Bel: The Drink For All Seasons

Chef Sumanta Chakrabarti (Corporate Chef, Sonar Tori) shares his grandmother's secret to drinking to wellness.

As told to: Madhulika Dash

Can one drink to good health? While modern-science has its reservation, when it comes to the matters of the kitchen and grandmother’s recipe to a healthy you, the answer is thundering yes. Thanks to years of ayurvedic science and food wisdom, the kitchen cabinets are stocked with secrets potions that can not only nurse away a bad cold – the famous ginger-mulethi chai for cold, anyone?! – rejig the stomach into pink of health – caraway infused tea – but do something slightly more: prep you to fight the vagaries of nature. And by that we do not just mean the fermented goodness of kanji (of Black Carrot and rice water) or the instant freshness of a Shikanjvi, but a little more exotic. The Baelo Pana (Bael Punch) for instance. The Bengali/Bihari/Oriya of Golden Apple or Stone Apple, this perennial fruit punch, says Chef Sumanta Chakrabarti, “is an all-season drink that can play a wide variety of role when it comes to detoxing the body, firming up the gut and even giving your cells the boost of energy. In fact, it is one drink that would appear on the table as soon as they are any seasonal changes.”

The reason for this, says Sveta Bhassin (therapeutic nutritionist), “is the fruit’s unique composition. It is an orange, carrot and banana mash up – and can single-handedly take care of many of the nutrition need of the body.”

In fact, adds Bhassin, “Bael fruit was in demand in ancient time for its antimicrobial, anti-viral and anti-fungal properties, and used to treat a variety of ailments including scurvy and even those that affected the blood vessels as well.”

This also explains why a bael tree along with that of coconut, banana and papaya are still found in every traditional home. But unlike Bael peers, says Chef Chakrabarti, “which are plucked around the season, for bael we have to wait for it to drop to the ground. There are two reasons for this, first, a bael fruit ripens only in 11 months and is rather inedible before that; and two, it is only when it is ripe that it emanates this sweet, peach fruit kind of an aroma – which signals that the fruit sugar is not concentrate and the pulp of this hard exterior melon is ready for consumption.”

Once the fruit is recovered, there are two ways about eating it. First, says the experts, “eating it when the pulp is still firm; and second, when the pulp gets mushier, squeezing out the juice (don’t strain it) and then adding the necessary black salt and chillies, and drinking it.”

This ancient mocktail that is sold from a shack that erupts across the small towns of Bengal and Odisha is called, Bealo Panna. And is considered even today as the best gripe water for adults. Among its many virtues are the ability to detox the stomach in a matter of hours; and re-hydrate the skin.

In fact, bael juice is also recommended by Bhassin as a cure for post gluttony period for a lighter stomach.