Krishna Kamala or Passion of Christ… did I fall from heaven??  

While walking around Kukkanalli pond in Mysore, I saw these wild fruits hanging from the vine on a fence which looked like a small wild passion fruit but was hairy like ramubtan. I was very sure it’s the cousin of passion fruit as the flower & the leaves looked same but I was not sure if the fruit is edible & as usual my husband would not let me pluck it to avoid me eating it. Known as Kukkiballi in Kannada is also called clock flower, love-in-a-mist and stinking*.

I have seen & tasted passion fruit all my life & simply love the amazing taste &, flavour of the juice which is hard to find on shelves even though its presence is felt strongly in most the cocktail juices. It’s a popular fruit in Kodagu & every one, young & old alike loves it. The pulp is used in juices, wines, ice creams, cakes (my mouth is watering, honestly), etc. Some of my relatives make amazing concentrates. There are more than 400 species in passion flower family passifloraceae & the flower is usually white & purple or mauve. Depending upon the variety & climatic conditions, there are many types of passion fruits & comes in different sizes, shapes & colours like purple/maroon, green, yellow etc & the taste could be sweet to sour to somewhere in in-between. Usually the purple/maroon ones are sweeter!!

When we were young we also used to eat a wild variety just like the passion fruit but with slightly elongated fruit with supple outer cover & white flower (I think), which is hardly seen these days. It said to have possessed many medicinal properties.

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Those who have not seen or eaten a passion fruit, the globose fruit have a white sack (which resembles dressed goat tripe – the Turkish towel like stomach cover) inside the smooth, hard outer shell/cover. The sack is filled with numerous black seeds with a very thin coating of orangish-yellow, pulpy-juicy flesh. Even when the fruit is wrinkled outside with aging, the sack inside remains fresh for some time.

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Coming back to the flower, it also comes in exotic colours such as dark purple, red, fuchsia, etc. But they are mostly ornamental & do not seems to be bearing fruits. The flower stays for a day only but blooms practically every day & butterflies are attracted to these flowers. The wild, cultivated & the hybrid flower formation looks the same at the first glance. But if you look closely it differs from one another. It looks as if so many different parts from different flowers are put together to form an unusual master piece. Human globalization is happening now but this species seems to be far ahead of us. The flowers usually have pleasant smell (at least the ones which are known to me).

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The amazing thing is that the uniquely beautiful flower & the vine is linked to scriptures & believes in different religion. The name passion flower was given by the 15th century Spanish Christian missionaries who thought that the flower depicted the crucifixion (passion) of Christ (Crown of Thorns (corona), & other parts as the instrument – 3-nails, 5-wounds, sponge of Gall & vinegar, Pillar of scourging, sacrificing blood, Centurion’s spear (leaf), lashing (tendrils) & the fruit (as globe). Some people also link it to sexual passion, after all a man sees in the world what he/her carries in his/her heart….

In India it is called both as Krishna Kamala (particularly the large purple one) & Paanch Paandav (Mahabharata). The unique formation of the perennial flower is supposed to symbolize or represent: The waxy-white Petals (5) alternating with sepals (5) with their green hook (awn) at the tip for ten Avtars of Vishnu, five 5 filaments with anther in the center for five well-armed Pandavas, the single ovary (bulb in the center) for Pandava queen Draupadi & the three styles with stigma for the holy trinity of Brahma-Vishnu-Shiva. And the corona filaments are the Sudarshana-chakra of Lord Krishna. I was told that the filaments are hundred in number representing the Kauravas. I had to hire a pro-bono investigator to count the number… & luckily my husband’s niece who also has a degree in criminology fitted the bill & she reported back with a picture: I counted the filaments with a tweezers and there are exactly one hundred!!

To top it, the 3-lobed leaves which are alternately arranged along the stems & borne on stalks, shaped in trident (Lord Shiva’s weapon) form. Whatever one may perceive it as, one thing is certain that it is amazingly beautiful. Don’t believe me take a break & look in the neighborhood you might find one or go to a botanical garden!!

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I am sure besides being beautiful, there is something special about this flower as thousands of miles apart two different believers associated their belief in it!! After all the life spark/energy in me is the life spark/energy everywhere & everything comes from God almighty. If beauty lies in the eye of the beholder – Faith lies in the very being itself. When you are in love with God you can see God everywhere & in everything. This unusually beautiful flower looks out of this world… as if someone stole her from the heavenly garden & brought her to earth or perhaps she was so proud of herself & her significance, the weight of the pride brought her down to earth!!

The vine can be reproduced by seeds easily but it’s a very slow process. So commonly it is propagated by mature cuttings. This hardy long lasting vine loves sun but not scorching though & water, & unless groomed can grow uncontrollable yielding plenty of fruits under healthy conditions. So you have to provide a strong support. I vaguely remember seeing large bees & humming bird buzzing around. All the unopened buds from different species are light green in colour. The flower looks strong but it is delicate. The petals & sepals have the same finish & can be passed as petals. But if you look closely the sepals have green hook (awn) at the tip. It is said that each & every part of the flower has specific role which they play religiously!!

Among the flowers I have seen only the wild one on the bank of the pond had bracts, which are supposed to trap insects but if as merely as defensive mechanism to protect its flowers (think it was white) & fruits or is it carnivorous (digest & gain nourishment from its catch) is not known. Leaves & stems of this particular variety is said to be poisonous. Wondering if I should eat & test it??

