Starting Navroz 2014, The Ismaili Nutrition Centre launched a new series of articles on simple ideas for popular foods. New entries in this A to Z of different fruits, vegetables and everyday ingredients will be published every two weeks, to build greater awareness of basic nutrition and encourage readers try healthy and easy ideas for preparing a range of tasty dishes.
Amla (phyllanthus emblica, commonly known as “Indian gooseberry”) is a tangy seasonal fruit available during the winter months, and is an ingredient in a number of Ayurvedic formulations (Ayurveda is an ancient Indian system of medicine). Grown in India and other countries, it is available in two varieties: the larger one is 2½ – 3 centimetres in diameter and a smaller is 1 – 2 centimetres in diameter.
The fruit is an excellent source of vitamin C, an antioxidant that helps to destroy free radicals that can damage the cell membranes. Studies have shown that antioxidants, like vitamin C and polyphenols found in most berries, can provide protection against chronic diseases such as cancer, heart disease and diabetes. Fresh amla juice can have up to ten times more vitamin C than fresh orange juice, since 100 grams of Amla can provide up to 450 milligrams of the vitamin. Although vitamin C is easily destroyed by air or heat, the large concentration contained in amla protects it from being completely destroyed when prepared.
Three things to do with amla
- Dry them: Choose the larger variety of amla and chop into small pieces. Sprinkle salt on it and let it dry. When completely dried, store it in an airtight container. You may also choose to grate it, and then sprinkle on some ginger juice, lime juice, black / rock salt and spice powders like cumin (jeera)/ carom (ajwain). Spread this mixture on a tray and allow it to dry for two or three days. This supari can be eaten as a mouth freshener after meals.
- Preserve them: If you like murabbas and chutneys take the smaller variety of amla and boil them, add sugar, spices and salt. Cook the mixture and make a preserve like a jam, a jelly or a marmalade.
- Go for fresh: Try making your own amla juice by grinding two amlas into a paste (don't forget to remove the seeds). Mix the paste with 1 cup of water and use a sieve to strain it. Add 1 – 2 teaspoons of honey and a pinch of salt, and enjoy it fresh. The ground amla paste can also be mixed with a blend of spices to make chutneys. The fresh fruit is also very tasty with a sprinkling of red chilli powder.
Enjoy amla raw rather than cooking or drying it, to get more of the vitamin C. If you are trying to increase the amount of iron in your diet, eat amla as an accompaniment to an iron-rich vegetarian meal. The concentration of vitamin C in the fruit helps improve your absorption of iron from vegetarian foods.