Monday, August 6, 2012

Developing the Cupuaçu's Full Potential

cupuaçu fruit
Although it's as yet virtually unknown outside Brazil, chocolate's close relative, the cupuaçu, has always been loved in Brazil. People there line up in ice cream parlors to get a double scoop of cupuaçu ice cream. And when Brazilians want a rich, creamy drink they often go for a glass of freshly-prepared cupuaçu juice. Mousses, puddings and cream fillings of all sorts are often flavored with the richly aromatic fruit.

What is interesting about the two closely related foods, chocolate and cupuaçu, is that up til now, each of the two fruits has been exploited entirely differently, their biological relationship notwithstanding. Chocolate is derived from the fermented and dried seeds of the cacau fruit, but when it comes to cupuaçu it's the succulent pulp which is eaten. A look inside these two botanical cousins gives an indication why this might be so - there is little pulp and a large number of seeds inside the cacau fruit but inside the cupuaçu the portions are reversed, with plenty of creamy pulp and a smaller number of seeds.

Recently, however, there have been some very interesting developments in the exploitation of cupuaçu. Food scientists, creative chefs and food-security activists in Brazil are taking a second look at the cupuaçu. They're moving beyond the pulp and concentrating on the seeds. The thought is that since the world has long been addicted to chocolate in all its variety, it might be worthwhile seeing what the gastronomic potential is of the seeds of the cupuaçu. Perhaps it could come to stand alongside chocolate as one of the most commercially valuable members of the Theobroma genus. Theobroma does mean "food of the gods" in Greek, and maybe it's time to add cupuaçu to the pantheon as well.

fermented cupuaçu seeds
Fresh from the pod, neither the seeds of cupuaçu nor cacau are edible - it's only after fermentation and drying that the seeds can be used in the kitchen. The chemical changes involved in this process are a gastronomic transformation that is the culinary equivalent of making a silk purse out of a sow's ear.

Horticulturists and nutritionists are now looking at cupuaçu with a new eye. The potential for gastronomic use of the seed far exceeds the market for pulp. Chefs in Brazil are already creating recipes that exploit the best characteristics of the seeds, NGOs are helping farmers in the rain forest develop sustainable cupuaçu agriculture, and media campaigns are already underway to educate the public about cupuaçu seeds.

On Wednesday, we'll feature recipes from the Brazilian press which focus on this unique fruit and it's entirely new use.


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