Ice Apple

Ice Apple

Latin name: Borassus flabellifer
Other names: Palmyra palm fruit
Uses: fruit, juice, alcohol

Scroll all the way back to the ancient Tamil poem Tala Vilasam for an effusive dedication to the glories of the palmyra palm, which describes in great detail the many uses of its fruit — the ice apple — at every stage of ripening. The fruit is caped in a coconut-like exterior shell, which when scythed open reveals three or four gelatinous edible globules. Although it isn’t a hard and fast rule, the smaller, more tender fruit generally holds the most juice.

Why is ice apple healthy?

Ice apple is abundant in vitamins A, B and C, as well as calcium, phosphorus, protein, and potassium. Nutritionally dense but low in calories, they can quiet the hunger pangs of those looking to cut down their calorie intake. Traditional Indian wisdom casts ice apples as a “cooling” fruit that is easy to digest. It is also considered a diabetic’s delight as it scores a low glycemic index.

What does ice apple taste like?

When skinned, tender ice apples have mildly sweet, jelly-like flesh, with a gush of sugary juice at the center. Their thin fibrous skin is edible but has a bitter aftertaste. When it matures fully, this mesocarp layer (between the outer skin and the fruit) transforms into a bittersweet, fibrous orange-yellow flesh, with a heavy, almost alcoholic odor that can entirely infiltrate a room. At this stage, it can be eaten raw, but is usually cooked.

Where does ice apple grow?

The palmyra tree likely originated in tropical Africa or South Asia. It has an affinity for sunny coastal and semi-arid regions, and as a result, thrives across these parts of South and Southeast Asia. An unusual derivative of the ice apple is jaggery that is made from the parent palmyra tree; the plant also yields the popular Indian drinks neera and toddy.

How do I prepare ice apple and what do I pair it with?

Ice apple pairs well with sweet, milky flavors. In India it is commonly used with sugar and milk to make payasam, kheer, and even milkshakes. Its flavors pair equally well with the subdued sweetness of coconut milk, coconut water, coconut flesh or cream. In Thailand, ice apples go into fruit salads, and fibrous mature fruits are used to make a steamed cake. The Vietnamese sometimes use it in chè thái, a sort of soupy fruit cocktail.

In the eastern Indian states of Bengal and Odisha, mature ice apples are mashed into a pulp with banana, coconut, and flour and deep-fried to a crisp fritter for the Janmashtami holiday. But the most satisfying way to eat it is skinned and chilled, fresh from the vendor’s cart or your refrigerator.

Surprising fact

Palm fruit is a prized item in the computer game Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. It’s a “curative” item that players can grab to restore heart health — eating a raw palm fruit gives you one heart, a roasted, one-and-half, and a cooked palm fruit, two hearts.