Conozca tu Camu Camu, Getting Acquainted with Peruvian Fruits
Peruse the fruit-filled baskets in any Peruvian grocer and you may be surprised at how little you manage to recognize. With exotic names like cocona and structures resembling paper lanterns, these fleshy fares are as varied as the Amazon is diverse. Fruits are integral to Peruvian cuisine and knowing the basics will be useful for navigating local markets and restaurant menus. So, here’s a list of 11 unique Peruvians fruits to try. ¡Buen provecho! You will not be disappointed.
The nutrient-rich camu camu has gained international attention for its high vitamin content and superfood-like properties. It’s tart, cherry-sized and native to the Peruvian Amazon. Locals use camu camu for its mood-elevating properties and ability to combat the flu.
How Peruvians eat it: In juices, jams, cocktails and desserts
Affectionately referred to as the “Gold of the Incas,” lúcuma is another Peruvian fruit with superfood qualities. It’s packed with vitamins, minerals, loads of antioxidants and has a low glycemic index. (Diabetics, take note.) While Peruvians are loco for lúcuma, they rarely eat it raw. You’ll typically find the fruit abroad in a powdered form.
How Peruvians eat it: In cocktails and desserts — lúcuma is (probably) the most popular flavor of ice cream in Peru
Professed by Mark Twain to be “the most delicious fruit,” cherimoya (or chirimoya) is called the “bubble gum fruit” for its sweetness and taste. It’s native to the Andean highlands and has an explosive flavor of pineapple, mango, banana and peach all wrapped up in one. Cherimoya may not be the most calorically sensible of the lot, but it is high in vitamins B, C and other antioxidants.
How Peruvians eat it: Raw (the white part only) and in desserts — cherimoya is another popular ice cream flavor
Sanky (or sancayo) is a cactus fruit that grows high up in the mountains, around 4,000 meters above the sea. It’s low in calories, high in vitamin C and has double the potassium as a banana. This “marvelous fruit of the Andes” is also used as a shampoo.
How Peruvians eat it: Raw — slice it in half (watch the spines) and enjoy
A member of the passion fruit family, tumbo is an oblong fruit with lots of edible seeds and vitamin C. It’s cultivated in the Andean valleys and has a sharply sour taste. It also has the nickname, the “banana passion fruit” fruit.
How Peruvians eat it: Raw (like passion fruit) or in juices, jams and ice cream
Quechua for tree tomato, sacha tomate is a nightshade known as tamarillo in the English-speaking world. The fruit is native to the Andes and is used in Ecuador and Colombia to treat throat infections and the flu. Sacha tomate has a texture and consistency similar to a tomato.
How Peruvians eat it: In jams, sauces and desserts
Also known as capulí, Inca berry and cape gooseberry; aguaymanto is a brightly-colored, citrus fruit. It grows wild in the Peruvian highlands and each berry is naturally housed in a paper-like husk resembling a Chinese lantern. Aguaymanto is a healthy snack that is low in calories, a significant source of vitamin C and is believed to have anti-inflammatory properties.
How Peruvians eat it: In cocktails, juices and desserts — try an aguaymanto pisco sour
Shaped like a musical instrument made out of a stick, pacay is a fruit that’s easy to overlook. It’s actually a legume and each pod is surrounded by a sugary flesh that has a texture and taste similar to cotton candy. In English-speaking countries, it’s called the “ice cream bean fruit.” Pacay is uniquely Peruvian and rich in antioxidants.
How Peruvians eat it: Raw
Considered the “Amazon tomato” for its use in local kitchens, cocona is a citrus fruit native to the Peruvian Amazon. It’s another nightshade and looks something like a Japanese persimmon. The popular way to eat cocona is as a pico de gallo with a slice of salted pork.
How Peruvians eat it: In juices and jams or as a salsa
Literally “sweet cucumber,” pepino dulce is a juicy Andean fruit with a mildly sweet taste. (Think honeydew melon.) The fruit does come in various shapes, sizes and colors; but the cream and purple varieties are most common in Limeño markets.
How Peruvians eat it: Raw
Once cultivated by indigenous groups to dye textiles, the taste of tuna andina is best described as a watermelon-kiwi-raspberry blend. Tuna andina is low in calories and high in vitamins B and C, dietary fiber and iron. You’ll also see it labeled as prickly pear.
How Peruvians eat it: In juices and jams or raw — scoop out the insides and enjoy (watch the spines)
See the Introduction to Common Fruits in the Upper Amazon compiled by the non-profit Project Amazons Tree for more on Amazonian fruits.