From the mango being an emperor’s favourite fruit, to the kiwi being fed to the livestock as they were unidentified at the time, fruits in India have unique stories of their own.
The bazaars of India have a certain magic of their own. Lines of vendors all selling their purchases, calling out offers, each more enticing than the other. And to add to this colourful burst, there are crates upon crates of fresh fruits.
But fruits in India go beyond being a simple addition to the grocery list. Each has its own story of how it came to be grown in the country, or of how it came to be loved. Some even bear a mention in the Vedas, with poets singing about their taste and beauty.
You may have often noticed how each fruit has several varieties depending upon the region where it is harvested. Some fruits are so iconic that just the mention of their names helps us rekindle the joy of eating them.
So, keeping these nuances in mind, we bring to you the 10 most popular fruits along with an interesting story about each.
1. Bengaluru blue grapes
The story goes that these grapes were brought to the state of Karnataka by the Nizam of Hyderabad in the 18th century and since then the Nandi Valley has been filled with the seeded fruit. The name owes itself to the dark purple appearance and ovoid shape. The taste too, as some say, is very distinct and easy to recognise due to the methyl anthranilate content in it.
With its antioxidant content, the grapes are a rich source of many vitamins and minerals and not to forget tasty!
2. Namdhari watermelon
Who doesn’t love a good watermelon? With its juicy flesh, the fruit is not only refreshing but also has amino acid citrulline which is said to lower blood pressure. The Namdhari watermelons are said to be juicy, though not too sweet and this is what makes them a great addition to have in salads and desserts. Along with this, from a health point of view, the fruits contain arginine which helps with insulin control.
3. Allahabad surkha guava
Said to be a ‘bite of heaven’, this guava from Allahabad is so loved and relished that even Akbar Allahabadi — a well-known poet from Prayagraj — complemented the fruit. Not just the poet but even residents of the city love and enjoy the fruit so much that it came to be known as ‘The City of Green Gold’. Another aspect that makes it different from its competitor guavas is the lush pink colour that lies inside.
4. Kashmiri golden apple
The temperate fruit needs no introduction. Anecdotes speak of its relevance in keeping the doctor away and it is found on almost every fruit platter due to its ability to pair well with so many others. But what many may not know is that the apple is a celebrated fruit in the Kashmir Valley, as the fruit requires high altitudes and colder climes.
History also tells of how before the 16th century, Shamir rulers laid out orchards in the Kashmir Valley and this was the precursor of the apple.
5. Mandarin orange
More interesting than the qualities of the fruit, is the story of how it gained its name. In 1805, the fruit travelled from China to England where it came to be known as ‘Mandarin’ due to the language spoken by ‘mandarins’ or public officials, and the deep orange robes that they wore.
From a health perspective, these oranges contain more beta carotene than other varieties making them an excellent component for healthy growth.
6. Kanker custard apple
In 2016, the Kanker district of Chhatisgarh saw a production of around 6,000 tonnes of fruit. But the reason why this made news is that the area was previously known for its Naxal activity. In the attempt to bring order to the chaos of the region, the womenfolk of the village were trained in the collection and marketing of the fruit. And this is what turned the fruit into the pride of the region, and India.
Enriched with lutein and zeaxanthin, the fruit is a storehouse of antioxidants that help the body fight free radicals.
7. Mizo passion fruit
A fruit that has intrigued people for years due to its name, appeal, interesting flavour and colour, the passion fruit deserves the attention it gets. Like many other fruits, its abundance of antioxidants, flavonoids, magnesium, potassium, iron, etc. makes it a good choice for dessert. But a special component ‘piceatannol’ in the fruit makes it a good choice for diabetics, as this compound increases insulin sensitivity.
8. Ratnagiri alphonso
An article about the famous fruits in India would be incomplete without mention of the alphonso mango. The story goes that the earliest name of the fruit was Amra-Phal, which turned to Aam-Kaay in South India and then to Maamkaay. This then turned to Maanga and finally it was the Portuguese who named it mango.
Vedic literature speaks of how the fruit has always been a symbol of the power of the ruling class, prosperity and lavishness.
An anecdote tells of Shah Jahan’s fondness for mangoes. So deep was his love for the fruit that he punished his son, Aurangzeb, and placed him under house arrest because he kept all the mangoes in the palace for himself.
9. Tezpur litchi
Often referred to as the ‘alligator strawberry’, the litchi has been said to have one of the juiciest textures and flavours of all fruits. As you bite into the succulent fruit, there is a burst of flavour that greets your palate.
The crop thrives in loamy soil and areas that do not receive much frost, making the North Eastern part of India suitable for its cultivation.
10. Anteri kiwi
The story of how the ‘anteri kiwi’ became a popular feature of Arunachal Pradesh is interesting. For years the forests of the region were abundant in a fruit that was locally called ‘anteri’. In fact, the fruit grew so wildly that the people of Arunachal Pradesh would feed it to their livestock as they weren’t aware of how exotic the fruit was and how much potential it possessed to change the economy of the region.
It was only later when kiwis began to be exported, that people saw the demand for the fruit in the market. They realised the very same had been growing in their forests all along, and this is how the kiwi put Arunachal Pradesh on the map.
Prayagraj Surkha: The Divine Fruit Of India by Yash Lakhan, Published on 2 July 2022.
A History of the Mandarin Orange by Stephen Albert.
Edited by Yoshita Rao