LOOKS CAN BE DECEIVING, as they say. These fruits with fingers, horns and thorns may look bizarre but don’t let them put you off. Some have medicinal qualities, some taste great as after-dinner dessert, but all have super-duper health benefits that are pretty far reaching. The good news is ─ quite a few are available locally, either imported and found in various organic stores and supermarkets or grown from our native soils.
In this two part series on bizarre fruits, here are the first three that will help realign your system in all the right ways.
1. Buddha’s Hand
The Buddha’s Hand is a variant of citron and is a citrus fruit (scientific name: Citrus medica var. sarcodactylis) that is from the same family as Pomelos and Mandarins. The fruit has been named such for obvious reasons ─ it resembles a hand with five (many times more) long fingers, much like, well…Buddha’s hand.
Called Fushou (literally Buddha’s hand) in China, Bushukon in Japan, Limau Jari, Jeruk Tangan, Limau Kerat Lingtang in Malaysia, Djerook Tangan in Indonesia and many other names in other Southeast Asian countries wherever it is available, the fruit originated from China and the Himalayas, India, as well as other temperate areas such as the west coast of North America.
Taste-wise, it has a bitterish sweetish white pulp with very little juice and an edible rind. The fruit is consumed (whole) more for its medicinal values ─ chiefly as a pain killer and an all-round revitaliser ─ rather than enjoyed as a snack or an after-dinner fruit dessert, like how you would enjoy say, an apple, papaya or watermelon.
Both the pulp and rind and also the leaves are effective for their medicinal properties and thus can be found in dried form in Chinese medicine halls or processed for its aromatic oils. And speaking of oils, because of its sharp, citrusy scent, it is often also used to make perfumes.
How shall you eat it? Well, the fruit can be sliced into strips, stirfried with garlic and onions, cooked with fish (takes away the fishy smell), pickled, cured in liquor such as vodka, used as marinade, dressing for salads, baked into scones and pies, made into special “marmalade” with plentiful rind, turned into candy, or steeped and drunk as an infusion. Really it is up to your imagination and creativity.
Health Benefits of the Buddha’s Hand
Pain Relief: Due to its chemical composition which includes coumarin, limonin, and diosmin as well as anti-inflammatories, the Buddha’s Hand is able to relieve swelling and pain caused by injuries and surgeries. It can relieve bruises and speed up wound healing.
Respiratory Conditions: One of the most common uses of Buddha’s Hand is for respiratory problems such as asthma and coughs. The fruit acts like an expectorant for phlegm and catarrh (discharge from nose). Apparently, soaking the fruit in a bowl with water and sugar can stop coughs more effectively than eating the fruit.
Gastrointestinal Upsets: Because Buddha’s Hand eases inflammation, it is great for stomachaches, diarrhea, bloating and constipation.
Menstrual Discomfort: Again, the anti-inflammatory nature of the fruit, combined with some of its other antioxidant qualities is the perfect solution for women who suffer from period cramps, heavy bleeding and mood swings.
Immune Health: A specific polysaccharide found in Buddha’s Hand is specifically linked to stimulating marcrophage activity and boosting the immune system. The fruit can speed up recovery for colds or flu.
Blood Pressure: Alcohol extract from Buddha’s hand actually behaves like a vasodilator, relaxing and dilating coronary blood vessels and increasing circulation, and lowering blood pressure. This reduces the chances of developing atherosclerosis, heart attack or stroke.
Contra Indication: Those with low blood pressure should avoid the fruit. Buddha’s Hand lowers blood pressure and therefore, will lower blood pressure even further if consumed.
2.Horned Melon (Kiwano)
Now here’s something that looks like it dropped out of the egg pod of the movie Aliens. The Horned Melon, called Cucumis metuliferus scientifically speaking, originates from South Africa. But due to its popularity, it has found its way into other parts of the world like Australia and New Zealand where it has been coined the name Kiwano, simply because of its resemblance to the Kiwi fruit, at least in part. However, this fruit is not biologically linked to Kiwis but is closer to the family of squashes such as Cucumbers and Zucchinis. Today, the fruit is widely cultivated in sub-Saharan Africa, Australia, New Zealand, and certain parts of Asia.
Named “Horned Melon” for obvious reasons, but also known as the Jelly Melon, African Horned Cucumber, Hedged Gourd, Melano, and Blowfish Fruit, the outer rather thick layer of gold skin is covered in small harmless spikes while the inside is drippy, juicy, and gelatinous. The seeds are plentiful inside too ─ much like a cucumber ─ and like melon seeds, they are edible and highly nutritious.
