The Borojó Fruit (Ecuador)

market borojo fruit
Borojo (Borojó) Fruit, Mercado Santa Clara, Quito, Ecuador

I have good food memories of the Mercado Santa Clara (Santa Clara Market) in Quito, Ecuador.  Not only did I try a delicious ceviche with fresh squeezed lime, I added a new food to my glossary, the borojó.

The borojó is native to rainforests in Ecuador and Colombia in South America, and has also been found growing in Panama.  The etymology of the word comes from the Emberá (aka Chocó) language, in which boro means “head,” and {ne-}jo is “fruit.” Borojó requires constant high humidity, plenty of rain, and warm temperatures, hence being relatively limited to the tropical climate zones of northwestern South America. Its trees can reach heights of up to ~16 feet, and last for roughly 4 years (via Candelaestereo).

Among its culinary uses, the fruit is generally mixed with milk and sugar to produce marmalades and preserves, and makes for a good batido (shake) if you you blend it up with coconut milk.  For more moribund purposes, it is used to embalm corpses in Atrato and San Juan, Colombia, and for budding casanovas, it has mythical aphrodisiacal properties.

In terms of health benefits, borojó contains a good deal of phosphorous – useful for your teeth, bones and much, much more – amino acids, protein, and vitamins C & B.

Want to try it?  It’s a cumbersome fruit, so I recommend you either visit South America, or try a bottle of this.


Have you heard of the borojó?

Jabuticaba, or the Brazilian Grapetree

Native to the Brazilian states of  Minas Gerais, Goiás and São Paulo, the jabuticaba, jaboticaba, or Brazilian grapetree (species Plinia cauliflora), is known for fruit that bear purplish skin and whitish pulp; interestingly, the fruit grows right on the bark. Jabuticaba a tropical tree that thrives in sunlight, reaching nearly 10-33 feet at its highest; yet, it is also commonly found among bonsai collections. The name comes from an extinct Brazilian language called Tupi, whereas jaboti means tortoise and caba means place; though, others have translated the meaning to be “like turtle fat,” in reference to the jabuticaba’s white pulp.

Jabuticaba (Brazilian grapetree) 嘉宝果 – Zhangjiajie, Hunan, China*

Unusually, I first noticed the jabuticaba in Zhangjiajie, Hunan, China, a place most famous for its innumerable quartzite sandstone columns.  Walking through a local market, I encountered the 嘉宝果 (jiābǎoguǒ), or “joyful treasure fruit.”  If you’re wondering how that name was chosen for a food native to Brazil, my suspicion is that the 嘉宝/jiābǎo was nearly homophonous to the “jabu” of jabuticaba, and in keeping with Chinese naming practices for foreign words, it sounded like a lucky coincidence.  It grows in subtropical parts of China, namely in parts of Guangdong, Yunnan, and Fujian provinces.

I asked the vendor for a taste, and sure enough, the fruit tasted like grape candy.  Jabuticaba are often eaten raw, are used in preserves, and to make liquor.

*In case you were wondering, the first two characters of the description of the fruit are 深山 (shēnshān), which simply means “deep in the mountains.”

The Gac (Gấc) Fruit of Vietnam

One of the truly wonderful aspects about traveling is introducing your taste buds to new and/or fresh flavors.  Southeast Asia is no stranger to my passport; consequently, nor is its diverse array of foods nearly unknown outside of the region.

Today’s entry is about the gấc (roughly pronounced “guhk”) melon, also known as a “baby jackfruit.” This fruit is originally from Vietnam – the second part of its Latin name, Momordica cochinchinensis, refers to Cochinchin, or what some foreign countries used to call Central/Southern Vietnam.  However, the gac has also come to be planted in tropical and sub-tropical parts of Australia and China; in Chinese, it is called 木鳖果 (mùbiēguǒ), which unusually translates as tree freshwater soft-shelled turtle fruit.

The gac is a tricky one, because it doesn’t ripen off of trees, has a toxic exterior, and only the reddish aril (the extra flesh surrounding the black seeds) is edible.  Not to mention, the orange melon is typically harvested in two months of the year, December and January, thus it’s not always the easiest to find, nor the cheapest to try.

It was in Chiang Mai, Thailand where I first heard about and tried the gac, due to a menu calling my attention to it.

Yet, in order to make the gac fruit palatable – on its own the gac has more of an avocado/cucumber taste – other fruit juices have to be added.

In spite of its nearly unsweetened flavor, the gac has a couple of things going for it.  It is extremely high in beta carotene, good for your vision and immune system, and lycopene, an antioxidant; consequently, it has been used in traditional Chinese medicine for centuries.  Additionally, it’s orange and red, red being a lucky color in its native region.  Thus, you would likely see a plate of xôi gấc, or red gac sticky rice for Tết, the Vietnamese lunar new year.

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