Jungle Jalebi: The Twisted Summer Fruit That's A Rare Delight
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A stroll to the local fruit and vegetable markets in India can be a great learning experience, as you may come across new ingredients that you have never seen or known. Or sometimes it can be a pleasant surprise to chance upon certain nutritious vegetables or fruits that you probably remember eating while growing up but never saw in the stores after. One such fruit that’s not commercially sold and remains largely in the hands of street vendors and local markets is jungle jalebi, or Madras thorn. 

It is a summer fruit from an evergreen tree that’s scientifically called Pithecellobium dulce and belongs to the pea family. It is native to Central America and was introduced to India centuries ago. In English, it is commonly known as the Manila tamarind, Madras thorn, or monkeypod tree. This tree thrives in tropical climates and is known to sustain droughts and poor soil conditions. In India, the jungle jalebi can be found in Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, Maharashtra, West Bengal, Kerala, Andhra Pradesh, and Delhi. 

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This fruit also has various vernacular names depending on the region of India where it grows wild and uninhibited. Madras thorn is popularly called 'kodukka puli' in Tamil, referred to as 'seema chintakaya' in Telugu, 'seeme hunase' in Kannada, and ‘ganga imli’ or "jungle jalebi' in Hindi, which might be based on its coiled appearance that resembles the sweet jalebi. So, the jungle jalebi is neither fried sweetmeat nor sour like tamarind. 

It is a twisted and coiled fruit with pinkish-green peel and pods that contain sweet flesh or pulp and seeds. The seeds are oval and green when tender and turn black and hard as they ripen. They are covered by pulp that is white or pink in colour. The pulp is edible on its own and tastes sweet when completely ripe, with a hint of tartness to it. The flavours are refreshing, with a floral note and a mild aftertaste of vinegar. 

The Madras thorn trees are spiny and were cultivated around farms as fencing back in the day. As the farms cleared out in the urban cities that continue to grow, these trees have become a rare sight, and the fruit is less known. 

While the ripe pulp of jungle jalebi fruit can be eaten as is, in parts of south India like Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, and Andhra Pradesh, it is also used in the preparation of many dishes like raita, tomato-based curry, stir-fry with sliced onions and curry leaves, or in a juice with lemon and sugar. The stir-fry and curry can be paired with rice or roti for a complete meal. The fruit, on its own or in a dish, is light on the stomach, refreshing for the palate, and provides a good amount of energy, making it a great addition to your summer diet. 

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The texture of the jungle jalebi pulp is spongy, can soak up other flavours, and has a light crunch to it. The seeds, when tender and green, are used in a curry preparation along with other vegetables. But when they are completely ripe, hard, and black, they are used to extract oil for medicinal purposes. 

That’s right! These twisted pods are powerhouses of nutrition, while the seeds and bark of the tree are used for medicinal purposes. Jungle jalebi contains good amounts of calories, protein, and dietary fibre, along with vitamins B and C, calcium, phosphorus, and iron. 

The presence of vitamin C and phosphorous helps maintain good bone and skin health. The fibres are great for a good dose of energy, regulating appetite, and enhancing digestion efficiently, while the antioxidants help maintain good gut health. Additionally, the antimicrobial and antioxidant properties of these sour fruits help to treat mouth ulcers. 

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It is said that the bark of the Madras thorn tree is traditionally used to treat diabetes and the seed oil for ulcers. That said, it is always best to consult your healthcare provider before trying any of these remedies without guidance. 

And as far as the jungle jalebi fruit is concerned, it is best to consume it in moderation when you spot it in the market or on a street vendor’s bicycle, as too much of anything can do more harm than good. On that note, if you can get your hands on jungle jalebi this summer, don’t miss a chance to give this nutritional fruit a healthy shot! 

Here is a recipe for jungle jalebi stir-fry for you to try:  

Jungle Jalebi Stir-Fry  


1 cup de-seeded jungle jalebi pulp  

½ cup sliced onions  

3 sprigs of curry leaves  

½ teaspoon mustard seeds,  

½ teaspoon cumin seeds  

½ teaspoons of turmeric  

1 teaspoon red chilli powder  

1 teaspoon of coriander powder  

3-4 sprigs of curry leaves  

1 green chilli finely chopped  

1 tablespoon of coconut oil  

Grated coconut for garnish.  

Salt to taste  


In a frying pan, heat oil and add mustard and cumin seeds.  

As they sizzle and sputter, toss in the green chilli, onions, and curry leaves and continue to fry for a minute.  

Then, add the jungle jalebi pulp, sprinkle some salt and turmeric, and continue to fry by mixing them together for about 5 minutes.  

Season the mix with red chilli and coriander powder, combine all the ingredients well, and cook for about 2–3 minutes.  

Turn the heat down. Garnish with grated coconut and serve it hot on its own or as a side dish with roti.