Fruits of summer

Rich pickings: Chile’s unique summer fruits

As snow melts off the Andes and beach crowds swell, the time is ripe to sample one of Chile’s best summer experiences: fresh fruit.  

Monday, January 16, 2012 Category: Food - Daily life
(Photo by The Pack / Flickr) (Photo by The Pack / Flickr)

Summer in Chile is a time to get out of the city and experience the natural beauty of a country that is wedged between the Andes and the Pacific, meaning that no matter where you are, you’re never far from a cool mountain getaway or refreshing beach trip.


But lurking on thousands of street corners across the country, one of summer’s best experiences is waiting: ferias libres, or farmers’ markets, hawking a range of fresh and exotic fruit.


And while Chile has a well-deserved reputation for exporting some of the world’s tastiest fruit, and staples like figs, cherries, stone fruits and melons should not be missed, visitors to Chile have the unique chance to try some fruit that cannot be found anywhere else in the world.


Every region in Chile has its specialties, and travelers are best to ask for what’s in season - or just jump in and try anything. Here’s a list get you started:


The Chilean strawberry or white strawberry


This summer delicacy is the origin of the modern table strawberry, and was an important food source for the indigenous Mapuche people of southern Chile.


When ripe, the fruit’s flesh turns a pale white, while its seeds become a crimson red. The fruit has an rich aroma and a slightly different flavor to other strawberries - in fact, it’s sometimes called the pineberry for its similar taste to the spiky tropical fruit. Ask for “frutilla blanca” at your local feria.


“Normal” strawberries are also readily available in Chile, where they are distinctive for their large size, rich taste and low prices, all of which make the fruit a summer staple.


Chilean papaya


Papaya, or paw-paw, is a common fruit in tropical parts of the world, and comes in many different variates, but the Chilean papaya stands out as one of the most distinct.


Growing in colder, mountainous climes, the Chilean papaya is smaller than most strains of the fruit, standing out with its bright yellow color.


Because it contains high levels of papain, an enzyme that digests proteins, the papaya cannot be eaten raw, but once cooked makes for a popular sweet and also one of the most refreshing summer juices on offer.


You can tackle the cooking process yourself, but the treated fruit is readily available in stores around the country.


Chilean papaya is most common in the northern city of La Serena and its surroundings, where it is converted into a range of products including syrups, honeys, ice creams and even liqueurs.


Chirimoya


This large distinctive fruit, native to the Andean region of South America, was once described by Mark Twain as the “most delicious fruit known to man.”


Its inedible skin is green, while the flesh is a creamy white color. The taste has been described as anything from pear to peach, pineapple to strawberry, but is probably best captured by its informal English name: the custard apple. Try it, you’ll see what we mean.


A traditional Chilean way of enjoying the fruit is the chirimoya alegre (“happy custard apple”), which combines the sweetness of chirimoya with the refreshing acidity of orange. Try it as a juice mix, an ice cream, or - our favorite - a scoop of chirimoya ice cream in orange juice.


Chirimoya can be bought fresh in all the regions of the country, but the best fruit is found in the northern region of Coquimbo.


The maqui berry


Native to the south of Chile, this small dark berry is renowned by the Mapuches for its healing benefits and was traditionally used to make chicha, a fermented alcoholic drink.


Its health properties are many, from anti-inflammatory to muscle relaxant, and it is also one of the most powerful antioxidants in the world.


The maqui berry appears to be on the verge of a boom in popularity, with various Chilean and foreign businesses keen to make the southern treat the world’s next “superfood.”


It can be found in markets across the country, but it is most common in south, where it can also be found as marmalade. Just ask for “maqui.”

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