All the Indian ancient wisdom and many recent global studies agree on one thing that we should eat local and seasonal food.
Indian food is often worrying for first-time travelers considering the Delhi belly many suffer from as soon as they have their first Indian meal. It’s unfortunate that it has overshadowed the myriad range of fruits and vegetables so commonly found in India. Many of these varieties like jackfruit, turmeric, and moringa has taken the fancy of the west and are repackaged in fancy ways.
Here is a list of Superfoods commonly found in India that is passed on Grandma wisdom and common household knowledge in India:
1. Amla/ Indian Gooseberry
Amla is rich in Vitamin C and antioxidants. Commonly found in local markets from December to April. Amla can be eaten directly as a sour fruit that has a sweet aftertaste. If the citrus taste is too overbearing for you, one can also include Amla in their diet in other forms like Pickle, dried, or even Murabba (sweetened Amla).
I was also found Amla in the wild while hiking in the Nilgiris.
Amla is known to be great for hair and has been passed on as an immunity booster for generations. There are hair oils in India that claim to have Amla in them and over the shelf dried Amla being sold as snacks is not difficult to find either.
2. Butter Fruit/ Avocado
Avocado, popularly known as butter fruit in the Indian regions where it’s grown like Kodaikanal and parts of Uttarakhand is a global superfood. Few people know Avocado is grown in India too.
Avocado is a versatile nutrient-rich food that I find perfect for my backpacker life. Although the shelf life is not much, I have found them extremely beneficial in my life on the road. I would use it in breakfast with toast, add slices with lunch, or make a salad to eat with rice.
A lot of people are amused by the fact that Avocado is used with sugar in some countries. India is one of them, while locally they are not very popular, in bigger cities one can find Avocado smoothies just like in Brazil where Avocado is eaten straight with sprinkled sugar on top.
While coconut is known to be high in fat (calorie), they are also mineral-rich.
Traditionally coconuts make for a great summer drink. It instantly cools the body. So, the next time you’re walking the sultry Indian streets and find a coconut vendor, go for that instead of Soda.
The cream inside can be eaten straight too. Not all coconuts have cream inside though, a seasoned coconut vendor can tell with ease so it’s best to ask them for your preferred coconut. I go for coconut with cream because the tender coconut cream is a delicacy in itself.
The harder coconut meat is used in chutneys and various curries in India especially popular in the south.
Coconut oil is popular in India as hair oil as well as cooking oil in some parts.
Tender coconuts (the ones to drink water from) are generally not found in markets but can be found with street sellers with an open cart full of coconuts on top. So, keep an eye out for them (not difficult to spot at all).
4. Drumsticks/ Moringa
It was in Colombia where I first heard the term ‘Moringa’, a French guy who had been full time traveling around the world told me about the Moringa tea and its great benefits. Upon looking up online I discovered it was our very own Drumstick, a tree we had in our backyard a few years ago.
Drumstick is a household name esp. in the Southern part of India where the pods are commonly used in everyday curries like Sambhar.
In some places, the leaves are used in curries as well, rarely ever used in tea around India. But I’m sure the fad from the west will pick up at some point.
It’s easy to be a vegetarian in India but quite difficult to be a vegan if you’re a sweet lover. This is because a lot of Indian sweets are either made with milk or Ghee. They both are very symbolic of a mother’s love in India.
Ghee is made after heating up butter that removes the water and milk solids from it, making it easier to store.
Ghee has traditionally been used in Ayurveda and is known in India for its medicinal properties.
In many Indian households, a generous dollop of Ghee is added on top of dal (lentils) and Indian bread.
Traditionally, Ghee is made at home after collecting a thick layer of cream from milk and eventually churning the collection that separates water and butter. This butter can be used directly or heated to produce ghee.
Ghee is easy to find in supermarkets/grocery stores too.
Also Read: Indian nutritionist on benefits of Ghee
6. Ice apples/ Nungu/ Munjulu
Ice apples are a favorite fruit in the summers. This natural body coolant helps the body maintain electrolyte balance.
Note: Ice apples have a very short shelf life. They must be ideally consumed the same day.
This is commonly found in the southern part of India, generally by vendors with a cane basket by the side of the road. At the place where I grew up, there was generally a local man who would go around our neighborhood on his bicycle selling Ice apples from his basket.
The world is waking up to the awesomeness of Jackfruits. A fruit/vegetable quite common across India. A perfect substitute for meat for vegans.
The ripe pods can be eaten like fruit and in raw form, the entire jackfruit can be cooked in curries. It’s also prepared as crispies.
I love it in all forms.
Jackfruit is commonly cultivated in Southeast Asia. One tree produces many fruits. I have seen fruiting trees in the wild in Sri Lanka, and parts of Tamil Nadu, India.
Jaggery is the unrefined sugar made of sugarcane juice commonly produced in Asia and Africa. India is the biggest producer.
One can come across fresh jaggery being made by the side of the highways in Punjab and Andhra Pradesh where it’s sold fresh in the winters.
Jaggery has more nutrient value than Sugar and is known to improve intestinal health. Some people like consuming jaggery post meals which act as the perfect quick dessert.
It’s sold in solid blocks, in liquid form, and more recently is being sold in a granulated form that’s easy to use as a sugar substitute.
Kokum is indigenous to the western ghats i.e. Gujrat, Maharashtra, Goa, Kerala. It’s a fruit from the Mangosteen family.
Dried Kokum is available online and is used just like tamarind. It’s a summer fruit so found in March, April, and May.
Kokum sherbet (juice) makes for a great summer drink and can be easily found being sold by the streets.
10. Makhana/ Fox nut
Makhana is our desi popcorn made out of lotus seeds.
Makhana is rich in calcium and is cholesterol-free making it a healthy snack. It’s also a popular food on fasting days.
It can be consumed in savory form as plain roasted or as a dessert made as porridge.
While the world is waking up to turmeric latte, turmeric has been a household spice in all parts of India. One of the most common condiments found in an Indian kitchen.
Turmeric is used in curries, added to milk, and also applied directly on cuts for its medicinal properties.
Tip: Warm turmeric milk is known to reduce menstrual cramps and also helps manage PMS.
Turmeric is known to have anti-inflammatory properties that supposedly can prevent Alzheimer’s and more recently chemical found in turmeric- curcumin, is found to help with depression.
How to eat
Traditionally, Indians used to eat and some continue to eat in a cross-legged position sitting on the floor, also called Sukhasana, literal translation – Happy pose. It is believed, meals were eaten sitting like this feel tastier and work better for our body.
Also Read: 13 Tips for First Time Travel to India
Enjoy your trip to India not with a Delhi belly but a very happy and healthy tummy!