Thursday, July 5, 2012

FRUITS OF BRAZIL - Murici (Nance)

When it comes to meat, some folks love beef but can't abide lamb, some love pork and others hate it. We've even heard that there are some meat-eaters that detest chicken, though we've never met one. Same thing with vegetables - there are broccoliphiles and broccoliphobes, there are those who think eggplant/aubergine is the best thing in the universe and those that won't go near anything with the slightest hint of eggplant. The members of the allium genus (onion, garlic, etc.) are particularly notorious in this regard. Many love nothing better than lavish amounts of garlic, for example, while others (and not just vampires) recoil from even the odor of the plant.

For the most part, fruits don't seem to engender such strong and contrasting reactions. Maybe it's because they're normally sweet, which is a flavor predilection built into human DNA, but whatever the reason most people like most fruits. It's not universal, and there are some fruits which fall into the love-or-hate category, like SE Asia's durian. But most fruits appeal generally.

We here at Flavors of Brazil have recently come across a previously-unknown Brazilian fruit called murici which is the exception that proves the rule. We tried it in several forms over several days during our recent expedition to Belém and no matter how it was served to us it tasted just awful. We tried murici juice at the hotel's breakfast buffet, sampled murici ice cream, and even took a nibble of the fruit itself at the Ver-o-Peso market. All horrible. When we asked local residents about the fruit, some claimed to love it, but many admitted that the flavor caused negative reactions in a lot of people. Describing flavor is notoriously difficult, but for us the flavor was unpleasantly herbaceous, almost grassy, quite acidic, oily, and the fruit is only nominally sweet, if at all. We tried doctoring the juice with sugar, but that didn't really help. In Julia Morton's classic book Fruits of Warm Climates, murici is described as "peculiarly odorous" and "varying in flavor from insipid to sweet, acid, or cheese-like."

The murici (most commonly known in English, particularly in the Caribbean, as nance) is native to Central and Northern South America, and has been eaten by natives since long before the arrival of Europeans in the Americas. The murici tree (Byrsonima crassifolia) prefers open forest and savanna habitats and is very drought-tolerant. In Brazil the fruit is grown primarily in the north and the northeast of the country. The fruit itself is of smallish size, yellow-green on the outside with a whitish pulp and a single large stone.

In Brazil, murici are used mostly in the preparation of juices, sweets, and ice creams, but in other tropical American countries it is used to flavor mezcal (in Mexico) or fermented to make an alcoholic beverage called chicha in the Andes. In Colombia, the fruit is boiled to extract its edible oil.

Our normal practice at Flavors of Brazil is to follow up a post about a Brazilian fruit or vegetable with some Brazilian recipes employing the ingredient. As a favor to our readers, we'll make an exception in this case, and our next post will NOT contain a recipe for murici.


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