Tastewise, the Horned Melon is not very sweet, but is it is refreshing and cooling nonetheless and comes across like a Cucumber meets Kiwi meets Banana. Yes, Banana ─ particularly when it is fully ripe.
Here’s a video to show you the feel and taste of the Horned Melon:
The leaves and roots of this once sub-Saharan fruit are also used for various applications, but it is the fruit that is most enigmatic and highly prized. The nutrients, which include Vitamin C, Vitamin A, Sucrose, d-Glucose, Quinic acid, Malic acid, Citric acid, Ash, Sodium, Potassium, Calcium, Magnesium, Iron, Copper, Zinc, Manganese, and Phosphates are highly beneficial, particularly for body beautification such as slimming and looking young (weight loss and anti-aging properties) but let’s see in what other ways the fruit helps you.
Health Benefits of the Horned Melon or Kiwano
Weight Loss: The Horned Melon is more than 80% water. Thus, it has the ability to fill you up without packing on the pounds. The fruit is low in calories and fat and is a great weight loss aid.
Bone Strength: The Horned Melon has high Calcium content and thus is great for staving off Osteoperosis without the need for diary products, which is great news for vegans. Apart from Calcium, the Kiwano contains Zinc which is very important for bone development, growth, and repair.
Antioxidant Capacity: There are high levels of alpha-tocopherol found in the Kiwano, which is a potent antioxidant form of Vitamin E which is good for nerves and blood vessels, while it also seeks out and neutralizes free radicals, the harmful byproducts of cellular metabolism that can cause everything from Heart disease to Cancer.
Eye Health: The Horned Melon has significant levels of Vitamin A which is a type of carotenoid, which acts as an antioxidant for the eye, eliminating free radicals that can cause muscular degeneration, while also slowing down or preventing the development of cataracts.
Cognitive Function: The Vitamin E in the fruit is also good for the brain and can ward off onset of Alzheimer’s disease and Dementia.
Metabolic Processes: Zinc, the mineral, plays a key role in the metabolism, as well as in producing protein which is necessary for wound healing and repair of organs, tissues, blood vessels, and cells. The high content of Vitamin complements the Zinc found in the Kiwano, as Ascorbic Acid is a key component in Collagen, which is another key material in repair and growth.
Aging Process: Between Vitamin A, Vitamin C, natural antioxidants and abundant organic compounds, the Kiwano is wonderful for staying young, both inside and out. The fruit protects the integrity of the skin and reduces age spots and wrinkles and reduces the appearance of scars and blemishes.
Anti Stress and Anxiety: Research has connected some of the organic compounds in the Kiwano with the regulation of hormones, particularly adrenaline and other stress hormones. If you suffer from chronic stress or feel anxious, eating some Kiwano can quickly ease your mind and get your body back to a calm, relaxed state.
Digestive Process: Finally, the high fibre content makes it the ideal digestive aid for clearing out the digestive tract keeping bowel movements regular and preventing cramping, bloating, constipation, and even colon cancer. Dietary fibre is a key element of heart health as it regulates cholesterol and even regulate insulin receptors, thereby preventing or managing Diabetes.
Contra Indication: Always only eat the fruit when it is fully ripe as the unripe fruit is bitter and can cause stomachaches, headaches and fevers.
3. Dragon Fruit
Lucky for us, the Dragon Fruit is widely available in Malaysia and can be bought off the shelves of any supermarket or store. The Dragon Fruit, with a scientific name of Hylocereus undatus is from a species of Cactaceae (cactus, specifically the climbing vine cactus species) native to South America but now is widely grown in Vietnam and exported on a commercial basis. Called Thanh Long in Vietnamese, or Pitaya or Strawberry Pear, the Dragon Fruit is obtained from the stem of the cactus plant. The fruit is formed after the flower, which blooms only for a day, dies.
Dragon Fruits have mostly red skin (but there are yellow ones too) while the flesh which is either white or red inside, is overlaid with an abundance of small, edible, black seeds. The flavour is mildly sweet, it is very succulent but not drippy, and the consistency is firm yet comes with a texture that is softly crunchy.
Simply halve the fruit length or breadthwise and scoop out the flesh to eat on a ‘as is where is’ basis. The taste is simply refreshing. Or turn it into an invigorating ice-blended smoothie, ice-cream, frappes, jellies, cakes, fruit salad platters or anything you like. See below for some great food creations.
