Delicately sweet and sour, acerola cherries are small-sized fruits of Caribbean origin. These little known tiny cherries indeed are in huge demand for their exceptionally high concentration of vitamin-C and phenolic antioxidants.
Botanically, Barbodos cherry belongs to Malpighiaceae family of shrubs native to Antilles, grow naturally in the wild in several parts of Central American, and Amazonian forests. Some of the common names are Barbados cherry, West-Indian cherry, Amazon cherry, etc.
Scientific name: Malpighia emarginata.
|Acerola cherries in a branch.
Photo courtesy: Epwuevos
Acerola is an evergreen large size bushy shrub that reaches about 8-18 feet in height. Its downy woody branches bear attractive pink, lavender color flowers. Blooming occurs throughout the year all along its leaf axils. Fruits are small-sized berries about the size of table grapes that appear single or in clusters all along the woody branches.
The fruit features bright-red color, round or oblate shape, with tri-lobes which is more obvious at its bottom. Each berry measures about 1.5 to 4 cm in diameter and weigh about 5-7 g. Inside, pulp is juicy with sweet and tart flavor and consists of three tiny winged edible seeds. Ripe berries are sweeter and juicier than that of green skin berries and can be eaten out of hand.
Acerola is very low in calories. 100 g fresh berries provide just 32 calories. Nonetheless, they compose several health benefiting components such as vitamins, and pigment anti-oxidants that contribute immensely towards optimum health and wellness.
The berries have shown significantly high levels of anti-oxidants on comparison to some of other Amazonian fruits such as acai, abiu, wax jambu etc. Their antioxidant value is largely derived from poly-phenolic anthocyanidin compounds namely chlorogenic acid, ferulic acid, pelargonidin, malvidin, tannins, cyanidin-3-glycoside, quercetin, and kaempferol.
Acerola possesses highest content of vitamin C for any plant-derived fruits/berries, probably next only to another miniature Amazonian berry, camu camu (2000 mg/100 g). 100 g fresh berry provides astoundingly has 1677.6 mg of vitamin C that is about 1864% of daily-recommended intake. Eating a few (2-3 berries) would be sufficient enough to fulfill this vitamin's daily requirements. Vitamin-C is a wonderful natural antioxidant. Consumption of foods rich in vitamin C helps the body develop resistance against infectious agents and scavenge harmful, pro-inflammatory free radicals from the blood.
The combination of vitamin C and phyto-chemical compounds in the Barbados cherry would help rid off harmful oxygen-derived free radicals from the body, and thereby, help boost immunity, protect the body from cancers, aging, degenerative diseases, inflammation and infections.
In addition, research studies suggest that chlorogenic acid in these berries may help lower blood sugar levels and control blood-glucose levels in type-II diabetes mellitus condition.
The berries also contain a small amount of B-complex group of vitamins such as niacin, folates and pantothenic acid. It contains very good amounts of vitamin B-6, niacin, riboflavin, pantothenic acid and folic acid. These vitamins acts as co-factors to help the human body metabolize carbohydrates, protein, and fats.
In addition, they also contain an adequate amount of minerals and electrolytes such as potassium, manganese, copper, iron, and zinc.
Barbados cherry is grown primarily in home gardens as a decorative shrub and in some orchards in Florida and Hawaii in the US. Otherwise, fresh berries are not generally found in the groceries. Its extracts in the form of powder, concentrate, juices, etc., however, can be readily available in the groceries.
At their native wild, for example in the Brazil's Amazon, they can be easily available in the local markets. Choose bright red, ripe, firm, uniform sized berries. Avoid discolored, soft, bruising, damaged ones.
Once at home, store fresh berries in a plastic or zip pouch and place inside the refrigerator set at zero degrees and high relative humidity where they keep well for a couple of days.
Fresh berries can be eaten out of hand from the trees just as you would do in case of other bush berries. However, their extreme tart flavor and proportionately large seeds, would limit their use as popular table fruit.
Once at home, wash berries in cold water without disturbing their stem. Drain and gently mop dry using a soft cloth/paper towel.
Here are some serving tips:
Traditionally, acerola berries have been part of food culture of native Amazonian since centuries.
Sliced fresh berries can be added to fruit salad, fruit cup, etc.
They can be used to prepare sauce, juice, syrup, jelly, etc.
Acerola berries may rarely cause serious allergic reactions in some sensitized individuals. Most often, these kinds of reactions occur because of possible sensitization to latex from other products of the tree. Persons with history of suspected allergy to these fruits may want to avoid eating them. (Medical disclaimer).
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Click this link to visit very informative pages on:-
Research articles on nutrition.
Phenolic compounds in Malpighia- Instituto de Química-Brazil (Link opens new window).
USDA National Nutrient Database.(Link opens in new window)