Conozca tu Camu Camu: Getting Acquainted with Peruvian Fruit
Peruse the fruit-filled baskets in any Peruvian grocer, market or street cart and you may be surprised at how little you recognize. With exotic names and unusual structures, you may not find these fleshy fares anywhere else.
The nutrient-rich camu camu has gained recent, international attention for its “superfood” properties. Plum-colored, cherry-sized and native to the Peruvian Amazon, the fruit is used locally for its mood elevating properties and ability to combat flu-like symptoms. Camu camu is higher in vitamin C than an orange and easier to digest. The fruit itself is quite tart and is best enjoyed in juices, jams, cocktails and desserts.
Native to Peru, lúcuma is affectionately called the “Gold of the Incas.” Mainly found abroad in powdered form, lúcuma is considered a “superfood” for its vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and low glycemic index. While Peruvians are loco for lúcuma they rarely consume it raw. Lúcuma is commonly enjoyed in cocktails and desserts, and is arguably the most popular flavor of ice cream in Peru.
Professed by Mark Twain as “the most delicious fruit,” cherimoya (or chirimoya) is known as the “bubble gum fruit” for its sweetness and flavor. Ripe when slightly soft to the touch, cherimoya is native to the Andean highlands. Its creamy, white flesh is entirely edible with an explosive flavor of pineapple, mango, strawberry, banana and peach all-in-one. Cherimoya may not be the most calorically sensible of the lot, but it is high in vitamins B, C and other antioxidants. Cherimoya is commonly eaten raw and is another popular ice cream flavor in Peru.
Considered the “marvelous fruit of the Andes,” sanky (or sancayo) is a cactus fruit found 4,000 meters above the sea. Sanky is low in calories, high in vitamin C and contains double the amount of potassium as a banana. The fruit’s prickly peel is also used as a shampoo. The tasty fruit is eaten raw. Slice it in half and enjoy!
Tumbo is an oblong-shaped fruit that belongs to the passion fruit family and is known for its acidic, sour taste and high vitamin C content. Cultivated in the valleys of the Andes, the “banana passionfruit” can be consumed raw or in juices, jams and ice cream.
Quecha for tree tomato, sacha tomate is a nightshade commonly known as tamarillo in the English-speaking world. The fruit is native to the Andes and used to treat throat infections and the flu, primarily in Ecuador and Colombia. Sacha tomate has a texture and consistency similar to a tomato and culinary uses include jams, sauces and desserts.
Also known as capulí, Inca berry or cape gooseberry, aguaymanto is a brightly colored, tart orange fruit. It grows wild in the Peruvian tropical highlands and each “berry” is naturally housed in a paper-like husk resembling a Chinese lantern. Aguaymanto is a healthy raw snack that is low in calories, a significant source of vitamin C and is believed to have anti-inflammatory properties. It is also a common flavor for cocktails in Lima.
Shaped like a musical instrument and appearing inedible, pacay would be a fruit easily overlooked to an untrained eye. Native to the Andes, pacay is actually a legume with an edible sweet, cotton candy-type flesh surrounding the beans in the pod. Pacay is often referred to as the “ice-cream bean fruit” in English-speaking countries, is rich in antioxidants and best enjoyed raw.
Considered the “Amazon tomato” for its use in local kitchens, cocona is a tropical, citrus fruit native to the Peruvian Amazon. Cocona is a nightshade and has the appearance of a persimmon. The fruit can be eaten raw, skin inclusive, but is typically prepared as a sauce, juice or jam. Arguably the best way to appreciate the fruit’s culinary appeal is when prepared as a pico de gallo-type salsa atop a thick slice of salted pork.
Literally “sweet cucumber,” pepino dulce is a juicy Andean fruit with a mildly sweet taste similar to a honeydew melon. The fruit does come in a variety of shapes, sizes and colors but the melon-sized, cream and purple varieties are most commonly spotted in Limeño markets.
Once cultivated by the Wari, Chimu and Incas to dye textiles, the flavor of tuna andina is best described as a watermelon meets kiwi and raspberry blend. Also known as prickly pear, tuna andina is low in calories and high in vitamins B and C, dietary fiber and iron. Common in juices and jams, tuna andina can also be sliced like sanky and eaten raw.
See the Introduction to Common Fruits in the Upper Amazon compiled by the non-profit, Project Amazons Tree for more on Amazonian fruits.