The deliciously sweet Virupakshi Hill Banana commonly referred to as the ‘fruit meant for the Gods’ is an indigenous crop of commercial importance grown in the eastern parts of the Western Ghats and parts of the Eastern Ghats like Lower Palani Hills, Sirumalai and Kolli Hills.
Virupakshi Hill Banana belongs to the pome group genome AAB. This type of banana retains its characteristic colour, flavour and aroma only when cultivated at high elevations of 1200 – 1500 feet. The humid tropical climatic conditions, laterite soil rich in organic matter with a pH of 5.5 to 6.5 and annual rainfall of 1500mm distributed in 90 days found in this region is suitable for the cultivation of this type of banana.
This banana is cultivated on a perennial basis and normally, intercropped with coffee as it provides much-needed shade to coffee plants as well as a steady income for the farmers. The first crop is harvested in about 15 months and subsequent harvests are made in 8 – 10 months. The plant life is generally between 12 – 15 years but farmers uproot the plant after six years and replant when the shoots grow from the sides of the roots.
The plant grows up to a height of about 3 metres and has long leaves and ripe yellow fruits. Ideally, a bunch has five to seven hands and twelve fingers per hand. The fruits have a thick peel that can be removed easily. It has a distinctive curvature, pleasant aroma and turns dark when overripe.
Malai vazhaipazham (Hill Banana) is very sweet to taste with a dry pulp. The famous Panchamritham of Palani Temple is made with these bananas. As the dry pulp acts as a natural preservative, the prasad remains fresh for many months.
The fruit does not get spoiled even when the skin turns dark as the pulp has less moisture content even when overripe. The shelf life of the fruit is about 10 days under ambient temperature.
These fruits are rich in potassium and therefore, suggested as a medicine for nervous disorders. They help in easy bowel movement and improve digestion. The sugar content is up to 210 brix with a sugar to acid ratio of 15:1.
Like the Sirumalai Hill Banana, Virupakshi Hill Banana has also been severely affected by Bunchy top, a devastating viral disease. Government authorities, self-help groups and farmers have worked very hard to contain this virus using both indigenous methodology as well as the latest farming technology. They now plan to use innovative ways to protect these plants, increase the area under cultivation and the annual production.
This delightful divine Hill Banana was granted the Geographical Indication Tag (GI) in 2008.
Written by Lakshmi Subramanian
* Photos are only symbolic (Taken from public domain/internet and any copyright infringement is unintentional and regrettable)