Also Known as
Gooseberry, Indian Gooseberry, Amalaka, Amala, Amlaki, Nellikai, Aonla
A native of India, amla is the round-shaped, vertical-striped fibrous fruit of the deciduous tree "Euphorbiaceae". It is greenish-yellow in colour and has a distinctive sour flavour, which nevertheless lends itself well to many culinary uses. With cooling and antioxidant properties, amla is also used extensively in Indian medicine for treating a variety of conditions ranging from hair loss and indigestion to inflammation and dry cough.
There are four types of amla found in India. They are:
• Banarasi – A variety of amla that matures earlier than other varieties, but also has a shorter shelf life. It is not used much for culinary purposes.
• Chakaiya – It yields heavily every alternate year, and has fibrous and smaller fruits compared to other varieties of amla. However, there are some less fibrous varieties of the small Chakaiya amla, which are popularly used for making candies and preserves.
• Francis – Certain varieties of the Francis or Hathijhool amla give high yields, and frequently too, which makes them a favourite choice with manufacturers of amla based products.
• Wild Himalayan amla – This is a special strain of amla that yields small fruits, and is well adapted to cold temperatures. It is sometimes planted in other continents such as North America.
The ideal way to chop amla is to cut it along the vertical lines, prise it open and remove the core, so you will have the segments intact. While this is easily done with parboiled or blanched amla, it can be difficult with raw ones. So, place the amla with its core vertical on a cutting board, and make four cuts around the stem, like you would cut an apple. Discard the core, chop up the remaining segments, and use as required. If you have a taste for it, you can have the chopped amla as it is, otherwise you can use it to make pickles and conserves.
Hold the amla firmly and start grating it along one of the sides. (Do not start with the edges where the stems are seen.) Once you reach the core, turn around and grate the other side. Discard the core, and use the grated amla as required. It is widely used to make murabbas and pickles.
How to select
• Choose the small or large variety of amla as required by the recipe, or suggested by your Ayurvedic doctor.
• Ensure that the fruit is clear and free of any patches or cuts.
• It should have a round shape with vertical stripes.
• Ensure it is greenish yellow in colour. Avoid those that are brownish or spotted.
• Amla is majorly used in the preparation of spicy pickles and murrabas.
• It can also be consumed in the form of freshly-prepared amla juice, with a dash of honey to make the bitterness palatable.
• It can be dried and then powdered to make amla powder, which can be used in the preparation of health drinks.
• Freshly-sliced amla can be stewed in sugar syrup and then used as a topping for fruit tarts, cakes, cheesecakes etc.
• Amla is processed into syrups and crushes, which are commonly used in many mocktails.
• When amla is in season, south Indians often parboil it in salted water and preserve it in glass or earthen jars along with the water in which it was cooked. There should be enough water to drown all the gooseberries. Called Neer Nellikkai, this can be stored in the refrigerator for more than a month.
How to Store
• Place the fresh fruit in a Ziploc bag or other sealed bag, and store it in the refrigerator.
• Amla is rich in natural vitamin C. The high content of vitamin C helps to boost the functioning of the immune system of the body and thereby helps in preventing a wide range of diseases. It is said that a single amla is capable of fulfilling a day’s vitamin C requirement.
• Amla is therefore included in several Ayurvedic tonics as a general ingredient. Interestingly, it is also the main ingredient in Chyavanprash.
• Apart from vitamin C, the fresh fruit contains more than 80 per cent of water besides protein, carbohydrates, fibre, vitamins and minerals, such as calcium, phosphorus, iron, carotene and vitamin B-complex. These minerals help ensure proper metabolism.
• It has cooling, diuretic and laxative properties, and helps in detoxification.
• It also aids in cleansing the mouth, and strengthens teeth and bones.
• Amla has antibacterial properties and helps in preventing infections and healing ulcers.
• Its cell rejuvenating properties help in maintaining healthy skin and hair. Apart from keeping the hair shiny and fresh, it also prevents dandruff. As expected, it is widely used in the preparation of hair shampoos.
• Amla also helps to prevent respiratory disorders such as common cold, bronchitis, and other respiratory tract infections.