Bael fruit is not as mysterious as you might think. If you are one of the many people who have never heard of it, this recipe will provide you with a sweet and fragrant opportunity to learn about it. Its history is ancient, having been used long before the advent of Hinduism, and it carries religious significance. The bael fruit trees grow abundantly throughout the Indian subcontinent and southeastern Asia. In Thailand, we know bael fruit – matoom – มะตูม – both as a component of a popular cold drink during the summer, and for its leaves, which are used in religious ceremonies.
มะตูม – Matoom – Bael Fruit aka Bengal Quince
For most Thais, bael fruit is a favorite that is instantly recognizable by its unique, sweet and aromatic flavor. It is also believed to be good for the digestion. Thais use the expression หอมเย็น ชื่นใจ to convey that the cold tea is fragrant, cool and refreshing. To my students it was a pleasantly delightful drink. They were even more surprised when they learned about the bael fruit. Now you can learn how to make hot or cold fruit drink from matoom.
Dry sliced bael fruit can be found at the Asian Market or an online grocery store. In a Thailand supermarket you can find matoom drink in a plastic bottle, or as an instant tea powder to which you simply add hot water. But there is nothing like making your own matoom drink.
In Thailand, a dry sliced matoom is heated over charcoal before making it into a drink. You may also put it in the toaster or place over a gas burner or gas grill. The direct heat will set off its sweet fragrance. In my kitchen in Seattle, I simply place 8 slices of sliced dry bael fruit on a baking sheet and put it under a preheated broiler for 1 minute or more on each side. You will smell a sweet, delightful fragrance.
Then place the slices in a medium sized pot, add 6 cups water, and bring it to a boil. Let it boil on medium heat for 20 to 30 minutes. The sliced bael fruits that remain in the pot will look pale and soft after all their essence is released into the tea.
During the winter months in Seattle I serve it warm from the teapot just like any other tea. In the summer months in Seattle and Thailand, I love to serve it over ice as a cold drink just like iced tea. It is a very satisfying drink either way. The taste is less sweet than it smells, but it does the trick – I often don’t add any sugar. Serve it at any time and for any occasion. I received a lot of admiration from my students and Thai friends for introducing and reintroducing this drink to them.
Bael Fruit Tea – Cha Matoom – ชามะตูม
Yield: 4 cups
8 to 10 pieces dry sliced bael fruit
6 cups water
Sugar to taste
Pre-heat the oven on broil.
Place 8 slices of sliced dry bael fruit on the baking sheet and put under the preheated broiler for 1 minute on each side, until it is fragrant but not burnt. Place the heated bael fruit in a medium size pot and add 6 cups water. Cover.
Bring to a boil then, then continue to cook on medium heat until the tea is a nice brown color, about 15 to 20 minutes. The remaining dry fruit should be pale and soft after all the tea is extracted.
Discard the bael fruit and strain the tea through the fine sieve or cheese cloth. Serve warm like a tea; stir in sugar as desired. For a cold drink, simply pour over ice before serving.
Bilva or Bael Fruit and Hinduism (astropeep.com)