Surinam cherry bushes grow all over Belize; they have pumpkin-shaped fruits that are botanically berries, but resemble cherries. If you are not familiar with Surinam cherries, imagine classic bing cherries with eight ribs growing on beautiful glossy evergreen leaved bushes. The cherries/berries look like cherries, but do not taste like cherries. The taste of the Surinam cherry fruit when ripe is said to resemble fig, mango, green pepper, with undertones of balsam and apricot, and even a touch of pine-like resin and tobacco aftertaste. Before the fruits are ripe they are tart, acidic and bitter tasting. It is best to pick only the fruits which are dark red and readily fall into your hand. There is a rare variety of Surinam cherry that is dark crimsom-to-black in color; that is described to be much sweeter with no bitter aftertaste.
Surinam cherry, Eugenia uniflora genus, a member of the Myrtaceae family, is also known as pitanga, cayenne cherry, Brazilian cherry. It is classified as a shrub but commonly referred to a tree as it can grow to twenty-five feet in height. This fast-growing conically shaped shrub makes an attractive hedge or wind break with dense branching foliage, aromatic spicy resinous leaves ranging from rose to coppery color that turn dark green and glossy when mature. The flowers are showy and white with four petals and numerous stamens. Fruits typically produce three weeks after the flowering. Bushes can produce one or two crops per year, from March to June and from September to November in Belize. In some parts of the world, Surinam cherry bushes are considered to be an invasive weed.
Surinam cherry is named for the origin of the bush. Suriname is a country in the northern part of South America. This bush now grows in most tropical and sub-tropical areas of the world, thanks to the sea-faring explorers who introduced the bush to India, Italy and eventually to the Americas.
Most often the bushes are reproduced from seed, but can be grown with grafting or air layering.
There is generally only one seed per fruit and remains viable to sprout and grow for about one month; it takes three or four weeks to germinate once planted. Some bushes produce berries in two years; others may take up to five or six years to bear fruit. Bushes can be planted in full sun or partial shade approximately six to ten feet apart in the orchard, three feet apart for hedgerows. Watering is crucial for early plant development. Once the bushes are established, they are drought-resistant with a long taproot. Surinam cherry bushes thrive in almost any soil except wet and boggy or salty conditions. Bushes are considered to be pest-resistant, but may be susceptible to fruit flies which can be controlled with soap or neem sprays. It is challenging to harvest the cherries for market as they must be picked ripe and are thin skinned, very juicy and highly perishable – difficult to transport.
Surinam cherry fruits are a good source of vitamins A and C, iron, iodine and contain antioxidants. Leaves are considered medicinal and are used for calming stomach aches, and febrifuge and astringent purposes. Other pharmacological properties include, anti-hypertensive, analgesic, antiviral and antifungal. Leaves also are used as a remedy for life-threatening infections. Pruned branches may be spread on terraces and around walkways to help repel flies and fleas when the pungent oils are released from the leaves.
There are many creative recipes for Surinam cherries. The pulp or puree can be stored for several months in the freezer and used in recipes. Here is a simple recipe for jam: 3 cups washed and deseeded cherries, 1 cup sugar, 3 tablespoons lemon, lime or sour orange juice, 1 cup water, one packet pectin (optional). Place cherries, water, sugar, citrus juice in a pan, bring to boiling, then turn down to simmer for approximately 1/2 hour or until mixture gels. If using pectin, sprinkle pectin on top of hot fruit mixture and stir in. Pour into sterilized heated jars and tighten the lid. The jam can also be stored in the refrigerator.
Surinam cherry drink recipe: 1 1/2 cups washed, pitted and pureed cherries, 4 cups water, 1/2 cup sugar, 3 tablespoons lemon or lime juice. Mix in blender, chill and serve. This recipe can also be made into ice cubes.
Delicious, healthy curry recipe: 2 cups Surinam cherry puree, 2 teaspoons ground turmeric powder, dash cayenne powder, 1 tablespoon. honey or sugar, 1-2 cloves garlic, 1 small onion, 1 cup water, a splash of balsamic vinegar, 1/4 inch of ginger diced, 1/8 teaspoon black pepper, 1/2 teaspoon salt (or to taste), 1/4 cup coconut oil. Saute onion, garlic and ginger in oil until onion is translucent, add water, cherry puree, sprinkle with turmeric powder, add dash of cayenne powder, honey or sugar, vinegar, pepper and salt to taste.