September 2017


The Tangy Thrilling Biling
September 2017




Biling packs a tasty tangy acidic punch

No one really knows from exactly where the Averrhoa bilimbi fruit - better known as biling - came from. But with the fertile soil and temperate climate of Sri Lanka, this fruit thrives and prospers to delight the discerning taste buds with its tangy thrilling taste.


Words: Manu Gunasena 

Photography: Rasika Surasena


Biling's biting taste appealed to Sri Lankans because of their preference to the taste of spices and herbs that grow so abundantly in the land. This unique fruit was embraced wholeheartedly; and served to lift, with its quite distinctive tang, Sri Lankan cuisine to a new high.


Many Sri Lankan home gardens find space to grow the biling tree that bears the tangy fruit as it has many uses.


THE TREE
The billing tree is in itself a beautiful work of nature's art. Its clustered leaves of a deep green shade on spreading branches set on a trunk that doesn't rise to great heights, but settles at a maximum of ten metres high from its roots.


It also needs to find its place in the sun and bask in the sunlight to develop its potential as soon as possible. Or else, if planted in the shade with light denied, it will indeed turn out to be a slow growing tree.


The tree also demands a humid and temperate clime with an evenly distributed rainfall throughout the year. Fortunately, many regions in the Island provide the plant with the basic conditions to flourish as an evergreen tree.


THE FRUIT
But, of course, biling's popularity was not only due to the ornamental value of the tree. It lay in the piquancy in the fruit it bore year round. At first sight the fruit looks like a cucumber that has made a determined effort to stay in its infancy forever. And that tangy deliciousness comes in small doses.


OUTER LOOK
Size and looks apart, the mini biling is only around 10 cm in length. But what a pack of tasty acids it punches within. The distilled juice is sour and tangy, sharp and biting when the fruit is voluptuously ripe. And it all comes in a casing of a pleasing lemon green hue, glossy in texture, sleek with sheen, soft to the touch and tender to the bite.

The tree also demands a humid and temperate clime with an evenly distributed rainfall throughout the year. Fortunately, many regions in Sri Lanka provide the plant with the basic conditions to flourish as an evergreen tree.


THE TASTE

Perhaps it maybe thought its acidic raw taste would be far too much for man's tongue. But the Sri Lankan taste bud, is sweet and sour. Not only do they eat biling plucked directly from the tree and sometimes smear it with salt before popping it into their mouths and munching, but have proceeded to find other indigenous uses for it as well.

It maybe thought its acidic raw taste would be far too much for man’s tongue. But the Sri Lankan taste bud, is sweet and sour.


THE FOOD BOOSTER

Biling is used in Sri Lankan curries. Apart from the spices and herbs used in curries to give it flavour and a good dose of chili to make it hot, the billing has come to be used as a substitute for tamarind. Though it is not of the same flavour as tamarind, but has a different piquancy, given that the biling tree is found in many a garden and its fruit generally available throughout the year, many reach for the ready billing when tamarind runs out.


THE COOL DRINK
But not in food alone does the biling show its value. Its juice is an ideal pre-lunch mocktail. The art of serving this cool drink is to first cut the fruit into pieces, put it in a pan, fill it with water till the pieces are submerged and add sugar. Then once the pieces are cooked on a medium fire, place it in a blender with some mint leaves. Pour the concentrated juice to a jar; add a dash of soda and some ice and some more mint. Then you have a refreshing cool drink to beat the heat of the noon day sun.


THE BILING JAM

The biling jam stands somewhere between mango and ambarella jam. More of a crossbreed, only its acidity, gives it a sharper taste. Try your hand at making it. Take the biling and slice it after having removed its stalks and put it in a pan of water for about two hours. Remove the water by squeezing the fruit and put it into a preserving pan, adding about a pound of sugar to every pound of biling. Add a little water, boil it till it reaches a thick consistency.


THE MANY USES
Biling is also a stand-alone ingredient and is used to make a curry of its own. It can also be used to make jam, preserve and chutney. It can also be pickled. To do this, half ripe fruits are first salted, sun dried and then pickled in brine.


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    The biling tree, a beautiful work of nature's art

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    Biling fruits grow like ornaments on the tree trunk

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    Pickled biling, a local favourite

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    The Cool Drink

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    The Biling Jam

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    In the process of making a sensational biling dish

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