Monday, February 22, 2010

Pitanga fruit - An exotic beauty

As those that visit this blog with any regularity know, one of the pleasures I have in producing Flavors of Brazil is introducing readers to the rainbow of tropic fruits that is one of the glories of the world of Brazilian food. In previous posts, I've discussed such fruits as ata, caju, cajá and many others, and when possible have searched my photo collection and internet image galleries for photographs that highlight the colors and textures of these fruits. In this blog, I cannot give readers samples of the aromas or tastes of these tropical fruits, but I can offer photos to appeal to the readers' eyes.

If there were a Miss Brazil Fruit contest, it would be difficult to choose a winner as the most beautiful of the bunch. I do think that native Brazilian fruit called pitanga, if not crowned the winner, would be a likely First Runner-Up. It's spectacularly beautiful in shape, texture and color. And, as luck would have it, it's delicious as well. The only problem with the pitanga is that in its mature state it's extremely delicate, and therefore cannot be commercialized internationally. Think of the raspberry and how it suffers from handling and transportation. The pitanga suffers exactly the same indignities. So while you in North America or Europe can revel in fresh raspberries, we here in Brazil will make due with delectable fresh pitangas, pitanga juice, pitanga jam, or pitanga liquor (to which some sources attribute aphrodisiac properties.)

The pitanga (Eugenia uniflora) is native to Brazil's Mata Atlântica, the rain forest which once covered most of coastal Brazil  now sadly diminished by deforestation.  It has been successfully transplanted, and can be found today in other parts of South America, in Africa, on the Portuguese island of Madeira and in the Caribbean, where it is generally known in English as Brazil Cherry, Suriname Cherry, or Cayenne Cherry. It is only distantly related to the cherry botanically.

Pitanga is a very heathful fruit, having a high vitamin C content, as well as high levels of calcium. Most of the pitanga eaten in Brazil is consumed fresh, or is pulped into juice. Wonderful jams and jellies can also be made from pitanga, and though I have not tried it, I have located quite a few recipes for pitanga liquor on the internet.

The flavor of this fruit is sharp and acidic, but the relatively high level of sugars means that it is not particularly tart. When making pitanga juice, either from fresh fruit or from frozen pulp, Brazilians tend to add a good quantity of sugar, but I find that it often needs very little additional sugar. The juice is very refreshing, and pitanga juice is an excellent "waker-upper" in the morning, or a true thist-quencher on a hot afternoon.


  1. I am Brazilian and I live in Florida. Sunday, April 17, 2011, I was walking with my husband when I so a pitangueira. I told my husband about the fruit, but he was afraid if it was a poison plant. I told him that maybe I would be wrong about the shape of the fruit, but I was sure that it was pitanga because of the aroma, it is an incomparable perfume. Long story short, I could not contain myself, I had to pick some, and now I have the seeds that I am going to plant in my back yard.

    1. I am Brazilian and also live in Florida, next to my aunt's house there is a pitangueira and my mom picked some and made juice out of it. I offered some to my boyfriend and he was also scared of eating it, he said he had never seen it before and he thought the juice didnt taste good.

    2. The Wikipedia page says that pitanga is now considered an invasive plant in Florida (and has become known as the Florida Cherry).

  2. Hi Elane - I think it's great that you're going to grow a pitanga tree (pitangueira) in your back yard. The shape of the fruit is distinctive, just like the aroma, so I'm sure you'd know a pitangueira when you spot one. When I was doing research for my post, I read that pitangueiras are often used as ornamental plantings in Florida, so you're probably right on track. Please assure your husband that pitangas are definitely not poisonous.

  3. I love Pitangas!
    Living in California now, but I am also Brazilian.
    I have 3 seedlings of Pitanga from Brazil on my front yard...
    Cant wait to have the trees big with the beautiful fruits, so my
    neighbors can taste it!
    Tryed to plant açaí here, but all the seedlings dyed :(
    I had a huge success with Passiflora edulis f. flavicarpa that my father
    brought from Brazil, 30 plants!

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  5. I live in Brasilia with my Brazilian wife and 2 children. We were walking home from their school and my daughter said "look daddy, a pitanga tree" It was full of only green fruit but very full of large beautifully shaped fruit. We have a pitanga tree out front of our apt building so my kids were familiar with that bush. I cannot believe Brazilians are not picking from that bush but that's ok, that means more for us!! It is so big and yields about 4 cups of fruit every couple days. I am doing some research on the fruit and am amazed at the health benefits of the entire bush. We all love the flavor of the fruit and we eat it daily. We also love the beauty of the shape of this fruit too. I also love avocados and with 20 trees of various types all around me, I am going crazy making guacamole! Brazil is an absolutely amazing place to enjoy fruits unknown to North America. Maracuja, Jabuticaba, acerola, caqui, and one of our favorites, PINHA are now part of our diets. Pinha just blows me away!

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  7. Yep, I'm a Aussie in Downunder, and about to plant my bush out of its pot ! But it ain't anything like a tree (?) it's more of a bushy type plant, like a wormwood shrub.. Any ideas as to why that's so ???

    1. I'm Brazilian and live in Florida. Here, the Pitanga tree is indeed planted as a bush, so your shrub sounds perfectly normal... enjoy!

    2. My trees in Brisbane are very shrub like. they reap hundreds of fruit and only a few days ago i found out they are safe and edible. Yummy juicing them today.

  8. And would like any info to if I've what is supposed to be a ' PITANGA ' or SURINAM CHERRY ...

  9. Hi I live in the Middle East in beirut Lebanon planted a pitanga in our garden it's so delicious was wondering is there other Brazilian delicious fruits that you can recommend? Thank you

  10. I recomend jabuticaba...I have never seen jabuticabas in any other country but Brasil, so Im not sure if that would grow there...

  11. I recomend jabuticaba...I have never seen jabuticabas in any other country but Brasil, so Im not sure if that would grow there...

  12. I used to live in Sydney in the 80s & 90s. Once, after visiting Brazil I took some pitanga seeds back there and planted them in the backyard garden of the house of a friend (who has died since). It took some years and there were two nice pitanga trees in Maria's backyard. Even though Sydney can be quite cold in winter, the trees sort of grew quite well... maybe because they were protected against the high winds by walls and a building next door. Unfortunately, as Maria died in 1998, and her daughter ended up selling the property at Bondi Beach, I don't know whether those pitanga trees are still in existence... I hope they weathered the storm...

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