seasoned with a sprinkling of salt. Store fresh Ber fruit in sealed bags in the refrigerator, where they can last up to a week.
Ber fruit features in mythology of India. It is said to be “the tree that removes sorrow”, and is sacred to Shiva, the god of destruction and transformation. Tradition has it that one can heal ailments by taking a bath under the Ber trees in the lakes of the holy city of Amritsar. Used in Ayurvedic Medicine, Ber fruit is classified as a cooling fruit, and is used to treat indigestion, burning sensations, fevers, and thirst, as well as lung and circulatory system issues. In India, Ber is also a common home remedy for digestive problems.
Ber is native to the province of Yunnan in southern China, as well as parts of Afghanistan, Malaysia, and Queensland, Australia. Today, Ber is mainly grown commercially in India, though it can still be found growing wild in its native regions. There is evidence that Ber was used as a food source in India as early as the 11th Century, and in the early 1900s it was known as the “poor man’s apple”. However, in the 1980s, Ber orchards were destroyed to make way for development in many cities, and hence the price of Ber fruit in India now rivals that of apples. Today, Ber can also be found in the drier parts of the West Indies, the Bahamas, Colombia, Venezuala, Guatemala, Belize and southern Florida. Ber trees enjoy a warm, fairly dry climate and full sun.