A handful of ripe, partially ripe and unripe Pitanga fruit
Found in Brazil and several South American and Caribbean countries pitanga is a fruit with an unusual shape – like a small Chinese lantern. It is known by a number of names, depending on the country, though pitanga and Brazilian cherry are probably the most well known – I have seen the name Barbados Cherry incorrectly applied to pitanga since Barbados Cherry is an alternate name for acerola (Malpighia emarginata) hence I always include the scientific name when referring to plants or animals to avert confusion. The scientific name of pitanga is Eugenia uniflora.
The plants are also to be found in parts of Africa and in India where, apparently, the plant originated. Many fruit trees have been, over the centuries, taken from their place of origin to become established on another continent. This can be said of pitanga, mango, cashew and cocoa among others.
The plant itself is a large shrub/small tree that can be grown easily within its range as an ornamental specimen, a hedge or specifically for its fruit. It is an important plant with benefits derived from both its fruit and leaves.
Ripe fruit on the tree Flower buds and partially ripe fruit
The fruit starts life as a dainty white flower before natural transformation takes it from a small green swelling at the end of the peduncle behind the sepals, growing to its final shape and size while still green, then changing through yellow to bright red.
Delicate white, four-petaled flower of the Pitanga shrub
The leaves, which can be made into a tea with medicinal benefits, start life as a reddish/bronzy colour before turning green.
New leaf growth starts out a reddish bronze hue before turning green
The fruit can be used green (in cooking as a flavouring or as a chutney ingredient) or fully ripe (red) to be eaten raw, made into jam or juice. When fully ripe the fruit is soft and sweet with a taste similar to that of sweet, juicy orange.
Unripe fruit can be used in sauces and chutney
Pitanga is rich in vitamin C, also providing vitamins B1 (thiamine), B2 (riboflavin) and B3 (niacin), and vitamin A. Its mineral content includes calcium, iron, magnesium, phosphorus and potassium.
Eating the fruit helps in weight loss or weight maintenance regimes as pitanga is low in calories and acts in reducing excess body fat.
Many fruits have traditional or tested medicinal benefits. Among them, pitanga has numerous including anti-inflammatory, antiviral and antifungal properties. Beneficial applications include cardiovascular, cancer, skin, eye and common cold treatment.
Eat raw to obtain the best benefit. The seeds are not edible but the skin and pulp can be eaten or made into a juice.
Cooking: remove the seeds, chop and add to whatever dish is being prepared.
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NB: While Alan Skyrme has a number of diplomas in Nutrition it is strongly recommended that the latest available analyses of the nutritional contents and benefits are obtained from appropriate sources. Those provided here are indicative only and may be incomplete.