For hundreds of years, Thai fruits and the life of the Thai people have been interwoven. These fruits have a variety of taste, shapes and forms, and have evolved over a long period of time, and might have been named in correspondence with the place or in any regional language from where they were derived. For example, durian might have its roots in Tapah Village or Salang Village on the island of Sumatra, where the natives call this fruit “Turian” or “Tulian”; mangosteens (“mang khut” in Thai) is derived from “mangostin” in Tamil or “mangustan” in Malay.
Fruits en route
Chinese documented evidence on the Funan Kingdom, dated back to the first century A.D., shows that the southern part of what later became Thailand, starting from the eastern part of the Gulf of Thailand up to the mouth of the Chao Phraya River, has been involved in extensive maritime transportation and trading. A number of fruits have been exchanged around these ports-of-call. Some of these fruits have been transported to and planted in Chanthaburi as well as Trat and at the rim of the Chao Phraya River Basin. It can be concluded that in the Sivichaya Period a great variety of fruits were transported from the southern part of India via Java to southern Thailand, Malaysia and China.
The Sukhothai Kingdom emerged in the 13th century A.D. People in that period grew rice, sugarcane, coconut, cotton, and mulberry, consuming or using them in diverse ways. There was a time when the Thais were almost self-sustained, with an abundance of fruits and vegetables, cattle, and beasts of burden.
There were several types of orchards, such as areca palm, betel vine, coconut, jackfruit, and mango. The first three were very important to the way of life of the Sukhothai people. On the one hand, areca nuts and betel leaves were used for medicinal and aesthetic purposes; they were also served to guests. Coconuts, on the other hand, were adopted in a myriad of religious and ceremonial functions.
As for other fruits such as hog plums, tamarind, Java plums, jackfruit and mangos, they were widely grown in the villages, flourishing as a result of the efforts of the community. People had gathered them from the forest, to eat, and indiscriminately scattered their seeds. Consequently, these fruits grew widely, and the village became the cornucopia of fruit species.
The fruits that we are familiar with these days, such as rambutan, mangosteen and durian, were not present then. They were not indigenous to the surrounding environment, and some were imported species, for example, custard apples and guavas. Thus, it can be safely stated that
fruit orchards in the Sukhothai Period were derived from the seeds acquired from the forest, followed by fruit trees prospering in the villages.
During the Ayutthaya Period, fruits from the Western hemisphere, such as custard apples, papayas, pineapples, and guavas, were introduced. Wheat was also cultivated.
As the population density in Ayutthaya was much higher than that of Sukhothai, more food, fruits included, had to be produced. Some of these fruits, during this period, were of high quality and sold to nobility and foreigners. The state also levied taxes on agricultural produce.
The Thais grew fruit and vegetables around the capital city, and along the canal south of Ayutthaya down to Bangkok. These fruit farmers practised selective breeding, adhering to traditional Chinese techniques, and preserving surplus produce. Jam and pickle were made through successful food processing and preservation techniques. The most sought-after fruit of the period must have been durian since it was taxed at one and a half baht, while mangos and mangosteens were taxed at one baht, per tree.
Imported fruits became common during this time. The seeds of custard apples, guavas, papayas, and pine apples, among others, were brought into the country for planting. Thais were also introduced to some temperate climate fruits, for example, longan and lychees, as well as some tropical fruits, such as rambutan, durian, and mangosteens.
The Ayutthaya Period was a blending phase of fruit species from the former Sukhothai Period, with some imported species from neighbouring countries as well as some faraway lands.
At the nexus between the late Ayutthaya and the early Rattanakosin periods lay a great many orchards along the Chao Phraya River, starting from Thon Buri upstream to the north. Several towns were named after the fruits, such as Mangosteen and Lychee sub-districts. Beyond the Thon Buri perimetre, the land was very fertile for rice paddies and fruit orchards. During the reigns of King Rama lll and King Rama lV, several canals were dug and connected to the Chao Phraya River, making the fertile land spread into Samut Songkhram Province. The kings had a significant role in supporting the breeding and growing of popular fruits. The support was by means of tariffs, incentives and exemptions. During King Rama V’s reign, Thailand again witnessed the import of foreign fruit seedlings for planting in Thai soil. Upcountry orchards also became well established, and they included those in the provinces of Petchaburi, Nakhon Si Thammarat, Chumphon, Chiang Mai, and Chanthaburi.
Fruits of the Day
Today, Thailand is one of the major fruit countries exporting not only to the regional markets but to the world. The country has a vast reservoir and diversity of fruit species, both temperate and tropical. Thai fruit crops can be classified into two groups, i.e. seasonal and year-round. Seasonal fruits include mangos, durian, rambutan, longan, and lychees. Year-round fruits are pineapples, bananas, papayas, and jackfruit. These fruits come from different regions of the country, and represent “tasty ambassadors” of each of the regions.
North: Temperate fruits are the major products in the northern part of Thailand. These fruits include lychees, peaches, strawberries, cantaloupes, longan, and persimmons.
South: Tropical fruits are the favourite of the South. The primary fruit crops are durian, rambutan, coconuts, pineapples, jackfruit, oranges, longkong, and langsat.
East: Tropical fruits also reign supreme in the eastern part of the country. The star performers are durian, mangos, custard apples, watermelons, mangosteens, grapes, oranges, rose apples, bananas, and rambutan.
West:Tropical fruits characteristic to this region are sugarcane and bananas.
Taken from: Thailand: Traits and Treasures. The National Identity Board, Royal Thai Government 2005.
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