Asam Embang – the “mango” to brighten your day

Nature often holds many surprises for us. As featured in our last article, we discovered that there are many wild Sarawakian species of flora hold versatile medicinal properties. Common herbs, like turmeric, are often used for seasoning, yet given the correct preparation can be used for remedial purposes to treat several ailments. We covered several different species last article and listed all their different properties to give you a chance to learn new medicinal treatments.

So much goodness found in one fruit!

One of the most pleasant gifts that Mother Nature has to offer is the delicious Asam Embang. Formally known as Mangifera pajang, a species of Anacardiaceae, the wild mango is endemic to the island of Borneo. This delicious fruit is known by many names to the different races of inhabitants; the Malays refer to it as “Asam Embang” or “Bua Embawang”. The native race, Ibans, commonly call it “Bua Mawang”, whilst our Sabahan neighbours call it “bambangan”. This fruit is subject to blooming seasonally biannually; during the months of January and February, as well as between July to August.

Regardless of its name, the consensus is that it is unique for its flavour and properties. The fruit grows on trees that are 30-60 metres tall; many locals actually warn of waiting under the tree for the fruit to drop, as it can be lethal if it hits your head! However, a sign of ripeness is when the wild mango has fallen from the tree.

asam embang

Many Sarawakians enjoy Embawang’s flavour as it is not too overpowering, but leaves you with a moreish compulsion to eat more

The appearance is a thick-skinned, bowling-ball-sized spherical fruit. Cutting into the wild mango, the ripeness test is indicated by its taste and colour. If it is extremely sour and has a slightly green shade, you’ve opened it too early. However, unlike its distant cousin, the Thai mango, the Asam Embang’s taste is only slightly sweet when ripe.

Many Sarawakians enjoy Embawang’s flavour as it is not too overpowering, but leaves you with a moreish compulsion to eat more as it is subtle enough to have more than one entire fruit. Furthermore, the flesh is fibrous, which can confuse our initial tactile instinct as we are so used to the soft flesh of Thai mangoes. One thing they share in common is the colour, which is yellow/orange.

The thickness of the rough exterior means you can keep the wild mango for up to a week after it’s ripe. Each fruit can weigh up to 1kg, although the species vary widely in size and weight. The flesh of the fruit can be preserved in jars for future use.

Asam Embang’s isn’t limited to just eating on its own, but can be used for a variety of purposes. Popular choices include juicing it to drink later, which is favourable if you enjoy the taste but not the fibrous texture, or making mango jam, which is also great if you love spreads! People often eat the wild mango as an “ulam”, a traditional Malay dish including centella leaves and sambal belacan.

Bambangan is also commonly also cooked with fish. Again, due to the flesh’s interesting fibrous texture, it can taste bland when interacting with heat, so chilli is often added to give it a taste not dissimilar to pineapple. Unripe mangoes can still be salvaged by steaming the flesh together with fish, into a dish called “Pinasakkan”.

In addition to Embawang’s delicious culinary attributes, research has indicated that the native Borneon fruit, flesh and seed included, contains medicinal properties. Research conducted by Dr Mohd Fadzelly Abu Bakar, Associate Professor of Universiti Tun Hussein Onn Malaysia (UTHM) in Johor, suggested the wild mango contains antioxidants and flavonoids. Antioxidants are normally associated with improved skin health. Flavanoids are a specific type of antioxidant commonly found in wild plants and have been found to provide protection against coronary heart disease, as well as contain anticancer properties. So much goodness found in one fruit!

Another delicious delicacy found only in Borneo is uncovered here for our readers. Adding to our series of natural products found in the rainforests, we hope you’ve learnt something new today. Next time you head to the market in July-August, keep an eye out for these coconut-sized hairy mangoes and surprise yourself with unique local produce!

This article from BorneoTalk Vol.48 (page 68). Click here for DOWNLOAD

Others Sarawak Fruits:
–  Durian Belanda: The Secret to Health and beauty found in one fruit

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