PICS: BHEEM RAJ RAI
Forget foreign brands when it comes to fruit juice in Nepal. Local options like bel (marmelos) and sea buckthorn juice will have you asking for more once you experience their exquisite taste and enjoy their health benefits.
Marmelos, which grows wild in the Tarai region of Nepal, had long been an underutilised crop before it hit the stands in a bottled avatar. Now marketed by the Alternative Herbal Company under the brand name Marmelous, they sell 15-20,000 bottles of juice every month during the summer.
Some say marmelos comes closest to litchi in terms of taste, although it is a whole lot healthier. The juice is packed with vitamins and minerals and comes sans artificial colours and flavours. The use of marmelos in Ayurveda is well known, and it is used as a cardio tonic, to treat indigestion, and is prized for its memory-enhancing properties. Bel juice also revitalises the body instantly and fights fatigue.
Local farmers and community forest user groups are also making good money from the sales of marmelos that just rotted in the woods earlier. "A single person earns up to Rs 2,400 everyday from selling marmelos," Ghimire says.
One glass of Marmelous can make four glasses of sorbet without adding sugar. This is why they are being widely used in wedding parties as well. With restaurants in Kathmandu offering bel juice, the demand is likely to rise even more. Dhokaima Cafť, for instance, offers a bel juice cocktail, 'Nepal libre'.
Wonder fruit, sea buckthorn
The people of the Khumbu had never imagined that they would be serving local sea buckthorn juice to tourists, as it was a fruit they had frowned upon as bird food till now. Today, sea buckthorn is a must-have item on menus throughout hotels and teahouses in the Khumbu; it has become an important alternative income source for high mountain farmers.
Locals collect the sour berries that grow wild along the river banks and the trekking trails in the region and process them manually to create a highly concentrated juice. This initiative started after the Khumbu Alpine Conservation Council, with support from The Mountain Institute, trained locals to turn sea buckthorn into an edible health drink.
There are few fruits in the world that can match up to the nutritional credentials of sea buckthorn. Largely cultivated in China for its medicinal properties, sea buckthorn is being heralded as the new wonder fruit. This citrus fruit has 15 times the Vitamin C found in oranges, and is also rich in carotenoids, Vitamin E, amino acids, and minerals.
Sea buckthorn has long been used in traditional Chinese and Indian medicine to treat diarrhoea, ulcers, and cardiac disease, and to promote tissue regeneration. Russian scientists have developed drugs from sea buckthorn oil to increase immunity. The berries are also believed to be potent against cancer and the dengue virus. And the good news is, sea buckthorn grows like anything in the alpine regions of Nepal, from Mugu to Taplejung.
"The demand for sea buckthorn juice is so high that imported juices have been almost displaced and we cannot even supply enough to Namche, let alone Kathmandu," says Ang Rita Sherpa of The Mountain Institute. But they are not pushing hard for mass production either. "We want the initiative to progress gradually without damaging the ecosystem, our priority is local consumption," he adds.
For now, Kathmanduites will have to either wait or ask their friends returning from the Khumbu, Manang, or Mustang to get a taste. Sea buckthorn is on the horizon, but you may have to go to the source first.