Jamun: Several health benefits, but beware of buying from the roadside

The jamun tree, native to India, thrives easily in hardy tropical regions and is found in all parts of our subcontinent as well as countries of Southeast Asia and Eastern Africa. In India, this large evergreen tree, is grown widely in the Gangetic plains, and the Cauvery delta in Tamil Nadu. The tree bears fruit for 60 to 70 years and the fruits ripen in June or July.

It is known by several local names such as jambas, jamun, jambolan, rajaman, kala jamun, neredu, naval, nerale, jamali, java plum, black plum and black berry.

This purple tropical berry has a unique taste, colour and flavour. The most commonly found variety of jamun is often oblong and has a deep purple to bluish colour. The pulp of the fruit is grey or pink and has a seed in the centre. Another common variety is seedless.

The fruit is acidic and astringent in nature, with a sweet taste. Due to its acidic nature, it is usually eaten with a sprinkling of salt. Children are fond of this fruit as it colours the tongue purple due to anthocyanin, a plant pigment.

Jamun is 70 per cent edible. Glucose and fructose are major sugars found in a ripe jamun. The fruit is laden with a large number of minerals and provides fewer calories compared to other fruits. A medium-sized jamun provides about 3-4 calories. The seed of the fruit is also rich in protein carbohydrates and traces of calcium. It is also a source of iron, providing 1-2 mg per 100 grams and also vitamin C, providing 18 mg per 100 grams (the daily adult requirement of this vitamin is 40 mg). It provides folate and vitamin B, carotene, phytochemicals (anti-oxidants), magnesium, potassium and fibre.

Jamun is believed to be of special use in treatment of diabetes. In Unani and Ayurvedic system, it is used to treat digestive disorders including diarrohea. Extracts of the bark, seeds and leaves have been found to cause a marked prolonged decrease in blood sugar and glycouria (sugar in urine). Several studies provide evidence that jamun has hypoglycemic effects with up to 30 per cent reduction in blood sugar reported in some studies. Seeds are rich in alkaloids which have hypoglycemic effects.

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