Pitanga fruit is a brightly colored tropical fruit that’s popular in Brazil. Outside of Florida, pitanga fruit may be harder to find in the U.S.
What Is Pitanga Fruit?
Pitanga fruit (Eugenia uniflora) or surinam cherry is a tropical fruit. It’s a member of the myrtle (Myrtaceae) family. Pitanga is related to guava and mountain apple, which are also of the genus Eugenia. There are more than 30 edible species in this genus.
Pitanga fruit is also known as:
- Surinam cherry
- Brazil or Brazilian cherry
- Florida cherry
- Cayenne cherry
Pitanga fruit or surinam cherry is native to Suriname and some other South American countries like Guyana, Brazil, and Uruguay.
It’s grown in Hawaii, Samoa, and India as an ornamental plant. The surinam cherry is a common hedge plant in central and southern Florida.
In southern Florida, it’s considered an invasive plant, as it displaces native plant species. If you live in southern Florida, experts recommend that you don’t plant surinam cherry plants.
The surinam cherry tree can reach heights of up to 25 feet. It’s an evergreen tropical plant with white flowers and bright fruit.
The fruits are small, about 2 centimeters to 4 centimeters wide. Each fruit has seven or eight vertical ribs, making it look like a tiny pumpkin. As the fruit develops, it turns from green to orange. When it’s ripe, it can be bright red or dark maroon. It has a thin skin and orange-red flesh. Each fruit can have one to three seeds.
In Brazil, the pitanga fruits ripen in October. In Florida, the fruits ripen from March through June and then again from September through November, during the spring and fall rainy seasons.
Pitanga (Surinam Cherry) Nutrition
Surinam cherries are high in vitamins and minerals. One cup (173 grams) of raw surinam cherry contains:
Protein: 1.4 grams
Calcium: 16 milligrams
Magnesium: 21 milligrams
Potassium: 178 milligrams
Vitamin C: 46 milligrams
Vitamin A: 130 micrograms of retinol activity equivalents (RAE)
Surinam Cherry Health Benefits
Surinam cherry has been used in traditional medicine for different health conditions, including:
- Prevent heartburn
- Lower blood pressure
Research on surinam cherries is still in the early stages. Limited research has been done via lab or test-tube studies. More studies are needed to learn how this fruit affects people’s health.
Antibacterial, antiviral, and antifungal properties. Researchers have found that surinam cherry essential oils and leaf extracts may have antifungal properties. In early lab studies, the extract and essential oils have been found to have antifungal activity against Candida. This fungus lives naturally on your body but may cause infections, especially in people with poor immune systems.
Lab studies have also found that extracts made from surinam cherry fruits and leaves may be effective against Streptococcus, Listeria, and Staphylococcus aureus bacteria.
Streptococcus (strep) can cause skin and throat infections. Listeria is a serious infection caused by eating contaminated foods. Staphylococcus (staph) mostly infects the skin. MRSA or methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus is a type of staph infection that can’t be treated with regular antibiotics.
Rich in plant compounds. The darker the pitanga fruit, the more plant compounds it has. Experts say that the rare dark purple-colored fruits have the highest antioxidant potential, with a higher concentration of carotenoids and phenolic compounds, compared to the red and yellow fruits. The peel has more of these compounds than the flesh.
Carotenoids are natural pigments in plants that are produced during photosynthesis. These pigments cause the bright colors of the piranha fruits. Carotenoids have antioxidant properties and may have potential to prevent cardiovascular disease and cancer.
Pitanga fruits are a good source of the following antioxidants:
Antioxidants are substances that may help delay or prevent cell damage caused by free radicals. These are unstable molecules that your body naturally produces when it converts food into energy or when you exercise.
Promotes skin health. Surinam cherries are rich in vitamin C. Vitamin C has antioxidant properties and helps protect from some types of cell damage. It’s also needed to make collagen, the main protein in your body that’s essential for wound healing. Women should get 75 milligrams of vitamin C a day, and men need 90 milligrams.
Good for eye health. Surinam cherries are a good source of vitamin A. Vitamin A is essential for your eyesight and immune system. A sign of vitamin A deficiency is an eye problem called xerophthalmia. This is when you're unable to see in low light. If left untreated, it can lead to blindness.
Potential anticancer properties. Early lab studies have found that extracts and essential oils of surinam cherry leaves and fruits may help slow down the growth of cancer cells and increase cancer cell death. But more studies are needed to find out how this affects people.
Precautions to Take
Pick surinam cherries only when they’re so ripe that they drop easily into your hand when you touch them lightly. If the fruit doesn’t want to let go, it’s not ripe enough. Unripe pitanga fruits are very unpleasant to eat.
Don’t eat the seeds of surinam cherries. They've been known to cause stomach upset in dogs that have been fed the fruit whole. The spicy smell from surinam cherry bushes being pruned may irritate your nose and throat.
Surinam Cherry Taste
There are two types of surinam cherry fruit. The bright red fruits are more common, and dark crimson ones are much rarer. The dark crimson fruits are less sweet.
The juicy flesh is described by some people as refreshing in taste, while other people say that it's an acquired taste.
To eat the fruit fresh, slit it vertically, then spread it open to release the seeds. Chill the pitanga fruits in the fridge for 2 to 3 hours. This will help to reduce their resinous flavor. If you sprinkle the cherries with sugar before putting them in the fridge, this will enhance their sweetness and release their juices.
Try using pitanga fruits instead of strawberries, like on a cake. Top them with some whipped cream. You can also add them to:
- Custard pudding
- Ice cream
- Fruit cups
Pitanga fruits are also often made into: