I am always amazed at finding historical foods that our ancestors used to keep their vitality. The Andes are known to produce many nutrient dense foods, from 3,000 different types of potatoes, quinoa, to this exotic secret fruit of the Incas: the Pichuberry.
What Is It?
The Pichuberry, also known as Physalis peruviana, is a plant that yields a small, smooth berry. In Peru it is known as aguaymanto or Inca berry. The fruit greatly resembles a miniature spherical yellow tomato, and it is closely related to the tomatillo. It is more distantly related to a large number of edible plants, including tomato, eggplant, and potato.
A distinctive feature of the Pichuberry is its papery calyx, which encloses each individual berry. This calyx grows until the berry is completely enclosed, forming a protective cover. This cover allows the Pichuberry to have a shelf life of about 30-45 days at room temperature.
When removed from its calyx the fruit is about the size of a marble, 1-2 cm in diameter. It contains many small seeds, similar to a tomato. It is a yellow/orange color and sweet when ripe with a mildly tart flavor.
The Pichuberry has become popular throughout the world, and has many alternate names. It is commonly referred to as a gooseberry, golden berry, Peruvian cherry, and ground berry.
The Pichuberry has its roots in the Andes of Peru, where it has been cultivated for centuries. The original name of this fruit is the Incan berry. To many, the Pichuberry is known as the Lost Incan Crop. After being discovered, settlers began growing the Pichuberry in England. The English then used the crop in their colonization of what is now South Africa. The Pichuberry was then cultivated by early settlers at the Cape of Good Hope. Soon after its adoption, it was carried to Australia where it acquired its name “Cape Gooseberry”. Today, the Pichuberry has become a popular delicacy in several continents including South America, Asia, Africa, and Europe.
The Pichuberry has many health benefits. It is one of the most abundant sources of vitamin C available among all fruits and plants. Its vitamin C levels reach as much as 20 times of that in an orange. It is also a powerful antioxidant and is effective in boosting immunity while restoring vitality. No wonder the Incas were so strong!
Promising studies show that Pichuberries antioxidant levels may also prevent cellular aging and the onset of cancer, all while promoting healing of wounds and some allergies. Respiratory disorders, such as asthma, are also improved due to the fruit.
I would consider the Pichuberry an anti-diabetic fruit. Pichuberries aid in reducing sugar levels in the blood and stimulating hormones that secrete insulin in diabetic patients. They also enhance protein synthesis and increase the production of red blood corpuscles in the body.
Pichuberries are a source of provitamin A, vitamin C, some B-complex vitamins, thiamin, niacin, phosphorous, and vitamin B-12. The concentrated levels of nutrients in this fruit are useful in fortifying the liver, supporting cardiovascular activity, strengthening lungs, and enhancing fertility and food absorption.
Manuel Villacorta is a registered dietitian in private practice, MV Nutrition, award winning nutrition and weight loss center in San Francisco. He is the founder and creator of Eating Free, an international weight management and wellness program and author of Eating Free: The Carb Friendly Way to Lose Inches, Embrace Your Hunger, and Keep Weight Off for Good and his new book Peruvian Power Foods: 18 Superfoods, 101 Recipes, and Anti-Aging Secrets from the Amazon to the Andes (HCI, October 2013)