WHAT IS SHAREEFA FRUIT? CUSTARD OR SUGAR APPLE: RHUBARB AND CUSTARD APPLE COMPOTE
The custard apple is native to the Amazon rainforest, and was taken from the South American continent to other tropical parts of the world by the Spanish and Portuguese explorers in the 16th century. It now grows in many countries including the Indian subcontinent, Spain and Taiwan. In southern Spain there is a custard apple festival during the 11th – 14th October in Almunecar in Granada and in Madeira the custard apple festival is held in Faial as part of the regional Folklore Festival.
When I first saw a shareefa, I thought it was a variety of small pineapple because of its shape and outer skin, but inside were seeds surrounded by soft flesh, which is sweet and nothing like the taste of a pineapple.
This fruit is relatively expensive in Pakistan, fitting perhaps for a fruit that was mainly eaten at the courts of the Moghul Emperors because it was too expensive for ordinary people to afford. The very wealthy are the ashrafiya (the superior ones) and it is from this word that the shareefa gets its Urdu name. Today people seem to prefer to eat amrood (guava) which tastes a little like the custard apple.
The custard apple not only tastes good but has many health benefits and uses, although the seeds are toxic and should not be eaten. The roots and seeds have abortifacient properties, so the fruit should only be consumed in moderation during pregnancy to be on the safe side. A paste of the powdered seeds is applied to the scalp to get rid of headlice, but is not a recommended treatment as it will irritate the eyes a lot if it gets into them and can cause blindness. In Mexico the leaves are strewn on the floors of chicken coops to repel lice and other insects. An extract of the dried leaves has proven to be an effective insecticide and a natural way of inhibiting the breeding of the dengue carrying mosquito in the Indian subcontinent.
Lac-excreting insects live on the bark of the tree as they do on the banyan tree so it plays host to these and gives us even more financial benefits. Fibre from the bark can be used to make ropes, and if diarrhoea occurs then a tonic made from it is given. If the diarrhoea is chronic or someone has dysentery, the bark, leaves and unripe fruit can be boiled together in a litre of water for 5 minutes to make an effective remedy.
On its own, the root bark is used to stop toothache, and is said to be an abortifacient too.
The leaves can be crushed and made into a paste to be applied to ulcers, boils or abscesses on the skin and the crushed leaves will heal wounds. A decoction made from the leaves is said to be effective in removing intestinal parasites. In India the crushed leaves are sniffed if someone has a fainting spell or becomes hysterical, in much the same way that smelling salts were used in Britain in the 18th century. If a decoction of the leaves is added to bathwater it is said to alleviate the pains associated with rheumatism.
The fruit contains a little carotene, a lot of calcium, iron, thiamine, riboflavin, niacin and ascorbic acid as well as the amino acids, tryphopan, methionine and lysine. It is good for people who are recovering from an illness, and satisfies hunger too, so is a good dessert if you still feel hungry after a meal! It aids digestion too, and is sieved and made into ice cream in Malaysia. It is naturally cooling and will relieve any burning sensation in your body. Medicinally the fruit is used to stop a bout of vomiting and to cure diarrhoea. It is believed that if you leave a shareefa outside at night so that the dew falls on it and then eat it in the morning, it will cure inflammation even better than if you just ate the fruit. However, that seems strange, as you’d have to suffer the discomfort all night. Be that as it may, the fruit is also used as an expectorant, stimulant, and for anaemia.
If you’ve never tasted it, you don’t know what you’re missing. It’s delicious. You can grow your own custard apple tree indoors, although they grow from 3 metres to 8 metres high.
Rhubarb and Custard Apple Compote
1 bunch red rhubarb, cut into cubes
1 stick cinnamon
2 tsps soft brown sugar or misri
the juice of half an orange
Stew the rhubarb with the sugar, orange juice, cloves and cinnamon. (Approx.20 mins)
Allow to cool and add the flesh of the custard apples.
Mix together and serve as a dessert, topped with vanilla ice cream.
This has Taste and is a Treat.