Tuesday, July 6, 2010

INGREDIENTS - Biri-Biri aka Bilimbi

Originating in tropical Asia (Phillipines or Molucca Islands) the fruit of the bilimbi tree (Averrhoa bilimbi )is an important food source in Asia, Africa and in one small region of Brazil, the southern coast of the state of Bahia. It is virtually unknown elsewhere in Brazil, but plays an important role in the cuisine of southern Bahia, where it is known as most commonly as biri-biri but also as bilimbi, or caramboleira amarela.

Bilimbi is a close relative of the carambola or star fruit and shares a high level of acidity with that plant. It is used in Asia to provide acidity to curries and sauces, and it the major ingredient in many jams, relishes, pickles and chutneys. It also has medicinal uses, and with its high acidity is used in cleaning and bleaching solutions. In Malaysia is is even used to clean the traditional dagger, the kris.

In Porto Seguro and other towns of southern Bahia many residents have a bilimbi tree in the backyard. The tree was probably brought to the region by Portuguese colonists who found it in Asia, and brought it to their tropical colonies in the Americas. No one is sure why the bilimbi is so extensively cultivated in southern Bahia and almost nowhere else in Brazil, though some food historians speculate that it might be due to the fact that the region is not suited for cultivation of citrus fruits, and consequently the bilimbi is cultivated to provide a culinary replacement for citrus fruits and juices in dishes where acidity is required or desired.

The fruits of the bilimbi tree are about the size and shape of a small zucchini and are a bright green. They can be eaten raw, but are extremely sour due to their acidity and are usually cooked to reduce  acidity. In Bahia they are used to make both savory and sweet conserves, and the presence of these on a table is a distinctive trait of the traditional regional cuisine.

Bilimbi can be successfully grown in the USA, though only in tropical regions or Florida and Hawaii. Seeds are available online at Tropilab, Inc.

In the next few posts on Flavors of Brazil, I'll provide recipes for a savory conserve of bilimbi as well as a sweet bilimbi jelly.

No comments:

Post a Comment