Wednesday, August 29, 2012

FRUITS OF BRAZIL - Abricó-do-Pará (Strawberry Guava)

abricó-do-Pará
In evolutionary terms some fruits, especially showy or aromatic ones like peaches or perhaps raspberries, are clearly meant to be eaten  (no discussion of creationism on this blog, please!). Their color, their perfume, and their sweet luscious tastes are meant to make them desirable food objects to animals. The evolutionary job of these lucky animals is to serve as a transport vessel for the seeds contained in the fruit, depositing them in their droppings miles away from the mother plant. Thus, the fruit species is able to reproduce and spread over distances which would be otherwise impossible for the stationary plants. Anyone who has ever seen tomato plants sprouting from the ponds at a sewage treatment plant will quickly get the idea.

There are some fruits, however, which don't have the evolutionary glamour of the "star" fruits. They might be modest in color, not particularly aromatic, or with a taste that's not particularly appealing. How have they managed to be evolutionary successes? The mechanics might not be clear, but somehow the species in question has solved the botanical world's particular reproductive problem - how can I reproduce and spread geographically when I'm rooted to the soil?

At least a partial answer must come from the animal world's voracious appetite and its natural curiousity about sampling anything that might possibly be food. There might only be one appetizing feature of a fruit - maybe only its aroma, or its inviting color - but that's enough for birds to swoop down to nibble at it, or a monkey to pluck it off the tree and sample it, or a human being to cook it up. If the fruit has a flavor that is appealing to those who consume it, it will have won the evolutionary game, or at least scored significant points. That animal will return again, eat more of the same fruit, and distribute the seeds as an unknowing propogation instrument.

There is a fruit native to Brazil, called the abricó-do-Pará, that is an excellent example of this principle. It really is the ugly duckling of the fruit kingdom, yet has spread from its original habitat of Brazil's Amazonian rain forest as far as Mexico and the Antilles. In Spanish-speaking lands is it generally known as mamey, and in English-speaking territories as mammee, mamey, mamey apple or Santo Domingo apricot.

In appearance, the fruit offers little to attract. It is largish (4-8"), irregularly shaped, and has a brownish-grey, thick rind. Under that thick rind, there is a dry, white membrane that has an astringent taste. It is only when one reaches the flesh itself, which is yellow or orange and not fibrous, and pleasantly flavored, that there is any gustatory benefit to eating abricó-do-Pará. And unfortunately, there is little flesh to eat, as most of the interior of the fruit is occupied by a large pit, or stone, which encases the seed.

Humans eat the fruit raw, or cut up in fruit salads. More commonly though, in Brazil and in the Caribbean, the flesh is cooked down with sugar to create compotes or fruit stews. One of the most unusual uses of the mamey is in El Salvador in Central America, where a mamey-flavored carbonated soft drink, kolashanpan, is very popular.

We here at Flavors of Brazil have yet to encounter abricó-do-Pará at our local farmers market, but researching this post has raised our curiosity and we'll keep an eye out for it. The literature we've found always describes the taste as pleasant, but gives no clues as to what the taste is like. If we find out, readers of this blog will be the first to know.

2 comments:

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