Costa Rica Pitanga - Suriname Cherry

The Pitanga or Suriname Cherry is a tart, sweet and unique fruit that is high in nutrients including Vitamin C. 


Unusual and exotic fruits are fascinating and Pitanga or Suriname Cherry fits the bill.  I remember the first day when I had the Pitanga fruit (Eugenia uniflora L).  I woke up early in the morning, hoped in my car and rode around looking for Borojo in a neighborhood close to San Jose in order to make juice.  The local newspaper wrote a piece about the forgotten fruits of Costa Rica, and I went in search for it.  When I arrived in the area, there was a gentleman working on his car outside of his home.  I asked him if he has read this article and to my surprise he said he had.  So I asked where I could find what I was looking for and he said that he had never heard of it.  However, one of the other fruits mentioned in that article was Pitanga, and he pointed 15 feet in front of me and there on the sidewalk next to his home stood a beautiful Pitanga tree.  At the time, I asked which color of the fruits meant that they were ripe and he said the rich dark red or cherry red were the ripe ones.  He motioned for me to go try the fruit, so I did.  I could have eaten the whole tree!  The best thing I can liken it too is like biting into a juicy fresh strawberry, but with a wonderfully sweet and delicious flavor all it own.  That was the day I went to fruit heaven.

   


Origins

Most of the literature (which is scarce) mentions that Pitanga??s home is in the tropical areas of Brazil or to Suriname.  However, other places such as Venezuela, Guayana, Uraguay and Paraguay have been mentioned as well.  Other places around the world now have trees bearing this fruit, including Costa Rica.    It is known also as the Suriname Cherry.  In Spanish it is generally cereza de cayena; but pendanga in Venezuela; guinda in El Salvador; ñanga-piré in Argentina; cereza quadrada in Colombia.  The name pitanga which is used throughout Brazil was applied to this fruit by the Tupi Indians, who inhabited Brazil at the time of its discovery by Europeans. According to history, the word comes from the Tupi word piter, to drink, and anga, odor or scent.  It is a member of the Myrtaceae family, the fruit is related to guava, jaboticaba, mountain apple and other members of the genus Eugenia, which includes more than 30 edible species.

   


Description

It is considered to be a small tree or a very large shrub.  All of the Pitanga trees that I have seen generally reach a height of no more than 20 feet and are conical in structure.  When ripe it is generally about 1 inch in size (2.5cm).  It usually has about 7 to 8 ??ribs? and contains 1-2 seeds.  The peel is very thin and is generally very sweet in flavor, although some are very tart as well.  The Pitanga fruit, especially the dark purple ones, are an excellent source for antioxidants, being especially rich in the carotenoid lycopene. 

Health Benefits

As with many raw foods, scientists are just beginning to understand the amazing values of the phytochemicals or phytonutrients that are present in many raw foods.  Some of the more basic vitamins and minerals that it contains are calcium, phosphorous, iron, vitamin A, vitamin B1 and B2, niacin, iodine and vitamin C.  It is high in antioxidant qualities and with time, even more amazing nutrients and health benefits will be unconverted in this exotic fruit. 

Medicinal Uses: In Brazil the leaf infusion is taken as a stomachic, febrifuge and astringent. In Surinam, the leaf decoction is drunk as a cold remedy and, in combination with lemongrass, as a febrifuge. The leaves yield essential oil containing citronellal, geranyl acetate, geraniol, cineole, terpinene, sesquiterpenes and polyterpenes.

Interesting Fact: When crushed, the leaves from the tree emit a pungent agreeable odor, for which reason they are sometimes thrown all over the floors of  homes in the amazon region.The fragrance they emit when trampled under foot is doubly appreciated as being thought efficacious in driving away flies.
This was most of the research that I found across the internet.  Pitanga or Suriname Cherry has grown to be at the top of my list of favorite things to eat.  I hope that sometime in the near future that we may be able to produce a high quality pitanga juice.  For now, if you??re lucky you may be to try it on your next trip down to Costa Rica

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