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Pasto, Colombia. Naranjilla is among the most popular fruits in the northern Andes. (R.E. Schultes)


The naranjilla is versatile. It can be eaten raw or cooked or used to make juice. It is also cooked in fruit pies and confections, and is used to make jellies, jams, and other preserves. In Venezuela, Panama, Costa Rica, and Guatemala, unstrained pulp is used for toppings on cheesecakes, sponges, ice cream, yoghurt, and fruit salads. The fresh juice is also processed into frozen concentrate and can be fermented to make wine.

Despite its versatility, naranjilla is mainly used at present to flavor drinks. In Ecuador and Colombia, naranjilla sorbete is something of a national drink, often served in hotels and restaurants. It is made like lemonade: the freshly extracted juice is beaten with sugar into a foamy liquid that is green, heavy-bodied, and sweet-sour in flavor. (Most tasters express surprise that it is not a blend of several fruits.)

Naranjillas are eaten only when fully ripe, at which time they yield to a soft squeeze and their rather leathery skin is bright orange or yellow (though sometimes still marbled with green). On average, they are about the size of golf balls. The slightly acid flavor is more pronounced if the fruit is not completely ripe. However, even some ripe fruits are too acid to be eaten raw, and the pulp must be sweetened to be palatable.

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