Saturday, December 4, 2010

On the Road - Maranhão (Pt. 6) Bacuri

If the vinagreira is the most strongly-linked vegetable to the food traditions of Maranhão, and the tarioba is the iconic shellfish of that state, the one fruit that is probably most associated with Maranhão is called bacuri in Portuguese and is known, if it's known at all, in English as either bakuri or platonia. The scientific name is Platonia insignis. It is a fruit that is not much eaten in other parts of Brazil, and outside of academia doesn't seem to be known at all in most other countries. In her book Fruits of Warm Climates (1987) Julia Morgan calls it "a relatively obscure member of the Guttiferae," and there isn't even consensus as to where the fruit fits into the standard taxonomic scheme:

It has been suggested that Platonia insignis is an illegitimate name, due to the earlier publication of Moronobea esculenta Arruda in H. Kost., Trav. Brazil 2: 490. 1816, which was transferred to Platonia as P. esculenta (Arruda) Rickett & Stafleu, Taxon 8: 313. 1959. However, we have not been able to verify if these names apply to the same taxon.  (in Flora of the Venezuelan Guayana, Missouri Botanical Garden Research Projects)
From the pictures I've seen, bacuri wouldn't win any beauty contests. It's a rather non-prepossessing yellow/brown ball about 4 to 6 inches in diameter, with a thick mottled skin. The skin encloses a sticky white pulp which is wrapped around a few large avocado-like seeds. It is this pulp that is eaten, and it is reported to taste both sour and sweet.

It's been reported that the fruit is commonly pollinated by the way-too-cute white-bellied parrot, a bird that is common in Maranhão and throughout much of tropical South America.

Bacuri is very popular eaten raw, and is also used in cream desserts, ice creams, conserves and jellies.

As the fruit is a dry-season fruit, and currently Maranhão is in the middle of its dry season, Flavors of Brazil hopes to be able to sample bacuri during this weekend's excursion to São Luís. If I'm lucky, I'll give this blog's readers a taste critique of this unique and unheralded fruit.

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