Sundakkai: The Bitter Berry

- November 21, 2023

By Shakthi Bharathi 

According to Ayurveda, there are six tastes known as the ‘rasas’. Each rasa plays its own role in boosting health and influencing the taster’s mood. Thus, the perfect meal has to contain all six rasas: salty, sweet, pungent, sour, bitter, and astringent.  

Bitterness often gets a bad reputation as the smell of burnt spices and the taste of medicine. However, the ability of bitters to balance out sweetness, cut through rich foods, and add depth of flavour, makes them integral to Indian cuisine. In the hands of a skilled cook, even the dreaded bitter gourd can be transformed into the crunchiest pakoras! 

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Sundakkai in the style of Thanjavur painting—practised in Tamil Nadu; Illustration: Anjali Narendra

Also known as turkey berry, this marble-sized fruit grows in thorny shrubs all through the year. Rich in iron, it is said to prevent anaemia, and has a sharp, metallic undertone to its bitterness. These little flavour bombs are used in South Indian chutneys and gravies. They are also sundried, fried in ghee or oil, and eaten as an accompaniment to rice.  

Did you know? 

In Siddha, one of the five alternative systems of medicine in India, these berries are used to treat gastrointestinal issues. So great are their digestive properties, they are often eaten to break a fast. 

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Rama was happy living in the forest with his wife and brother. Palace intrigue may have forced his exile, but the next fourteen years promised to be quite pleasant. Suddenly, this idyllic life was thrown into turmoil. His beloved wife Sita was kidnapped! With unmatched skill as a warrior, Rama destroyed the ten-headed Ravana and along the way, he won a host of very grateful friends.

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