A member of the myrtle family and adorning the landscapes of many parts of the United States, Surinam cherry or Brazilian cherry is a very flavorful fruit that possess many nutritional attributes. Also known as Pitanga, this fruit is native to the Amazon rainforest, French Guiana, Guyana and Uruguay. With a taste that almost resembles that of mango, this fruit is used as an ingredient in ice cream, jams and jellies and many desserts. Surinam cherries are also fermented to make vinegar, wine, and liqueurs. If the seeded fruits are sprinkled with sugar, they become sweet and will give off much juice and can be used instead of strawberries on shortcake. The leaves of this shrub are rich in various essential oils such as turpentine (polyterpenes and sequiterpenes), which are known to repel insects.
Nutritional value of Surinam cherry
According to research done by Western Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education, Surinam cherry is an excellent source of vitamin A in addition to being rich in vitamins like vitamin C, thiamine, riboflavin and niacin, and minerals like phosphorus, calcium and iron. It also has high concentrations of antioxidants such as beta-cryptoxanthin, lycopene, gamma-carotene and rubixanthin. Surinam cherry is a good source of protein and carbohydrates too. A 100 grams serving of this fruit contains up to 93 grams of water and so eating it is a great way of keeping yourself well hydrated.
Health benefits of Surinam cherry
Most of the benefits of Surinam cherry are attributed to the antiseptic and astringent properties that the fruit possess. It is mostly known to prevent common colds, eliminate respiratory symptoms, relieve the symptoms of diarrhea and other gastro-intestinal problems. The high concentrations of vitamins, minerals and antioxidants make this fruit a must-have ingredient in your regular diet. The following are some of the health benefits offered by Surinam cherries:
Surinam cherry is a rich source of antioxidants
Surinam cherry is rich in the antioxidants such as lycopene, gamma-carotene, beta-cryptoxanthin, and rubixanthin. These antioxidants help in fighting off the harmful free radicals in the body that is responsible for causing inflammation and other diseases. The free radicals cause oxidation stress to the cells and DNA, leading to many serious diseases like cancer and heart diseases.
Surinam cherry is effective in reducing inflammation
Cineole is an active ingredient found in Surinam cherry that has been found to have anti-inflammatory properties. Researchers suggest that this property is effective in treating patients with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease or COPD. The mucolytic and bronchodilating effects of Cineole help in improving their pulmonary function of these patients. According to the study, cineole when used in therapy provided the patients with relief from shortness of breath as well as improved the functions of their lungs. Moreover this compound is also effective in reducing inflammation of the mucus membrane, thus helping the COPD patients to breathe without any difficulties.
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Surinam cherry has anti-diarrheic effect
One of the important properties of Surinam cherries worth mentioning is their potential anti-diarrheic property. The aqueous extract of the leaves is rich in Myricetin and quercetin rhamnosides. Studies reveal that the extract of Pitangas contains compounds that could possibly be used for the treatment of life threatening condition known as sepsis.
Surinam cherry is a diuretic
Surinam cherry has been found to have diuretic properties which help in preventing water retention in the body by increasing the frequency of urination. This property helps in reducing blood pressure and in promoting weight loss.
Surinam cherry is a rich source of vitamin C
Surinam cherry has high levels of Vitamin C, an important anti-oxidant that prevents free radical damage and helps protect your body from diseases like cancers and heart disease. Vitamin C helps in maintaining a strong and healthy immune system by increasing the production of antibodies and fighting off the infection causing microbes. The regular consumption of Surinam cherries can therefore help in keeping the common cold and flu at bay.
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Medicinal properties of Pitanga plant
An infusion of volatile compounds obtained from the Pitanga leaves has been used in folk medicine of Brazil as a remedy for high blood pressure and rheumatism. The leaves and fruits are also used as a natural remedy in several countries because of their stimulant, aromatic, febrifuge, anti-diarrheal and anti-rheumatic properties. The alcoholic extract has been found to be effective in treating anxiety, bronchitis, fevers, coughs, and high blood pressure. The “Encyclopedia of World Medicinal Plants,” states that the leaves can be used to lower the levels of blood cholesterol, blood pressure, and uric acid. The ethanol extract of Surinam cherry leaves comprises of terpenoids, which contains curzerene, germacrene B and atractylone that have antifungal properties.
The bark has been used as a remedy for diarrhea, edema, hypertension, gout, eye infections and gastrointestinal disorders. According to a study in “Food and Chemical Toxicology,” the essential oils found in this fruit have strong antimicrobial properties that help in fighting off microbes including bacteria (Staph, listeria) and fungi. A study published in Phytomedicine in the year 2000, states that different parts of the plant exhibit anti-malarial effects when tested on rats.
Other uses of Surinam cherry
As mentioned previously, Surinam cherry plant is often used as an ornamental shrub in gardens and landscapes. The Brazilians spread the leaves over the floors of their homes. When you tread upon these leaves, they release their strong aroma which is capable of repelling flies. The flowers of this plant are a rich source of pollen for honeybees. The bark which contains 20 to 28.5 percent tannin is often used for treating leather. Owing to its pleasant aroma, the Surinam cherry fruit has been used by some cosmetics and hair products companies to make perfumes, shampoo, soaps and body oils.
Storage of Surinam cherry
Ripe Surinam cherries should be consumed at the earliest because at room temperature they spoil very quickly. In order to use them for a few days, you need to refrigerate the fruits as soon as possible. You can either store the fruits in a breathable container or a shallow plastic container that has been lined with a paper towel. Refrigerating allows the fruits to last for about two weeks.
Some recipes using Surinam cherries
Surinam cherries can be used to make jams, jellies, juice, pie, sauces and many more.
Surinam Cherry jam – Ingredients: Deseeded Surinam cherries – 2 cups, Sugar – ¾ th of a cup, Lemon juice – 2 tbsp. Method of preparation – Add the cherries, sugar and lemon juice in a pan and bring to a boil while stirring. Reduce the heat and allow the mixture to simmer. Continue stirring until you get a jam like consistency. Store the jam in a sterilized jar and cover properly.
Surinam cherry juice – Method of preparation – Wash the Surinam cherries and remove their stem and blossom end. Add water to cover the fruits and simmer gently. Mash the fruits until they become soft. Then strain the juice with the help of a sieve or cheesecloth.
Surinam cherry jelly – Ingredients – Surinam cherry juice – 4 cups, Sugar – 2 cups. Method of preparation – Boil the Surinam cherry juice rapidly for about 5 minutes. Add the sugar and stir until all of it dissolves. Continue to boil the juice rapidly, without stirring it, until it has reached 220º to 222º or until it sheets the spoon. Pour the jelly into hot sterilized containers and cover immediately.
The Surinam cherry plant is an ornamental shrub with highly aromatic foliage. Although it is in no way related to the other cherries, it gets the name because it resembles the size and shape of a cherry with one or two seeds in the center. Pitanga is extremely delicate when in the mature state, which makes it difficult to be commercialized internationally.