The Amazon region is home to a wealth of unusual fruits. In fact, at ice cream and juice shops in the area, there are more than 50 different fruit flavors from which to choose, according to authors Socorro Ferreira and Gabriel Medina in the book “Riches of the Forest.” Until recently, few outside of South America were aware of its many fruit treasures, most of which are still awaiting discovery by the rest of the world.
The bacuri is a mango-sized white-pulped fruit that is extremely popular in northern Brazil, and is used to flavor pudding, ice cream, juice, jelly and liqueur. Its seeds serve as the source of an oil, and the bark's latex is used as a home-made glue and medicine for skin diseases. The tree is native to the Brazilian state of Para, where children hunt for it during the rainy season when it is fruiting. The rind is thick and must be cracked open.
Pupunha is a food staple for many native Brazilians. It is small, about the size of a plum, and like many other reddish-orange fruits is high in Vitamin A. Its texture is similar to the sweet potato, but it has its own unique flavor. The fruit is either cooked and then eaten, or dried and ground to use for flour or to make a fermented drink called caissuma. The pupunha fruit can be difficult to harvest because the trunks of the trees on which they grow are covered in spines.
The grape-sized camu-camu fruit, with a purplish-red skin and yellow pulp, contains more vitamin C than any other plant in the world. It is very popular in Japan, and although it is currently almost unknown in the U.S., the Peruvian government expects camu-camu to become the next big Amazon fruit export, says Dr. Viana Muller on the Whole World Botanicals website.
The acai berry is dark purple and about the size of a blueberry, with a thin layer of pulp covering a large seed. Its taste is described as a mixture of chocolate and red wine. Known as a potent source of antioxidants, a University of Florida scientific study showed that acai has the potential to serve as a cancer-fighting agent. Long used by Brazilians to treat disorders of the skin and digestive system, it is now being marketed in the U.S. as a health food.
Aguaje is a crisp palm fruit covered with maroon-colored scales. Its bright yellow flesh tastes a little like a carrot, and is rich in vitamin A. It is important financially to rain forest residents, generating $4.6 million annually, more than any other fruit in the Peruvian Amazon, says National Geographic Magazine. There is concern that deforestation caused by the logging trade may affect fruit production in the entire Amazon area, says journalist Hayley Rutger.