Underutilized fruit crops in India with potential nutraceutical value.
Authors: Vartika Srivastava1 and Vikender Kaur2
1Scientist, Tissue Culture and Cryopreservation Unit, National Bureau of Plant Genetic Resources, New Delhi
2Scientist, Germplasm Evaluation Division, National Bureau of Plant Genetic Resources, New Delhi


With green revolution, India has attained self sufficiency in food grains production. In the current scenario, agricultural as well as horticultural research is mainly targeting only major crops and thus, the dietary pattern of the society is trending towards only few species. From a total of 250,000 known plant species, approximately 7,000 have been domesticated for human food since the origin of agriculture. Out of these, just three – rice, wheat and maize – provide more than 50% of the world’s plant-derived calories. Only 12 crops and 5 animal species provide 75% of the world’s food (FAO, 1997). This is the main reason of loss of biodiversity, climate change, soil and water degradation as well as emergence of many lifestyle diseases. As far as fruits are concerned, these are the last domesticated plants and still several wild fruit species are under domestication once local people recognized them to be important for their use and commercial value.

Globally, the statistics of malnutrition shows that around 2 billion people are suffering from micronutrient deficiencies (hidden hunger) and around 1.46 billion people are suffering from obesity (Keats and Wiggins, 2014; WHO, 2014). According to the recent reports of National Family Health Survey, the health indicators of children in India are among the worst in the world, 4 out of 5 children under 3 years of age in the country are anemic and 3 out of 5 children are malnourished. Around 8.5 lakh children are estimated to die before their first birthday each year (Census, 2011; Sample Registration System (SRS), 2013).

Nutraceuticals and their benefits

The term “nutraceutical” was coined in 1989 by Stephen DeFelice, it combines two words – “nutrient” (a nourishing food component) and “pharmaceutical” (a medical drug). Nutraceuticals can be utilized as non-specific biological therapies used to promote general health. The philosophy behind nutraceuticals is to focus on prevention, according to the saying by a Greek physician Hippocrates (known as the father of medicine) who said “let food be your medicine”. The role of nutraceuticals in improving biological processes includes antioxidant defense, cell proliferation, gene expression and safeguarding of mitochondrial integrity. Prolonged intake of nutraceuticals reduces the risk of chronic diseases by improving immune system and reducing the susceptibility to certain diseases like allergy, alzheimer’s disease, cardiovascular diseases, cancer, eye conditions, Parkinson’s disease and obesity which occur mainly due to oxidative stress. They are considered to be healthy sources for prevention of life threatening diseases such as diabetes, renal and gastrointestinal disorders, as well as different infections.

Nutraceutical ingredients with their therapeutic applications

Nutraceutical Ingredients Therapeutic properties
Probiotics, Prebiotics: Bone and Joint Health
Vitamins, Antioxidants: Cancer Risk Reduction
Soya based ingredients: Cardiovascular Health
Minerals: Maternal and Infant Health
Nutritional lipids and oil: Immune system
Fibers and carbohydrates: Energy and Eye Health
Dairy base ingredients: Skin Health, Respiratory Weight Management, Cognitive and Mental function Cholesterol Reduction
Most of the fruits are rich in nutraceutical ingredients viz., vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, nutritional lipids, oil, fibers and carbohydrates and thus can be utilized either in fresh or processed form for improved health and a better well being. Their role in human nutrition is one of the most important areas of investigation, with wide-raging implications for consumers, health-care providers, regulators, food producers and distributors. Apart from major fruit crops like mango, banana, orange, apple, pear, plum etc, there are huge numbers of fruit crops growing in India with huge nutritive and therapeutic value. These crops are not grown as an orchard, rather found growing in a wild state or along the roadsides.

Underutilized fruits with rich nutraceutical value

Aegle marmelos (Bael)

The bael is a medicinally important fruit tree grown on the Indian sub-continent, contains two bio-active furanocoumarins, marmelosin and psoralen, with pharmacological properties, plus two powerful groups of natural anti-oxidants, polyphenols and tannins. Bael is a rich source of vitamin A and riboflavin.

