Turning away, for the moment, from the horrors of our modern world I thought it might be interesting to post a bit about something that few people in America know much about, the nature of Amazonian fruit.

As I quickly learned in my travels there that you get two basic choices among the hundreds of native fruit. All are sweet and contain flavors unknown and underappreciated by the North American palette. The flavors of many are so delicious they can easily become addictive. Still, when one sits down at the table or browses the wonderful markets such as Ver-o-Peso you are faced with the choice between fruit containing seeds-in-fuzz or seeds-in-goop. As in the rest of life there are a few tasty exceptions, however, the vast majority of fruits native to the Amazon conform to this rule.

Anyone who lives, or has lived, in the Amazon will surely be appalled at the simplicity of my classification system for Amazonian fruit. Still, I stand by it not because it is proven but because in it's simplicity it helps one wrap their mind around the boggling number of native fruits available in the Amazon.

Seeds-in-Goop:



The Cupuacu (pronounced Ku-poo-asoo. The second C should have a hangy-downy-thingy on it.) is native to the Amazon and highly revered by the locals. I would say that it is revered in a similar way as the Durian is in Asian cultures. Luckily the Cupuacu is not as horrendously stinky, however, it is incredibly rich and very foreign to the unaccustomed palatte. The fruit is large and encased in a hard shell. Within the shell the fruit is a stringy, goopy mass tightly adhered to large seeds. The stringy goop is cut from the seeds and added to all manner of sweets, the most popular of which is an extremely rich pudding. The flavor is very sweet and rich with a heavy musky flavor. It is so rich it is difficult to eat large quantities, although I must admit it is quite addicting once you get used to it.


The Passionfruit is also an example of seeds in goop. It's flavor, as many of us know, is very intense, tart, and exotic and comes from the gelatinous fruit around the numerous black seeds inside its leathery shell.
The cacao fruit is also a seeds-in-goop fruit. At one point in my travels a guide found a wild relative of the cacao plant in the jungle. The goopy fruit around the seeds (it is the seeds which are roasted and ground to make chocolate) was good. It had a mild, slightly tart taste with just a hint of the cocoa taste one would expect.

Seeds-in-Fuzz:




The Inga' (pronounced Ing-ga with accent on the last syllable) is the best representative of the seeds-in-fuzz category that I can think of. It is a bean looking fruit that comes from several native species of tree. Many are quite long, up to a foot or two, and contain numerous large flesh colored seeds. When the pod is opened the fruit look much like small white lab mice minus the tail, ears, eyes, and feet. They are white and very fuzzy with hair the length and texture to approximate the coat of a lab mouse that has been put through the clothes dryer a couple of times. The fruit itself tastes quite refreshing after you get over the look and mouthfeel. The hairs seem to nearly dissolve in your mouth and the flesh tastes like moderately sweet sugar water as you peel it away from the seed with your teeth. In english it is known as Ice Cream Bean as it has a flavor slightly reminicent of vanilla ice cream. It is definitely worth trying.


The Bacuri is intermediate between the groups. Depending on the ripeness of the fruit the fuzziness can be more or less and is always less than that of inga. It is one of my favorite fruit flavors and will always remind me of the Amazon, especially the week I spent with a coboclo family in Igarape Acu not far from Belem. The fruit is round and slightly smaller than a softball. It is normally somewhat yellow and the shell is quite thick, needing a machete or other sharp implement to open it. Inside are several orange slice shaped seeds covered in white fuzzy fruit and tightly packed within the shell. The flavor is intense, tart, and sweet. I'm not sure how to describe it other than that it is the perfect balance of flavor to eat right out of the shell. Most fruits from the Amazon need to be processed or diluted before eating (cupuacu, passionfruit, acai) or are pretty bland (Inga) but Bacuri is excellent eaten right from the seeds.

Other fruits worth mentioning:

There are two other fruits which are more than worth mentioning but fall outside the non-linnean classification above. The first is the fruit of the cashew plant, the fleshy mass that grows next to the bush and from which the cashew nut protrudes.


This fruit is one that some people love and others detest. It is astringent, bitter and awful in it's unadulterated form. It takes significant amounts of sugar to make it palatable. Still, just like elderberries or other similarly astringent fruits it is quite enjoyable, at least to me, when correctly prepared. The most common way I had it was as a juice. Its color is orange and to me has hints of mango and oranges in it as well as having it's own unique flavor. Like pure cranberry juice you need a huge amount of sugar to make it really taste good, so if you are afraid of the 15 calories per tablespoon for sugar (which you shouldn't be. It's less than a percent of 2,000 calories per day, don't sweat it) I'd stay away as you will need at least 45 calories to sweeten a good sized glass.


The last fruit worth mentioning is Acai (pronounced Ah-sa-ee with accent over the last syllable and a hangy-downy-thingy on the C). This is the fruit of the Acai palm tree and is one of the distinctively Amazonian fruits along with the Cupuacu. The fruit forms as a thin layer over the seeds and, like most palm fruits, grows in umbels just beneath the fronds of the palm. To harvest it one must climb the height of the tall, thin trees using a circle of rope or twisted and tied palm frond as a climbing aid around your feet. The umbels are cut and brought to the ground.

After picking the fruit must be taken off the berries. During my stay on Igarape Acu this involved placing the berries in a large, unglazed, terracotta bowl and crushing them against the bowl to scrape the fruit from the pits by hand. The fruit is then diluted with water and eaten many ways.

In Igarape Acu we had several meals of unfiltered Acai juice with handfuls of the chunky, home made, cassava "farinha" thrown in to create something of a gruel. A bit of sugar to sweeten things up was an option if desired. This is definitely a survival food but it sticks in your stomach for a long time and the muskyness of the acai makes for an interesting taste combined with the earthy sweetness of farinha. It's a bit like grape nuts covered in purple milk, without the heavily roasted flavor grapenuts have.

Acai is not a tart or sweet fruit. It is very dark and brooding as flavors go. Here in the States juices which contain acai invariably have some other tart fruit juice added to give it some lift. Consumed plain it is very bottom heavy and earthy, much like the heavier flavors of pomegranate juice without the tartness. It makes a phenomenal, deep purple, ice cream and when acai is in season everyone in Belem flocks to the neighborhood Cairu ice cream shops. Thanks to the photographer on Flikr for the picture. Click the photo to go to her images.


Acai e Coco com flocos. Mmmmm!

Cairu is the one place you must visit in Belem. Ver-o-Peso market is phenomenal and a must see, but you don't really know the Amazon until you have had to pick from a list of over 100 ice creams made mostly from native fruits of the Amazon. It is a phenomenal choice, far more excruciating than making a decision at Baskin-Robbins could ever be. It is hard because you know that, unless you live there, you will never be able to try them all, so you want to try the best while you have the chance. There is an excellent video on YouTube of a Cairu commercial that illustrates this wonderfully excruciating choice perfectly. I can't post it because my work blocks YouTube but if you put in "Cairu" and "sorvete" or "ice cream" you should be able to find it.