Thursday, June 3, 2010

Acerola - Small But Power-packed

From time to time, Flavors of Brazil highlights one of the multitude of tropical fruits which are grown commercially in Brazil; one that might not be familiar to readers of the blog. In the past, there have been posts here on such fruits as caja, graviola, and caqui.

Most of these fruits have a long history of cultivation in Brazil, and many were cultivated by Indians prior to European arrival in the 16th century. Acerola is a fruit whose commercial cultivation is relatively recent in Brazil, though growing tremendously year by year. It's only been within the past twenty years that the acerola market has been commercially important, but now in many regions of Brazil's northeast, it is the most important commercial fruit.

What has made the acerola market expand so dramatically is the growing awareness, in Brazil and in other countries, of the healthful qualities of this small, red, cherry-like fruit. Acerola has an extremely high ascorbic acid (Vitamin C) content - acerola juice has over 3000% more Vitamin C than an equivalent amount of orange juice. That's not a typo - it's 3000% higher. It's claimed that by adding a very small amount of acerola juice to another juice that is low in Vitamin C (apple juice, for example), the levels of the vitamin in the juice will rise to the level found in orange juice. A Brazilian agricultural research agency recently prepared a study of the antioxidant property of eleven varieties of frozen fruit pulp, and in that study found acerola to have significantly high antioxidant properties.

Acerola (Malpighia emarginata) is native to the Caribbean, Central America, and the northern part of South America. In the English-speaking countries of the Caribbean, it's known, variously, as Acerola, Barbados Cherry and West Indian Cherry. The resemblance between acerola and cherries is obvious, although the red of acerola is more orange than the purplish red of most cherries.

Acerola juice is naturally very sour, which is logical considering the high Vitamin C content, and to be drinkable, some quantity of sugar must be added. Brazilians, of course, add a lot of sugar, but I find that with minimum amounts of sugar, acerola juice makes one of the most refreshing juices I know. And clearly, it's also one of the healthiest. Not a bad combination of qualities, I'd say.

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