Tuesday, February 12, 2013

All About Pitanga (Surinam Cherry)

Origin of Surinam Cherry
As its name would suggest, Surinam cherries originate in Surinam, Guyana, southern Brazil, parts of Uruguay, and French Guiana. The fruit thrives best in subtropical and tropical regions, making it well suited for India’s coastal, loamy soils.

The cherry has since spread to other parts of the world, including Argentina, Venezuela, Colombia, parts of Central America, several countries of the Caribbean, Asian countries including the Philippines, Sri Lanka, and China. Florida and Hawaii are two states in the US currently growing the fruit, primarily as ornamentals.

It’s believed that the Surinam cherry arrived in India by the Portuguese explorers, along with cashews. After delivering the fruits to India, the Portuguese then carried the Suriname cherry to Italy. From there, the fruit spread to the warmer parts of Southern Europe. Today, few countries produce Surinam cherries commercially. Most people familiar with the fruit recall their experiences growing up with a tree in their backyard, or finding it along a campus.

Availability of Surinam Cherry in India
India grows Surinam cherries commercially, but in very few regions. According to the book, “Minor Front Crops of India,” the fruits grow in the Nilgiri hills at elevations between 458-1678 meters. The fruits also grow in parts of Goa and throughout Maharashtra, as well as Kerala and Tamil Nadu. Some gardens in the north of India throughout the plains grow Surinam cherries as an ornamental shrub.

Unless living near these regions, it’s unlikely to find them in the markets: Their perishability make them difficult to transport, and they would most likely be shipped while only semi-ripe—if they did come to the market, they would be in their most unappetizing state.

Where to find Surinam Cherry in India
Surinam cherries are hard to procure in India. They are not exported to the markets outside of the regions in which they grow. Thus, the best bet of finding the fruits is to grow them or visit the Nilgiri hills. The “Cyclopaedia of India and of Eastern and Southern Asia” specifies that the fruits grow alongside the Pulney and Shevaroy mountains in the south. Scientists also collect plant specimens from Kerala’s Thissur district.

The seasonality for Surinam cherries in India is not available, but in Brazil, the season is from October and again in early winter months. In Florida and the Caribbean, fruits come in March through June and again in September-November. In Hawaii, the season coincides with Florida’s: March through May.

Checking for Ripeness in Surinam Cherry
Surinam cherries go through several colorful phases before settling into a deep red, at which point they’re ready for consumption. Eating the fruits while they are still green, yellow or orange will result in a deeply unpleasant taste described as resinous. Surinam cherries ripen unevenly, making for attractive shrubs but uneven picking. Get to the cherries before the birds, if possible.

When touched, the fruits should fall into the hand. If the Surinam cherry requires pulling or twisting, it’s best left as is. Some cherries turn a bluish-red color, which are sweeter and less bitter than the dark red counterpart.

Taste of Surinam Cherry
Surinam cherries are sweet with a certain je ne sais quois: a mix of acidity, bitterness and resin combined with a juicy pulp and a large seed. Indeed, the fruits have high acidity but are balanced by a high carbohydrate (sugar) count. The tartness has been likened to cranberries; other comparisons have been made in taste to bell peppers, tomatoes, even a hint of grass. Some comment of tropical overtones, like citrus, guava, mango and pineapple. Indeed, Surinam cherries have no uniform, agreed-upon flavor.

The only unanimous consensus on the fruit is that the taste improves exponentially when it’s completely ripe, and the black variety tastes much better than the red. In fact, most choose not to eat any Surinam cherry that isn’t a blood red color, as the bitter resinous flavor is too overwhelming otherwise. The deepest, yet rarest, black red fruits have the best taste. The taste grows sweeter and milder when sitting in the refrigerator.

Nutritional Value of Surinam Cherry
According to the MedIndia database, 100g of pitanga contains the following values:

27g Carb
3.3g Fat (1% RDI)
2.7g Protein (2% RDI)
1500IU Vitamin A (30% RDI)
26.3mg Vitamin C (44% RDI)
.03mg Thiamin (2% RDI)
.04mg Riboflavin (2% RDI)
.3mg Niacin (1.5% RDI)
9mg Calcium (.9% RDI)
.2mg Iron (1% RDI)
12mg Magnesium (3% RDI)
11mg Phosphorous (1% RDI)
103mg Potassium (3% RDI)
3mg Sodium (.12% RDI)

Health Benefits of Surinam Cherry
Surinam cherries have been a source of traditional medicine in South America for centuries: Brazilians use the leaf as an astringent, febrifuge, and stomachic. The powerful essential oils found in the leaves make them an effective remedy for colds and as a vemifuge, which is why those in Surinam make a decoction from them.

According to the “Encyclopedia of World Medicinal Plants,” the leaves are used as treatment to lower blood cholesterol, blood pressure, and uric acid levels. The bark treats diarrhea, gout, hypertension, edema, eye infections and gastrointestinal disorders.

The medical community has found many health benefits of Surinam cherries and parts of the plant as well:
--According to the Evidence Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine, cherry leaves offer a remedy for life-threatening sepsis.
--As per a study in “Food and Chemical Toxicology,” the essential oils in Surinam cherries have potent antimicrobial properties, fighting pathogenic bacteria including Staph, listeria, and two Candida species.
--According to the “Journal of Ethnopharmacology,” the benefits of the leaves as a an antihypertensive was affirmed, thereby being a natural remedy for heart patients
--The “Journal of Phytomedicine” published a study revealing hypothermic and antinociceptive (pain reduction) qualities
--As per a 2000 study published in Phytomedicine, parts of the plant illustrated antimalarial activities when tested in rats.

