Fruit value chains and batting orders survive and grow on similar mantras

There is an entire cricket team in my kitchen’s fruit basket every summer! Here is my batting line-up. Sachin Tendulkar, who is both very Mumbai and very Indian, might have retired, but in the fruit market, Maharashtra’s apla mulga Alphonso still rules the roost, and makes for a very classy and very sassy opener in the kitchen summer team. This is one tough batsman, and makes sure he stays through the entire summer and takes the heat off the table. Initially offering some tangy and spicy shots, he matures into a ripe and indispensable player for the Indian kitchen. Classy, mature and international with huge export potential, the Alphonso is indeed the Tendulkar of Indian fruits.

Introducing batsman No. 2, the super versatile Virendra Sehwag from Delhi. Uttar Pradesh and Delhi are home to versatile mango varieties — Safeda, Langda, Chausa. Chausa is very Sehwag, reminding one of wars and victories. The Chausa was named after the place at which Sher Shah Suri defeated Humayun. The risk-loving Sehwag can also be sometimes seen in short varieties such as Sindhuri or Saroli. You feel so bad when that particular inning is done.

At 1-down, my kitchen asks for some flamboyant, Virat support, which we get from the royal Delhi variety Dusshera or Dasheri. Pretty much like Virat, Dusshera is a celebration of style. Mind you, it is also a mango richly associated with a lot of folk-lore, or mango-lore! Apparently, a mother tree grew from some abandoned mangoes at the Dasheri village (Malihabad, Lucknow). So sweet were the fruits of this tree that the Nawab of Lucknow got it protected for personal consumption only. Also, the seeds of the eaten mangoes were apparently bored into, so that they wouldn’t get replanted. Obviously, the security must have been lax, aren’t we glad?

Low risk, high return

Come 2-down, and Indians start behaving like statisticians. Tolerance for variability disappears and you want the low risk-high return fruit in your plate. In the world of cricket, the popular choice was always the Wall from Karnataka. In the kitchen, the Indians buy the always-sweet Totapuri, incidentally also from Karnataka! Together with the Alphonso, this is also the variety that lends a steady supporting hand to Indian exports of fresh mangoes.

The No. 5 and No. 6 positions have always been tricky, and you want to see a player who can hold his own and yet can mould the game differently. Think MS Dhoni or a Yuvi! My kitchen moves from Mangifera Indica to the Cucmis Melo — the melon group. Melons bring a lot of flexibility to the cuisine. Mix them into a chaat, have’em sliced or enjoy a juice. They have that incredible power to rejuvenate the kitchen and create new energy in the game.

The fact that you had play No. 7 means that there has been ill-health. Bring in an unorthodox player who can heal the score-board — maybe R Ashwin? Hmm, the kokam fruit comes to the rescue of the Indian kitchen in the summer, offering a spin on acidity and other summer travails. From there onwards, you have the bowlers coming in, a Bumrah here, a Bhuvaneshwar there, not really in the league of the top 5, but offering their own contribution to the scoreboard. Just like the jackfruit, which comes in late-May and offers a different flavour and fragrance to the kitchen.

That is followed by the rose-apple, the jamuns and the karvanda (conkerberries). None of these are the mighty mangoes, nor are they the cool melons. But they play their own distinctive role in the kitchen basket with their anti-oxidant properties and low glycemic indices.

Fruit value chains and batting orders survive and grow on similar mantras. Mantra No. 1 — find the gap! India’s horti-scape is simply dotted with local varieties of fruits. It is those varieties which managed to find the exact gap in markets which have grown in stature even beyond national markets. Take the case of grape exports — Indian grapes are harvested from end-January upto March. This is the exact gap in EU markets when the mighty South Africans and Brazilians do not export grapes.

Mantra No. 2 — technique matters! If you want to move into distant markets, you need to know the exact techniques — how to pre-cool, pack and transport. Mantra No. 3 — distinctive style needed, but overall fitness matters. There is a reason why fresh mango exports mostly constitute varieties such as Alphonso, Totapuri and Kesar. These varieties have their own distinctive taste, but importantly, also have inherently stronger skins, making them good travellers.

As IPL makes way for tennis, my kitchen too will lose its multi-player format to accommodate high-profile singles and doubles. It’s peaches vs. plums next.

The writer is a brave economist trying to laugh against the odds

Published on May 25, 2022