Yet another super food, Incan berries have been valued for their nutritious benefits ever since ancient times. These berries come from the Physalis peruviana plant and are also known by several names in different parts of the world such as Inca berry, Cape gooseberry, Golden berry, Aztec berry, Giant ground cherry, Pichu berry, Peruvian cherry, Peruvian ground cherry etc. Incan berries are native to South America but have been cultivated successfully in South Africa and England as well. Regardless of its various names, Incan berries do not bear any close relation to any kind of gooseberry or cherries. Rather they are more closely related to tomatillos.
Incan berries are yellow or orange in color and has the shape of a tomato. Similar to a tomato, these berries also contain numerous seeds. A ripe berry would have a sweet taste with a mild tartness. The Incan berries are enclosed in a paper like calyx, which forms a protective cover around them as they grow. These berries can stay without damage for as long as 30 to 45 days at room temperature, if they are kept inside the calyx. Incan berries can be eaten fresh or in the dried form. They also make tasty addition to several recipes like salads, cakes, biscuits, desserts, etc.
Processing of Incan berries
Incan berries are harvested during the months of April to August. They start to ripen 3 to 4 months after the plant flowers. Only the fully ripened fruits are chosen for processing. Both the wild berries and cultivated berries are collected and transported to a processing farm. It is here that these berries are cleaned, sorted and made ready for sun drying. This process is rather time consuming as it is carefully done by individuals and not machines. Once the sorting and cleaning processes are complete, the berries are then placed in sun dryers. Drying or dehydration of fruits helps to increase their shelf life and prevents them from getting spoilt. The temperature of the drying process is kept below 45 degrees to ensure that just the right amount of moisture remains and the nutritional value and flavor of the fruit is not compromised.
Nutritional value of Incan berries
Incan berries are a powerhouse of important vitamins, minerals and many other nutrients essential to our body. Proteins are important for maintaining the health of your cells and also for the growth and repair of muscles. Incan berries are a rich source of protein. 100 grams of this fruit can provide you with 7.3 grams of protein. This super fruit is also an excellent source of vitamins like vitamin A, B vitamins (B1, B2, B6, and B12), vitamin C, and vitamin P. It also contains high levels of bioflavanoids, melatonin, and pectin. A 100 gram serving of Incan berries can offer you 1220KJ of energy, 3.4 grams of fat, 19.1 grams of fiber, 49 grams of carbohydrates, 1500 mg of potassium, 220 mg of phosphorus, 24 mg of calcium and 3.1 mg of iron.
Sodium and potassium are two electrolytes that are essential to our body and a perfect balance is required to be maintained between the two. High levels of sodium and low levels of potassium can affect the normal functioning of the body. Incan berries are naturally low in sodium content (less than 1 mg per 100g of the fruit). But they have a high level of potassium, which helps to maintain the balance.
Incan berries are a wonderful source of energy and hence it forms an ideal snack item. When compared to other dried fruits, Incan berries in their dried form are found to contain the maximum amount of fiber. This fruit contains both soluble and insoluble fibers. Insoluble fibers add volume to your stools and allow you to have a normal and healthy bowel movement whereas soluble fibers bind to cholesterol and prevent its absorption by the body.
Incan berries also contain the highest level of antioxidants in comparison with some of the other super fruits like apple, pomegranate, goji berries etc. Free radicals, which are toxic byproducts formed during cell metabolism are capable of causing damage to the cell tissues by the process of oxidation. Antioxidants are very useful to our body because they help to eliminate the harmful effects of free radicals. Another benefit of eating Incan berries is that they are low in fat content, which helps you to maintain a healthy heart.
Health benefits of Incan berries
Apart from the exotic taste, the Incan berries offer innumerable health benefits that attract people who want to stay healthy the natural way.
Incan berries for strong bones and teeth
Incan berries are a rich source of the two minerals phosphorus and calcium that are essential for keeping your bones and teeth healthy and strong. These minerals work hand in hand to promote the growth and development of bones and teeth.
Incan berries promotes weight loss
Incan berries increase your rate of metabolism, providing energy and at the same time promoting weight loss. The rich fiber content in this fruit satiates your hunger and keeps you full for long hours, thus eliminating the need for snacking in between meals.
Incan berries and cancer
Studies have shown that Incan berries have potential anti-inflammatory and anti-cancer properties which help in preventing the growth and spreading of cancer cells. These berries are found to contain 4β-Hydroxywithanolide E, which helps to prevent the genetic mutations in the DNA of your lung cells. The genetic mutations are to a great extent responsible for the development of cancer. So by inhibiting these mutations Incan berries helps in protecting us from this deadly disease.
Incan berries and diabetes
Incan berries form a healthy snack item for people suffering from diabetes. This fruit has high levels of pectin which helps to keep the blood sugar level under control. Pectin is a natural fiber which works by inhibiting the digestion and absorption of sugars. This helps to prevent spikes in the blood glucose levels.
Incan berries lowers cholesterol
Pectin, a soluble fiber present in the Incan berries can help to lower the bad cholesterol or LDL levels. It can bind together the cholesterol and prevent its absorption into the blood stream. Keeping the cholesterol levels under check is extremely important to prevent health conditions like stroke and heart attack.
Incan berries is good for the digestive system
The rich fiber content in the Incan berries helps to ease the process of digestion and also allows you to have regular bowel movements. Proper digestion and regular bowel movements can keep your digestive system healthy and prevent many digestive disorders. The seeds of Incan berries have been found to have laxative effect, which helps to improve your intestinal health and also promotes regularity.
Incan berries boost your immune system
Incan berries contain high amounts of secretory IgA, which is an antibody that improves your immunity and protects your body from the attack of bacteria and viruses.
Incan berries improve eye health
Incan berries are an excellent source of Vitamin A and vitamin C that are essential for healthy eyes. Vitamin A improves the health of your retina while vitamin C lowers the chances of glaucoma and slows down the progress of conditions like macular degeneration and glaucoma.
Incan berries have anti aging effect
Incan berries are rich in antioxidants that fight against the harmful free radicals and prevent cell damage. By preventing oxidation, these antioxidants protect us from many severe health conditions and also reduce the signs of aging like dark spots, wrinkles and fine lines.
Increase capillary strength with Incan berries
Incan berries contain large amounts of vitamin P, also known as bioflavonoids. These nutrients are capable of increasing the strength of capillaries, at the same time preventing the accumulation of plaque (atherosclerotic plaque) in the blood vessels. Proper strength and functioning of the capillaries is essential for the normal functioning of your heart and many other organs like the eyes, brain etc that needs high levels of oxygen and nutrients. Including Incan berries in your diet can detoxify your body and promote better absorption of nutrients. Several studies have come to the conclusion that bioflavonoids have anti-viral, anti-sclerotic, anti-inflammatory and anti-carcinogenic properties.
How to eat Incan berries
Incan berries are mostly consumed in the dried form. You can eat them as such or add them to salads and desserts. Adding these berries to cereals will give your breakfast a tantalizing taste. Try eating Incan berries with dark chocolate or milk. The taste is so exotic that you will be craving for more. This fruit can also be added to cakes, muffins, cookies, scones, biscuits and puddings. Incan berries make a healthy ingredient in sauces and jams.
Regular consumption of the delectable and nutritious Incan berries is a great way to supplement a tasty, healthy and well balanced diet. If you have a sweet tooth and want to enjoy snacks without having to worry about gaining weight, Incan berries are the ideal choice for you. In fact everyone benefits from consuming this amazing fruit and as such it has become very popular nowadays and has also been recommended by nutrition experts to improve overall health.Image Credits: Wikimedia, Wikimedia