What are ice apples?

Every summer, my family looks forward to mangoes. We all enjoy mangoes, we are not crazy about them, but yes, we do like mangoes. I also look forward to the summer staple vegetables like guar and tindola, especially guar. But what does my sister look forward to? She looks forward to those translucent balls of juicy happiness – the nungus as she calls them, what I would go about calling ice apples. Ice apples is the British name, while nungu is the Tamil name for the same fruit – the Tadgola.

What is an ice apple?

Ice apple is a seasonal fruit of the Asian Palmyra Tree. Also called as the wine palm, toddy palm, doub palm, palmyra palm, the Asian Palmyra is native to the Indian subcontinent and South East Asia. On this tree, grows a coconut-like fruit with a black-aubergine husk. Inside this fruit, 2-3 ice apples are clustered in separate pockets. the fruit is chopped open to reach these sockets, each socket containing the translucent ice apple encased in a skin-colored covering. It is said that these seed sockets are the inspiration behind the Bengali sweet variety called Jalbhora.

What does an ice apple feel like?

The ice apple has a translucent flesh, encased in a skin-colored covering. Ice apples have a texture similar to a litchi. The watery fluid resides inside this. The fruit tastes sweet and refreshing like a coconut. Overripe ice apples can make you sick and taste slightly off. The fruit is low in calories but packs a lot of useful minerals and vitamins.

Is anything else obtained from the Palmyra fruit apart from the nungus?

Along with the ice apples, the palmyra fruits also contain a sweet, delicious, un-fermented natural beverage called Pathaneer. The Pathaneer when left undisturbed in a pot without lime, it ferments and tastes sour. The end-product of this process is toddy. Pathaneer can also be used to extract palm jaggery – roughly seven and a half liters of pathaneer will yield about a kilogram of palm jaggery. Palm jaggery makes for a great healthy sugar replacement.

What are the nutritional benefits of consuming ice apples?

Ice apples pack about 43 calories per 100g with just 11g of carbohydrates. The fruit is rich in calcium and phyto-nutrients. It is also a good source of Vitamin B1 (thiamine) and B2 (riboflavin), as well as Vitamin C, A, E, K. It contains good amounts of minerals like iron, zinc, potassium, calcium, phosphorus, etc.

Common health benefits of ice apples:

  • Ice apples are natural hydration agents & coolants
  • They help maintain the electrolyte balance in the body
  • They make for great post-workout snack and are great for weight loss owing to being pretty low-cal itself
  • Got some heat rashes or an angry outburst of prickly-heat or mild sunburn, rub the juicy flesh of chilled ice apples on it and you’ll recover quickly
  • Strengthens the immune system
  • Helps improve digestion and eases symptoms
  • Helps improve fertility
  • Helpful for pregnant women to maintain fetal nutrition
  • Helpful for lactating mothers for healthy lactation
  • Anti-oxidants in ice apples fight free radicals and have anti-ageing properties
  • Promotes liver health

These are just some of the benefits of ice apples.

What is the cultural significance of ice apples and the Asian Palmyra?

  • The Asian Palmyra tree is the official tree of the state of Tamil Nadu in India. The tree is very highly respected in the Tamil culture. The tree is called as “Katpaha Tharu” in Tamil Nadu, meaning the ‘celestial tree’. All the parts of this tree are used in some way or the other. An ancient tree deity – Panaiveriyamman, is related to fertility in human beings, and is associated with this tree. The name of the deity is derived from ‘Panai’ – the Tamil name of the Palmyra palm.
  • The Palmyra is quite commonly found in Cambodia especially in the area around the Angkor Wat temple.
  • The Palmyra is a symbol of the South Sulawesi province of Indonesia.
  • In the renowned Indian epic – Mahabharata, the Palmyra tree is is the chariot-banner of the father-figure Bheeshma Pitamah.
  • The ice apples have been the inspiration for a type of the Bengali sandesh – the Jalbhora
  • Nursery rhymes in Bengali language have been inspired by the Asian Palmyra trees

Like a lot of traditional fruit and vegetables, the ice apples too are getting endangered. You don’t ice apples in supermarket isles, one would have to go down to the local markets and roadside stalls to get a dozen of these ice apples. It is a labor-intensive task to harvest the palmyra fruit and then extract the ice apples out of their sockets. It requires skilled people to get an ice apple out of its pocket without damaging the fruit in any way.

I recently posted about the nungus in an Instagram post and an Instagram reel. The post gave a general idea about the fruit and inspired nostalgia, while the reel showed an ice apple being extracted from an aubergine-colored Palmyra fruit. I got comments from people saying they had no idea what that translucent thing they saw in their city was, or where it came from, but now they a little bit better. I got DMs asking what the picture was – they had never seen or tasted this thing. This is where I decided I should do a blog around this that people can read and refer to, to know more about the traditional Indian summer fruit. Goya Journal recently did a contest on ice apple recipes and some great recipes surfaced from it.

Do you enjoy eating nungu? What do you call it in your local language? Do you have any interesting recipes using nungu? Find me on Instagram and tell me all about it.

Penny for your thoughts!