Juju-what?! Those little yellow and brown fruits in our Farm-Boxes this week are called JuJubes. The winter has almost gone, and with it has arrived the season of Indian Jujube, or as we call them locally Baer/ kool. They are also known as the Korean date or Chinese date or even Indian Date. Jujube has been used in ancient Chinese medicine for over 4,000 years to help calm the mind, reduce stress and anxiety, and relax the body.
Origin of Jujube
Pin-pointing jujube’s precise origin is difficult due to its extensive cultivation. However, India is a contender for the title along with Afghanistan, Pakistan, Lebanon, Iran, Central China and Bangladesh. Jujubes were cultivated in parts of South Asia for 9,000 years. China in particular has been growing and refining the fruit for roughly about 4,000 years. The country’s rich, lengthy history with the fruit may be one reason for its namesake as the “Chinese jujube.” It is also said that around 2,000 years ago, jujubes were brought from China to Iran, Armenia, Syria, and parts of the Mediterranean. Their arrival in the US came much later, in 1837. According to the data –In 2005, it reveals that China cultivates approximately 90 percent of the world’s jujube supply.
History & Traditional Use of Jujube
Jujubes have a rich history, particularly in Asian cultures. For example, men in the Himalayan region take the fruit’s flowers and place them in their hats, believing their smell to attract the opposite sex. In a Chinese wedding ceremony, jujubes and walnuts were placed in the room of the newlyweds to promote fertility. Even today, Koreans use the wood to make a reed instrument, taepyeongso. Revered in Asia, the fruit, leaves, and seeds of the Jujube tree have been used for centuries in Traditional Chinese Medicine.
Saraswati Pujo, Jujube and myth
Saraswati Puja is one of the main festivals of Bengal region. Being a spring fruit, the first and fresh harvest of baer come in around the same time as Basant Panchami. The Indian jujube or Ziziphus mauritiana is an integral food offering made to goddess Saraswati during the time of worship. So it is an essential part to eat jujube as Prasad after the worship is over. According to Hindu mythology, jujube is said to be a favorite fruit of goddess Saraswati. So, how can we have the fruit before it is offered up to the deity on Basant Panchami? We can't, of course, and that is precisely why eating baer is not allowed before offering it to goddess Saraswati on Basant Panchami in Bengal. Eating baer before this auspicious day is considered to invite the ill humour of the goddess. It's only after the goddess has had her share of the feast, and blessed the fruit, that it is distributed as prasad. In some households, the traditional baer pickle or kooler achaar is also prepared in the evenings, after the puja is complete.
Availability of Jujube in India
India cultivates a whopping 90 varieties of jujube, primarily grown in the north. Delhi and Uttar Pradesh are some of the busiest farming regions for jujubes. The drought-resistant plants grow best in areas with long, hot summers. Jujube season begins in mid-October and lasts until the end of April. Several varieties come and go during this 6-month period. Vendors near schools are known to hawk the fruits outside of the classrooms. Jujubes ship very well, making it easy for several cities across the country to have access to the fruit. Those in the north have better access to higher quality fruits than those living in the south. The seed of the Jujube date is used in a classic and often recommended formula in Traditional Chinese Medicine known as Zizyphus combination, a formula dating back to 220 A.D. This formula was recommended for supporting healthy sleep throughout the night.
Type & Taste of Jujube
Under-ripe jujubes based on its prettier appearance. When under-ripe, the skin is greenish-yellow, uniform, and free of marks and blemishes. At this stage, jujubes also taste their most sour and most astringent. The taste of Indian jujubes greatly depends on the cultivation. At best, resemble an apple. Examples of varieties that generally fit this description are tenga-mitha-bogri, umran, gola, kaithli, kheera, seb, and nazuk. Other varieties can be mildly astringent, sour, and mix between acidic and sweet. The pulp’s texture ranges from slimy to juicy and at times, mealy. All jujubes possess a olive-like pit in the center of the fruit.
Ripe jujubes - On the other hand, look expired. Source- www.alamy.com
They’re dark brown, slightly wrinkled, and can be full of marks on the skin. Other varieties look dark yellow or golden. Jujubes are also sweetest at this late point in their development, but not as crisp. Dried jujubes have a smoky, bittersweet flavor. Jujubes sometimes have hints of coffee and chocolate, with these flavors being more apparent in the dried fruit than fresh. Packs of dried fruits are available year-round.