The whole vine has medicinal properties & is used in treating digestive problems including dyspepsia & diarrhea, an astringent & expectorant for nervous conditions & spasms. Tea from the flower is an antioxidant & used to calm the mind (depressant) as well as sleeping aid, used to contain diarrhea/dysentery, neuralgia, etc.

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Black Ivory – The 2nd most expensive coffee – (6/9)

Well, it’s from poop again! What’s with man and his association with animal poop? This coffee is from Thailand, and is among the most expensive coffees in the world, at $1,100 per kilogram. Coffee sold in some luxury hotels in South East Asian countries like Thailand, the Maldives, etc for USD50 a cup!! Not too bad, would love to try it!

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Canadian born Mr.Blake Dinkin is the one who came up with the brilliantly ingenious idea of elephant coffee or Black Ivory Coffee I guess imaginations can run wild but can pay rich dividends eh? According to him, Blake thinks of the elephant as the animal kingdom’s equivalent of a slow cooker : It takes between 15-70 hours to digest the beans, which stew together with the bananas, sugar cane and other ingredients in the elephant’s vegetarian diet. This infuses a unique earthy and fruity flavor to the coffee (or the poop). He said “When an elephant eats coffee, its stomach acid breaks down the protein found in coffee, which is a key factor in bitterness. You end up with a cup that’s very smooth without the bitterness of regular coffee.” The result is similar to civet coffee, but the elephants’ massive stomach provides the bonus of smoothness and flavour. Dinkin said an elephant takes 72 pounds of raw coffee cherries to produce 2 pounds of Black Ivory coffee. The majority of beans get chewed up, broken or lost after being excreted. He uses pure Arabica beans hand-picked by hill-tribe women from a small mountain estate. Once the elephants do their business, the wives of elephant riders collect the dung, break it open and pick out the coffee. After a thorough washing, the coffee cherries are processed to extract the beans, which are then brought to a gourmet roaster in Bangkok. Mr. Dinkin is supposed to have spent $400,000 developing the idea!

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My business idea, angels (investors) welcome!

Civet is small – elephant is large – what is in the middle a cow or a human? When I said human, my wonderful husband says “Yuck!!, that’s awful.” My argument was what’s wrong? There are many vegetarians, won’t their poop be same as an animal? But then humans are not as organic as animals so I will settle for the cow. When I retire I am looking forward to try my hand on cow coffee and also search for elephant dung in and around Nagarahole National park! Perhaps I can sell the dung as organic manure too. However there is a catch, elephants does not digest properly and the dung is raw (that’s why elephant is one of the main seed dispersers in African plains) which may be the one of the main reasons coffee bean stays whole. So how am I going to achieve the same rawness with cows (or even humans?) Any suggestion/advice/solution from you readers? It’s high time I change my perception of pooooooo!! (Part 6 of 9) (Edits made after corrections/inputs received from Mr Blake!)

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Civet Cat + Coffee bean = Most expensive coffee in the world? (5/9)

What happens when a Civet cat (paradoxurus hermaphrodites) eats coffee beans for dinner, and poop’s it out before breakfast? I’ll tell you what: The worlds finest gourmet coffee that’s both expensive and rare!

Well you heard it right… it’s no joke… indeed this top shelf coffee derived from excreta can cost above 600 US dollars per pound! Hard to believe the most expensive coffee in the world comes from one of Coorg’s wild felines, the Palm civet’s poop (Punugina Bekku in Kodava dialect – aka Pane-poonjhee or the ‘toddy tree cat’). It’s a dark brown tree-dwelling weasel-like creature about the size of a housecat. It sports a pointed muzzle, with round brown eye and dark long tail and is actually found throughout Southeast Asia. It is said that they eat only the perfectly ripe seeds & the acid treatment in their digestive system practically cooks the beans giving the seeds that sought after taste. I cannot confirm it because I have not tasted it, and neither do I plan to either 🙂 So now you know how the taste buds of the world’s rich folk work. The chief diet of the Civet cat is not coffee however, and its staple food is the fruit of the wild fig tree and sago palm.

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Growing up, the Civet used to be very common all over Coorg and I have vivid picture of it, but haven’t seen one in ages. Years ago I memeber having seen the Civet poo coffee seed on some big rocks beside the creek. My late father told me it came from the Pane-poonjhee’s stomach. He would say “Alli pokate kunji kakka undu” (don’t go that side child there is shit). In fact the poo did not look like poo at all. Vividly I remember that it was few whole coffee seeds stuck together with little dried up liquid. Dad would say these creatures come to eat the coffee berries in the night… such a nuisance!

Between the skin & seed of the coffee berry, there is a very, very thin layer of sweet liquid. It’s so thin you can barely enjoy it. I know it because sometime I would put ripe berries also in my mouth, but I never ate it though!! Looking back I wonder how I did not end up eating any poisonous berry as I ate any sweet fruit I could lay my hand on! We never knew the importance of the poop coffee seed & also for me, kakka is kakka no matter who shits it. Hahahahaha!

In this ever shrinking animal & plant world, it’s hard to find the civet coffee seeds in nature. However in some countries like Indonesia civets are farmed for this purpose. A strange thought is passing through my mind… just imagine instead of civet poo if it was pandi (Pig) pooo… oh… boy how much money we Coorgs could make!

Note: Similar to the civet is the black jungle-cat (kabbekku). In Kodagu the kabbekku meat was a delicacy, so it was hunted at night, now it’s almost extinct… Wonder if it has a fairer cousin?

(Part 5 of 9)