The kernels of the fruit are eaten as a nut and used as a spice. These are the Chironji, which are soft, taste like almonds and have a soft texture rather like pine nuts. They are commonly used in Indian sweets and desserts, but are also ground into powders to thicken savoury sauces and to flavour batters. Chironji is also a common ingredient for thick, meaty, kormas. They can also be added to minced (ground) meat kabobs and impart a subtle nutty flavour. They are also dry roasted and used as a garnish for desserts and rice dishes (especially biryanis).
The chironji nut is extracted from the fruit first by peeling and then by soaking the nuts in fresh water over night at room temperature. The following day, the skins are rubbed away with a kitchen towel. The seed within is lentil-sized, slightly flattened and has a distinct almond-like flavour.
Culinary Uses of Chironji
- Used primarily as a topping for sweets they go especially well with sweet halwas where vegetables like carrots and fruits like bananas and sapotas (chikoo) are cooked with sugar until smooth and creamy.
- They are also a must on top of a delightful dessert called Shrikhand which is a tantalising combination of thick strained yoghurt, sugar, saffron, cardamom, and milk that has been cooked on a slow heat until it resembles condensed cream.
- Chirongi nuts are used for texture and nuttiness in kababs and kormas.
- You could be adventurous and sprinkle them on fruit salads, soups and chicken or lamb dishes
Availability and Selection
- They are quite difficult to come by outside India and they generally would only be found at well stocked Indian grocery shops.
- In India, they are readily available in regular grocery stores as chironji daana or seeds.
- Look for small whole nuts without any insect infestation or stones.
Buchanania lanzan Tree
Buchanania lanzan is a medium-sized deciduous tree that grows to about 15m tall. It is common to the forests of northwestern India, typically on dry ravine lands (it does not like its roots to be waterlogged). It can be identified by the dark grey crocodile bark with red blaze and is considered an excellent species for afforesting and stabilising hill slopes. It has thick leathery leaves which are broadly oblong, with blunt tip and rounded base. Leaves have 10-20 pairs of straight, parallel veins. Pyramidal panicles of greenish while flowers appear in January to March. These ripen into the fruit from April to May and the fruit remain on the tree for many months.