Beed’s most famous fruit, the deliciously sweet custard apple has been thriving in the dry Balaghat ranges for more than four centuries. This organically grown fruit attributes its name to Sita Mata who used to eat this fruit during her exile. Sitaphal derives its name from the Sanskrit words śīta which means cold and phala which means fruit and custard apple is known to have a cooling effect on the human body.
Research records suggest that custard apple was introduced by the Portuguese in the 16th century where it is flourished in the Deccan Plateau. Beed district is situated in the Deccan Plateau and custard apple is grown in over 700 hectares in Beed district and in over 7000 hectares in Maharashtra. The main areas in Beed district are Kaij, Dharur, Manjarsumba, Ambajogai and Balaghat ranges. As Maharashtra is the highest producer in the country, the daily market rate for the fruit is fixed primarily on their output. The fruit is sold in the markets of Mumbai, Pune, Hyderabad, Vijayawada, Bengaluru and Delhi.
Sitaphal grows in the wild in the Balaghat forest and its rocky terrain even though there is scarcity of water, less rainfall and lowland soil. The high potassium content and micronutrients in the rocky terrain with shallow well-drained soil of Balaghat ranges especially in Dharur, Ambajogai and Ashti are predominantly responsible for its unique taste.
This perennial plant grows up to a height of 3 – 4 metres in two years and has an average lifespan of 25 years. Harvesting of custard apple is done manually with great care as it is a delicate fruit. Average yield of fruits per tree after 5 years is about 15 kg and gradually increases up to 50 kg.
This naturally grown Balanagar variety of custard apple has high TSS (24.490 Brix), Total Sugar (20.12%) and reducing sugar content (17.97%) as compared to other varieties that have lesser reducing sugar content – Mammoth (16.6%) and Washington (15.7%).
Beed custard apple has distinctive physical characteristics like a perfect round shape, attractive green external fruit colour, pleasant texture and flavour, creamy white or yellowish colour when mature, weighty and pulpy juicy fruit that is creamy white in colour and fleshy. Beed custard apple has lesser number of seeds and 47.44% pulp which is much higher as compared to other varieties like Mammoth (44.5%), Washington (38.1%) and British Guiana (37.9%).
Beed sitaphal is a highly nutritive fruit rich in carbohydrates, protein, antioxidants, potassium, magnesium and copper and also cures indigestion. As custard apple is highly perishable with an average shelf life of 24 hours after harvesting, farmers have now started storing custard apple pulp to initiate processing like custard apple powder, beverages and ice cream.
Dharur custard apple pulp is used in desserts like basundi, rabri, jams and jelly. This disease resistant variety has good domestic and international demand. Beed custard apple was granted the Geographical Indication Tag (GI) in 2016.
Written by Lakshmi Subramanian
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