The Dragon Fruit is a “superfood” because of its great number of health benefits. It is low in calories yet offers numerous nutrients, including Vitamins C and B, Phosphorus, Protein, Calcium, Fiber, Captin, and antioxidants. It’s proven to lower blood sugar levels as well as blood pressure, strengthen bones and teeth, promote healthy blood and tissue formation, strengthen the immune system, heal bruises and wounds faster and prevent respiratory problems.
Also, like other red fruits, dragon fruit contains Lycopene, which helps protect against Cancer and Heart Disease.
Health Benefits of the Dragon Fruit
Immune System Booster: The high levels of Vitamin C that can be found in the Dragon Fruit are one of the strongest assets to your body’s immune system, and they stimulate the activity of other antioxidants in the body as well. As they say ─ the more Vitamin C, the better!
Cardiovascular Health: The Dragon fruit contains no cholesterol and almost no unhealthy, cholesterol-producing fats. By reducing the amount of cholesterol in the blood, the chances of developing plaque in the arteries and veins is small, thereby reducing the likelihood that you’ll suffer from atherosclerosis, heart attacks, and strokes. Some fat is beneficial, and the seeds of dragon fruit do contain this positive type of fat which can lead to HDL cholesterol (“good” cholesterol). HDL cholesterol actively decreases the amount of LDL cholesterol by inhibiting the receptors that it binds to on the walls of arteries.
Vitamin Content: Apart from Vitamin C, the Dragon Fruit is also packed with the B vitamin group. The B1, B2, and B3 vitamin content of Dragon Fruit benefit everything from blood pressure, skin health, and cholesterol levels to thyroid function and carbohydrate metabolism. Even a single cup of dragon fruit contains a significant amount of beneficial vitamins.
Anti-Aging: Antioxidants are essential for keeping the skin tight and firm. They fight off free radicals that circle around the body that are known to cause problems like cancer. Dragon Fruit is a good source of antioxidants due to its Vitamin C content.
One of the most overlooked nutrient in this fruit is its phosphorus punch. The key regulatory events in our cells require phosphorus and the phospolipids are primary components of cellular membranes. This could help in preventing premature aging.
Digestion: Aside from the immune system bonus, Dragon Fruits can also help to keep you regular! Dragon fruits have a significant fiber content, which means that they can help your body bulk up its bowel movements, facilitating smooth passage through the digestive tract, stimulating peristaltic motion, and inducing a release of digestive juices. By regulating bowel function with dietary fiber, you reduce your chances of conditions like constipation, Irritable Bowel Syndrome, and even more serious diseases like colorectal cancer.
Cancer Prevention: Along with the antioxidant protections of vitamin-C to boost the immune system, Dragon Fruits contain other sources of natural antioxidants. Carotene is another component of dragon fruits, and carotene has been linked to a number of anti-carcinogenic qualities as well as reducing the size of tumors. Basically, Dragon Fruits boost your immune system from every direction, so if you feel like you’re frequently getting sick or feeling under the weather, this fruit may be the answer for you.
Antibacterial and Anti-fungal: A final boost to the immune system from the Dragon Fruit is its antifungal and antibacterial quality. This can help increase the white blood cell count in the body which defends against toxins, and it also inhibits the entrance or growth of fungal or bacterial infections in the organ systems. You will also find that it stimulates cell regeneration and speeds up healing, so wounds and bruises will heal at an increased rate.
Body Metabolism: One of the most essential parts of our diet is our intake of protein. Proteins are the intrinsic parts of everything from our teeth, hair and bones, to our organs, blood vessels, and tissue. Many of the proteins we gain from fruits, vegetables and meat are metabolized by enzymes in our body and turned into usable proteins that can speed up cell repair, enhance strength, speed up the metabolism, and help us lose weight and increase muscle mass. An appropriate dose of protein in our diet helps countless aspects of health, and dragon fruit is an unusually good fruit source for protein.
Diabetes Prevention: The high amount of fiber in this exotic fruit can help stabilize a person’s blood sugar levels. It also helps to inhibit the sugar spikes that occur after eating high glycemic index foods. In the study in the journal of Pharmacognosy Research, researchers found Dragon Fruit had a valuable effect on the oxidative stress from aortic stiffness in diabetic rats. This suggests regular consumption of the fruit could be beneficial in preventing common issues linked to diabetes.
Contra-Indication: There are no health risks associated with Dragon Fruits and any amount of its consumption. So go ahead, eat away as often and as much as you like for your health and beauty!
Don’t forget to watch out for Part 2 of Bizarre Fruits, because…..