Saturday, February 2, 2013

Yet another reason to go to Brazil: Brazilian fruits

Ah, Brazil. 

Map courtesy of Wikipedia

I've only met one Brazilian I've disliked, a rude guy who swam in the same public pool as I did. Very aggressive and very pompous. Perhaps if I were to go to Brazil, as I've long longed to do, I'd meet some obnoxious Brazilians. As one Carioca said to me, "It's not fair to assume that we're all fun-loving and sensual. [Pause] Well, granted I am, but still, you can't assume everyone is."

But never mind the people. What about the produce? 

Pinha, courtesy of Muhammad Mahdi Karim (Wikipedia)

My sister's wonderful friend Paulo just returned to Brazil for a visit after living in New York for the past 13 years. Naturally I asked him to take a break from family activities, reunions with friends, going to the beach, etc. and send me some pictures of the produce and produce markets.

He deputized his friend Isabel, who is from Maceio, Alagoas State, in Brazil's Northeast Regionan area that also includes cities like FortalezaSalvador (known as "Brazil's capital of happiness") and RecifePaulo spent 10 days in this area - his first time there - and reports that the beaches, people and food are all great. 

Isabel very kindly prepared this slideshow of fruits from the region.


Some of the fruit is pretty familiar (even with Portuguese names): coconut (coco), guava (goiaba), mango (manga), watermelon (melancia) and banana (yeah, banana). 

Tamarind (Tamarindo) is extremely popular as an ingredient in savory dishes all over the world, especially Indian and Thai. It's also used in candy, jellies, etc. I've seen tamarind fruit at Mexican vendors in New York - perhaps I can post some pictures when the street vendors return in the springtime. Tamarind has a sweet-tart pulp and glossy seeds. 

I've damned carambola, also known as starfruit, with faint praise. It is juicy and pretty when you cut it up, but to me it's mainly a show-stopping garnish. Maybe I need to acquaint myself with a better class of carambola.

I know of acerola as an ingredient in health food store Vitamin C pills, but not as a fruit. It's the berry of an evergreen bush, very high in Vitamin C and other anti-oxidants, juicy and sour and very popular in Brazil.

Caju sounded like "cashew," so I guessed - correctly - that it was the cashew apple, the fruit that is attached to the seed pod that we like to roast and eat. Apparently in many countries the fruit part, not the nut, is where the action is. How delicious must the cashew apple be to make you forget about the shamelessly-picked-out-of-the-mixed-nut-dish cashew nut?  I'd really like to know! Alas, the cashew apple evidently isn't much of a traveler. 

Jaca is jackfruit, a fruit that I associate with India and China. I've seen canned jackfruit in Chinatown but haven't been tempted to buy it. Some people say jackfruit tastes like bananas. An Indian colleague says her father still misses the jackfruit back home, but the appeal is lost upon her.

Graviola! I recognize you! You're soursop and you're also guanabana, as in "What the heck is that? Guanabana.

Pinha, another armored fruit, is also known as a custard apple. Like the graviola, it is sweet and custardy and delicious. Time to pack your bags for Bahia right now.

I had never heard of pitomba, but it certainly looked familiar. I enjoy longans, a refreshing little shelled fruit from Asia (like my buddy the rambutan). I did some research to find out if the Asian native and Northeastern Brazil native were kissing cousins. Flavors of Brazil, a fascinating blog, confirmed that they are indeed related. 

Longans from Chinatown, NYC  - kissing cousins of pitoma from Brazil?

That pretty much exhausted the familiar and quasi-familiar fruit. Paulo assured me that he hadn't been familiar with all of them either. Apparently some of these Northeastern specialties don't make it out of the Northeast to other parts of Brazil.

Here's what I've since learned: 

According to Flavors of Brazil, Jambo has a scent like roses, hence its alternative names "plum rose" and "rose apple," and is crisp and juicy like an apple.

Mangaba , says the Slow Food Foundation, literally means "good fruit for eating." The fruit is highly perishable, so don't expect it to go dragon fruit style any time soon.

Umbu is a distant cousin of the mango, and though refreshing, is basically never seen outside of, you guessed it, Northeastern Brazil. 

Pitanga is also known as the Surinam Cherry and has a sweet-tart flavor.

Siriguela is another one of those sweet-tart, generally-available-only-in-the- Brazilian-Northeast, fruits. The description on Flavors of Brazil reminded me a bit of a loquat, but I couldn't find confirmation of this theory.

Cajanara is another sour-sweet, aromatic, bright-tasting fruit. I don't know if it's fair to guess that cajanara occupies a lower rung in the national consciousness, but it didn't rate a wikipedia entry, not even in Portuguese. 

And finally, there's cupuacu 

I had heard CupuaƧu described as "king of the jungle fruits." The fruit is the size of a melon but with a creamy, sweet, aromatic pulp. It's high in anti-oxidants and a member of the cacao (chocolate) family. Why, oh why, has the fruit not been brought to our shores?

As I said, yet another reason to go to Brazil.

If the slideshow and list haven't been exhaustive enough for you, check out this article from Deep Brazil magazine.

Bom apetite!


  1. A fascinating post. Who decides which fruits get imported? Is it a chicken and egg problem, so to speak, where lack of knowledge creates lack of demand and thus more lack of knowledge? At 52, I believe I remember an era before kiwi fruit and Granny Smith apples landed on US grocery shelves.

  2. I haven't heard of a single one of these fruits! Well, other than the ones you listed in the first paragraph. :) I'd love to be able to try them someday!