--Some cosmetics and hair products companies utilize the fruit’s tropical, pleasant smell for use in shampoo, perfumes, body oils and soaps.

How to Open/Cut:
Slit the fruit and remove the seed, and then leave to chill for an hour. Doing so ensures optimal taste; otherwise, that strong bitter taste (and smell) will linger.


Surinam cherries spoil quickly at room temperature. Begin refrigeration as soon as possible to preserve the life of the fruits. Ideally, store fruits in a flat, breathable container with little crowding—these are the same kinds used for other sensitive fruits like blueberries and raspberries. If no such container is available, line a wide, shallow plastic container with a paper towel and disperse the fruit on it. In the fridge, the fruits last for two weeks or so.

Surinam Cherry Recipe Ideas and Uses:
Surinam cherries have a number of recipe ideas and uses:
--Make a cherry jam by boiling 2 cups of de-seeded cherries, 2 cups of sugar and 1 cup of water
--Make cherry sauce by boiling a pint of cherries, ½ cup of water and 1 ½ cups of sugar. After simmering the fruit in water for 20 minutes, strain the fruit through a coarse sieve. Re-simmer and add sugar to the concoction. The reduction will yield a tart yet sweet Surinam cherry sauce.
--The blended and strained cherries may also be the basis for a punch. Add key limes, carbonated soda, or orange juice for additional flavorings.
--Sprinkle atop salads, custards and sundaes.
--Macerate the fruits gently and cook in the oven with pepper, sugar, and star anise. Stir the caramel-like concoction and add the topping to baked goods.
--Distill Surinam cherries to make wine or vinegar, as is common in Brazil.

--It’s possible to fold mashed Surinam cherry pulp into baked goods like muffins, sweet breads, and cupcakes. However, sample the pulp before possibly ruining the batter.

Raw vegan surinam cherry coconut crepe from:
Flavor Complements:
Orange, strawberry, cherry, cranberry, lemon, lime, coconut, guava, pineapple

Flavor complements: pepper, chocolate, vanilla, star anise, cinnamon, balsamic,

Random Facts:
In Auroville—an intentional community in the south of India—one of the multipurpose centers is named the pitanga hall.

A strong, spicy smell is emitted when the shrub is clipped and pruned. While this mildly annoys some humans, the oil’s often used in Brazil as a highly effective insect repellant.

According to a study in the “Experimental and Toxicological Pathology,” the medicinal benefits in leaves are stronger when they’ve been air-dried than sun-dried.

Scientific Name:
Eugenia uniflora
Eugenia michelii
Stenocalyx michelii

Other Names:
Brazilian cherry
Cayenne cherry
Pumpkin cherry

Related Fruits:

The Eugenia group contains roughly 30 edible fruits. As part of the Myrtaceae family, relatives include guava, jaboticaba/jamun, and mountain apple.


  1. Thank you for your information..this is one of the best sites for finding information about Pitanga cherry. I found it most useful.

  2. We procured the plant from Lalbagh, Bangalore. Gives many harvests in the season.

    1. Hi Shital,

      Please provide me the address from where you purchased the Plant

      Thank you in anticipation.



  3. a great site, finally we know the hedge row that is growing in my son's home in FL We have been eating the berries as they ripen dark red. Yes difficult to say the flavor ==sweet something

  4. Excellent information, thank you. The cherries also make a lovely jelly, use a guava jelly recipe. No need to remove seeds as you will be straining juice through muslin after cooking cherries.

    1. Just saw this, thank you so much I needed to know that you don't have to remove seeds to make jelly

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  11. Thank you for your article very informative. Do you happen to know of a supplier for Eugenia uniflora either in an extract or dried fruit or essential oil? I can't seem to locate a supplier.

  12. I'm an American. I like Indian people, culture(for the most part)and the food! Also, the average reserve is very polite. Gives me hope when I see so much negativity moving up. I'm hopeful for India. I love what you are doing here with this site, cataloging all the fruits and veggies. Could you imagine what Eden must have been like. Might find West Indian Elm and Khirni fruit. I'm collecting and growing Indian/Asiatic Fruits and veg/herbs. I have been into plants and herbs for 20 years or more and Ayurveda got me started with these plants. So I've naturally got a plant geek crush on you now....lol. Have a wonderful day.

  13. Hi Catherine, thank you for very informative, detailed post on this variety of cherry. We got a small plant in our backyard in which we harvest few cherries every year. So far, we were eating it as it is. Not tried any recipe. Thanks much

  14. I accidentally have a plant currently in blooming stage

  15. Thanyou very much for your blog. I am making jam tonight after picking 5 lbs of Surinam cherries/Euginia uniflora. If you would please post some pie and relish receipes. Snd6 what is the healthiest way to prepare them. My guess is eating them fresh.

  16. I live in Auroville, Tamil Nadu and have lot of plants in my garden, just today we have been feasting on them because they are ripe,
    the season started.
    They grow from the seeds very very easy.

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  19. Is this fruit similar to our star gooseberry? I remember eating them as a kid and also having pickles made from the star gooseberry? Would it be okay to make a pitanga pickle similar to the star gooseberry? Thank you.

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  21. Great information on this. I was looking it up as I only just heard of it. Glad to know it's available in Bangalore in LalBagh..hopefully still.

  22. these grow all along the front of my condo. So I did a little research to see if these fruits are edible. I can not tell you how happy I am to find this page to learn about the fruit and to see all of the medicinal uses for this entire plant. Great information.
    Thank you! =o)