Tropical Taste of Hawaii: The Sublime Surinam Cherry

Updated on February 3, 2018
punacoast profile image

Viet makes a great banana and Surinam cherry smoothie! He also likes eating the fruits right off a tree growing in his front yard.

Freshly picked Surinam cherries.
Freshly picked Surinam cherries. | Source

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.

Hang on little pumpkin!
Hang on little pumpkin! | Source
Ripening fruits.
Ripening fruits. | Source

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.

Dark red fruits taste sweeter.
Dark red fruits taste sweeter. | Source
Chocolate cupcakes with Surinam cherry syrup whipped cream.
Chocolate cupcakes with Surinam cherry syrup whipped cream. | Source

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).

Surinam cherry blossoms.
Surinam cherry blossoms. | Source
Young leaves on new shoot.
Young leaves on new shoot. | Source

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!

Fruiting season.
Fruiting season. | Source

Have you ever eaten Surinam Cherry?

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Questions & Answers

    © 2018 Viet Doan

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      • profile image

        Melanie 

        5 months ago

        Something wrong with my tree, the fruit does not look right and won't get ripe??

      • punacoast profile imageAUTHOR

        Viet Doan 

        7 months ago from Big Island, Hawaii

        Aloha Mary! So good to hear from you as always. I know, it's such an interesting fruit tree, even just for ornamental use. I have a neighbor across the street who is a beekeeper. His honeybees love it when my Surinam cherry tree is in bloom in the spring! I eat the cherries as snack or freeze them to make smoothie. Some people don't like the tart, spicy taste of the fruits but I like it. Aloha!

      • Blond Logic profile image

        Mary Wickison 

        7 months ago from Brazil

        I have had these here in Brazil. I know of no one who grows them commercially, I've never seen them in a store for sale. It is only if someone has a tree in their backyard.

        We see this with a lot of fruit trees here, things are just grown for personal consumption but have no market value. Sometimes too, they are too easily damaged if transported.

        I think it's great that people are still keeping these and other trees growing. I am all for diversification.

      • punacoast profile imageAUTHOR

        Viet Doan 

        7 months ago from Big Island, Hawaii

        Aloha LC! I'm glad you enjoy the article. Now you know about Surinam cherry. Please come visit Hawaii soon!

      • profile image

        LC 

        7 months ago

        Very interesting cherry article! I've never heard of it, but now I want to try some when I visit Hawaii.

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