Friday, July 29, 2011

Angel's Juice

Angel, along with her sister, runs a modest eatery not far from our apartment. We sometimes drop in for a stir fry or Stray’s omelet. When she’s not cooking, Angel can often be seen sitting behind large plastic tubs, big enough to bath a small child in, and pots.

You would be forgiven for thinking this was something one might find on a forest floor, or possibly stuck to the bottom of a shoe, because sometimes, it would be.
Malva nuts, which technically aren't nuts, are sort after for their medicinal properties and these are what are soaking and floating around in Angel’s tubs. Hundreds and hundreds of them!
Malva nuts can be found growing high in the canopies of large trees (Scaphium Macropodum), in Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, and in Thailand, predominantly in the Chanthaburi Province...also home to the World Durian Festival...oh, can you just imagine!

Anyway, Malva Juice is a popular medicinal drink in many Asian countries, in particular, China. It’s believed to aid coughs, sore throats, intestinal infections, ease bowel movements and decrease the body temperature. The flesh, which is obtained by soaking the nut until it swells up to ten times its original size, then deseeded, is also an ingredient in sweet, cold soups. Or, simply enjoyed as a drink flavoured with other herbs, such as basil seeds.
The discarded seeds are said to be useful in subduing diarrhea, dysentery and asthmatic complaints. Although, over consumption can give you just about all of the forementioned ailments.

A more unusual use is its incorporation into *artificial* bird’s nests (the soup kind), after the pulp has been bleached to form a white jelly. Or, less tactfully put... it is an ingredient that some unscrupulous bird nest producers probably use to glue pieces of nests together, to form one. Nothing but the best swiftlet spit will do! This is one versatile little nut!
Before the nuts end up bagged, sold and juiced, they're attached to a leaf or membranous wing, of sorts, which can be as long as 20 cm. So, it would be kind of neat to be around when they're whirlybirding from great heights, down to the ground.

The trees take 10-12 years to fruit and annually can produce a crop of between 10 and 40 kg. The only problem is that the tree has the capability of growing 40 metres tall and has a branchless lower trunk, making it near impossible to climb. So harvesting = chopping down the tree. An issue now being addressed and reportedly, controlled by the National Park authorities.

One minor consolation is that the bark of the felled trees is used as a veneer, while the soft timber is sometimes useful for construction it just me, or do the words ‘soft’ and ‘scaffolding’ in the same sentence seem a tad unsettling?
Laos scaffolding
The good news is that some of the villagers are looking into planting and farming Malva trees, to create a sustainable, renewable resource. When the juice producers situated in Chanthaburi Province can’t source enough locally grown produce, the nuts are imported from Cambodia and Laos.

So, what’s it taste like? As a drink, nothing specifically really, except for the sweetness of a little added sugar. Just like finely minced jelly suspended in candy water. And why is Angel sitting for hours on end, soaking, peeling and blending? She doesn’t sell it at her drink stall and if my Thailish serves me correctly, she sends the finished product to a health food company...possibly in Chanthaburi...can't be sure.

Whatever she does with it, it sure is a labour intensive process and we thank her for the bottles she gave us to sample. And, if you're real Malva juice nut ;) it should be consumed at precisely:

03.00 - 05.00: To help to maintain healthy lungs.
05.00 - 07.00: To improve the function of the intestines.
07.00 - 09.00: To coat the stomach.
09.00 - 11.00: To help decrease the size of the lower abdomen. High fiber content keeps the intestines moving.
13.00 - 18.00: To strengthen the liver
19.00: To help reduce cholesterol and at bed time, to get your bowels moving in the morning.


*The malva tree was one of three species chosen for a research project on plant genetic conservation, in 1999, initiated by HRH Princess Sirindhorn.

*Alternative names: (luuk sam roong/ลูกสำรอง/pong ta lai/huang tai hai, maak joong, มากจอง) to name a few.

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