Tropical Taste of Hawaii: The Sublime Surinam Cherry
Surinam cherry (botanical name Eugenia uniflora) is a tropical shrub native to Suriname, Guyana, French Guiana, and Brazil. It’s also known as Pitanga, Brazil cherry, Cayenne cherry, or Florida cherry.
Botanically, it is not a cherry or even tastes like one! It belongs to the Myrtaceae family and is related other tropical fruits like guava and mountain apple.
Surinam cherry has a distinctive wedged shape (like a tiny pumpkin!) with colors ranging from orange to bright red to dark burgundy when fully ripe.
In Hawaii, they are grown mainly as an ornamental shrub with edible fruits. The fruits are very juicy and have a resinous, spicy aroma. Children in Hawaii love eating the fruits right off the tree! It is an excellent source of vitamin C, fibers, and antioxidants.
Eating Surinam Cherry
Ripe Surinam cherries are bursting with flavor! The juicy pulp has a tangy-sweet taste, with a slight bitter hint. Fruits with deeper red color (almost black) are sweeter and less astringent. Each fruit has one round “stone” or seed inside.
Surinam cherries are highly perishable; overripe fruits will quickly become mushy and fermented.
In Hawaii, people make jams and jellies with Surinam cherries. They also look great in fruit salads!
Restaurant chefs in Hawaii use Surinam cherry as an exotic ingredient in their dishes. They also take advantage of the fruit’s attractive shape and brilliant color to create mouthwatering desserts. Hotel/beach resort bartenders use Surinam cherry syrup and liqueur to concoct trendy cocktails. (Surinam cherry infused vodka martini, anyone?)
In South America (Brazil, Argentina, Venezuela, Colombia) and West Indies (the Bahamas, Bermuda), people make wines with the fermented fruits.
Where to find Surinam cherry in Hawaii
You may find baskets of Surinam cherries for sale at farmers markets or roadside fruit stands around the islands.
If you’re lucky, you may spot a tree loaded with fruits at a public park or on a neighborhood street (ask the homeowner for permission before picking).
Growing Surinam Cherry
Surinam cherry is easy to grow and requires low-maintenance. It's drought-tolerant, shade-tolerant, and can grow in any soil.
It makes a striking ornamental shrub in the garden. In the spring, the whole plant is covered with clusters of white fragrant flowers that look like cherry blossoms! The flowers attract a lot of honeybees and butterflies.
In Hawaii, Surinam cherry produces one first crop in March-May, then a second crop in September-November.
During fruiting seasons, ripe fruits must be picked daily, before the birds ate them! Seeds scattered by birds or from fallen fruits will sprout baby seedlings under the mother tree.
In Florida, Surinam cherry is considered a pesky weed! Once grown as a popular landscaping plant (hence the name Florida cherry), it now has spread all over southern Florida and became a threat to some native plant habitats.
Young Surinam cherry leaves have a pretty reddish maroon color. When crushed, they release a pleasant peppery smell that is known to repel mosquitoes – the peskiest bug in Hawaii!
Have you ever eaten Surinam Cherry?
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