If you’re not familiar with it, Wood Apple is a strange fruit. It is very hard shelled and a greenish brown colour. Once you break it open, and that takes some strength, you’ll find a funky smelling sticky brown fibrous pulp and small white seeds. Yet this somewhat unremarkable fruit can surprise. I certainly was when I tried the Wood Apple Cooler I made with it.
Wood Apple is very different from the Stone Apple or Bael, another fruit that is quite popular in Northern India. Wood Apple is native to the Indian sub-continent. It is also known as Kothbel, Kaitha, Vilam Pazhaml, Belada Hannu, etc across the country. The pulp of this fruit is quite astringent and mouth puckeringly sour. It reminds of an extra sour tamarind. Wood Apple has a lot of medicinal properties attributed to it in Ayurveda and folk medicine.
I had read about the Wood Apple but came across it only recently. Unripe Wood Apples are greenish brown in colour and have a slight “bounce” when dropped. Completely ripe fruit turn dark brown, have a stronger aroma and lose the bounce. It usually ripens in about 10 days.
You will need a hammer, a heavy blunt knife, or some such implement to break open the shell of the Wood Apple. Otherwise pound it on concrete or a hard floor and it should break. Scrape out the fibrous innards and soak it in some water for a few hours or so. Then rub well with your fingers to extract the pulp. Squeeze out the fibre and seeds and you’ll be left with a thick, somewhat viscous brown pulp. This can be refrigerated for up to a month.
The pulp of the fruit is most commonly used to make a “sharbath” or cooler. Srilanka, where this is particularly popular make a sweetened drink of it, with coconut milk, chutneys, jams and even ice-cream. My friend Deepa makes a Rasam with it. I’d think you could use this wherever one uses tamarind, with adjustments to taste.
You can prepare this Wood Apple Cooler by making a sugar syrup as the sweetener. I prefer using jaggery. This is quite similar to the way I make Paanakam but the flavour is quite different. Use soda instead of water if you prefer a fizzy drink.
Wood Apple Cooler
- 1 wood apple
- 1 1/2 cups water
- Powdered jaggery
- Finely grated dried ginger
- Crushed black or white pepper
- Cumin powder
- Salt to taste
- 1 1/2 to 2 cups water to dilute
- Ice optional
- Break the wood apple and take the pulp out. Soak the pulp in 1 1/2 cups of water for about an hour or so. Using your fingers or a fork, break down the soaked pulp. Strain the fibre and seeds out pressing the pulp through a strainer. Discard the seeds and solids. You can refrigerate this pulp for a few days if not using immediately.
- If you have sugar syrup you can use that. I prefer powdered jaggery. Put the pulp and powdered jaggery in a large bowl. You might need to add more as wood apple pulp can be quite sour to taste. Stir well to dissolve, adding the remaining ingredients and more water to dilute. Adjust the amount of jaggery and other ingredients to suit your taste.
- Serve at room temperature, over ice or chilled.