If purchasing jujubes, be sure to wait for them to ripen before consuming. The fruits should shed their green color and turn brown or golden yellow as the best indication. Most prefer eating the fruits right before they begin to wrinkle, or, three to five days after picking.
Chinese jujubes (which is the cultivar most commonly grown in the US and elsewhere), are similar to the Indian varieties, but are typically larger and sweeter.
Nutritional Value of Jujube
According to the USDA nutrient database, 100g of edible jujube has the following nutrition profile:
20.2g Carb (7% RDI)
1.30g Protein (2% RDI)
0.2g Fat (negligible)
40IU Vitamin A (negligible)
69mg Vitamin C (115% RDI)
Thiamine/B1 (1% RDI)
Riboflavin/B2 (2% RDI)
0.9mg Niacin (4% RDI)
0.1mg Vitamin B6 (4% RDI)
21mg Calcium (2% RDI)
0.5mg Iron (3% RDI)
10mg Magnesium (2% RDI)
23mg Phosphorous (2% RDI)
250mg Potassium (7% RDI)
0.1mg Copper (4% RDI)
0.1mg Manganese (4% RDI)
Health-Supporting Benefits of Jujube:
A bite sized fruit, it is relished by many but very few of us really know about its umpteen health benefits. Here’s a run down some of them –
Jujube fruits are rich in several antioxidant compounds, primarily flavonoids, polysaccharides, and triterpenic acids. They also contain high levels of vitamin C, which acts as an antioxidant as well. Antioxidants can prevent and reverse damage caused by excess free radicals. Free radical damage is thought to be a major contributor to several chronic conditions, including type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and some cancers. Studies found that the antioxidant activity of jujube flavonoids helped reduce stress and inflammation caused by free radical damage in the liver .
May improve sleep and brain function
Jujubes are widely used in alternative medicine to improve sleep quality and brain function. Emerging research suggests their unique antioxidants may be responsible for these effects. Jujube fruit and seed extracts have been found to increase sleep time and quality in animal trial . Also, the fruit is often prescribed by alternative medicine practitioners to decrease anxiety. Furthermore, studies indicate that it may improve memory and help protect brain cells from damage by nerve-destroying compounds .
Boost immunity and fight cancer cells
Jujube may boost immunity and fight the growth of cancer cells. Study noted that jujube polysaccharides, which are natural sugars with antioxidant properties, may fend off free radicals, neutralize harmful cells, and decrease inflammation .Decreased levels of inflammation and free radicals can help prevent chronic diseases, such as type 2 diabetes. Another study found that jujube lignins, a type of fiber with antioxidant properties, promoted the production of immune cells and increased the rate at which these cells neutralized harmful compounds . Jujube fruit is also rich in vitamin C, which is thought to have powerful anticancer properties.
Jujube’s high fiber content may help improve digestion. About 50% of the carbs in the fruit come from fiber, which is known for its beneficial digestive effects. As a result, it speeds up the movement of food through digestive tract and reduces constipation. What’s more, jujube extracts may help strengthen the lining of stomach and intestines, decreasing risk of damage from ulcers, injury, and harmful bacteria that may reside in gut.
For all Bengalis --welcome spring season with two major festivities: Basant Panchami, and Holi. Basant Panchami is the first of these two festive occasions. Basant or vasant panchami marks the beginning of spring season, and is celebrated on the fifth day (Shukla-Ponchomi-Tithi)of the month of Magh, according to the Hindu calendar. The day is dedicated to the worship of Devi Saraswati, who is the goddess of knowledge in the Hindu pantheon.
Due to its high nutritional value and health benefits, Jujube is prized in many parts of the world, and as mentioned earlier, health experts believe this fruit should be classified as a “superfood.” To control and prevent common ailments jujube has it’s own significant role. Probably due to that reason it is a rituals to take it immediately after Saraswati Pujo.
Qu, Z. & Wang, Y. Chinese Fruit Trees Record-Chinese Jujube (China Forestry Publishing House, 1993).
The historical and current research progress on jujube–a superfruit for the future. https://www.nature.com/articles/s41438-020-00346-5