Annona species (Custard apple)

Annona is an underutilized exotic fruit in India. It is a good source of phenolics compounds, natural antioxidants and minerals. It is a moderate source of copper and manganese that protects our heart from cardiac disease and controls blood pressure. This fruit is also known to be great for eyes, and cures indigestion problems. It is important to include this fruit in daily diet, as the copper content helps to cure constipation, and helps to treat diarrhea and dysentery

Garcinia indica (Kokum)

It is one of the important indigenous tree spice crops originated and grown in Western Ghats of India. Fruit of kokum, rind and seed have many applications such as culinary, foods, fruit drinks, pharmaceuticals and industrial. It is also called as an Indian spice with a pleasant acceptable flavour and has a sweet acidic (sour) taste which makes it a popular spice. Kokum has been reported for the treatment of dysentery, tumours, heart complaints, stomach acidity and liver disorders. Kokum contains Anthocyanins (Cyanidin-3-sambubioside, Cyanidin-3-glucoside); Kokum butter; Hydroxycitric acid (HCA) and Garcinol. Anthocyanins are well known for their antioxidant, anti-inflammatory and anti-carcinogenic activity. Hydroxycitric acid (HCA) has gained much attention in recent years for its pivotal role in fat/lipid metabolism, with implications for use in weight loss.

Syzygium cumini (Jamun)

Jamun is one of the most important indigenous fruit of India owing to its brilliant purple colour and high antioxidant content. Both, fruit and seed contain very important glucoside jamboline and ellagic acid which are reported to stop the conversion of starch into sugar in case of excess presence of blood sugar.

Madhuca indica (Mahua)

Flower are good source of Vitamins A and C and used as tonic, analgesic and diuretic. Flowers are traditionally used as cooling agent, tonic, aphrodisiac, and astringent, demulcent and for the treatment of helminths, acute and chronic tonsillitis, pharyngitis as well as bronchitis.; Fruits are astringent and rich in α- and β-amyrin acetates, these are used in chronic tonsillitis and pharyngitis. Seeds contain Arachidic, linolelic, oleic, myrisic, palmitic and stearic acids, α-alanine, aspartic acid, cystine, glycine, isoleucine and leucine, lysine, methionine, proline, serine, threonine, myricetin, quercetin, Misaponin A and B. Fat obtained from mahua seeds has many medicinal applications. The seeds fat has emuluscent property, used in skin disease, rheumatism, headache, laxative, piles and sometimes as galactogogue.

Manilkara hexandra (Khirni)

It is a socioeconomically important underutilized fruit species characterized by the presence of sticky, usually white latex in the cuts of bark, branches, leaves and fruit.

The matured fresh fruits are obovoid-oblong to ellipsoid in shape, measuring about 1–1.5 cm wide, which is soft and sweet in taste, being a good source of minerals and vitamins with low fat content. In addition to the traditional nutrient antioxidants (e.g., vitamins C and E and β-carotene), fruits contain polyphenolic (e.g. flavonoids) compounds, which play an important role in the overall antioxidant activity of fruits.

Pithecellobium dulce (Manila tamarind or Jungle Jalebi)

Manila tamarinds are exceptionally high in vitamin C, which improves the immune system, reduces strokes and phlegm. It is also full of anti-cancer antioxidants. Its high thiamine content which helps the body to convert sugars into energy: greater conversion helps stabilize stress levels. According to a 2012 study published in the Journal of Ethnopharmacology, the fruit extracts exhibited strong anti-ulcer activity.


These crops require special attention and must be popularized in order to utilize their potential to treat many lifestyle related diseases. Research in the direction of domestication and utilization is of profound importance as far as nutritive value is concerned. Many crops which are not directly edible due to organoleptic drawbacks must be considered for development of different processed food products. Apart from all the nutraceutical value, underutilized fruit crops help in improving the soil and air quality and balance the ecosystem.

About Author / Additional Info:
Currently working as Scientist in Tissue Culture and Cryopreservation Unit of ICAR-NBPGR