Directly translated, naranjilla means “little orange.” But don’t be fooled. This tiny orange fruit, which is relatively unknown outside its native South America, isn’t part of the citrus family at all. Instead, it’s from the nightshade family, more akin to an eggplant or a tomato.
The fruit’s flavor is tart and acidic, making it perfect for jellies, smoothies, and even wine. Foragers also consume it raw by removing any spines, cutting it in half, eating the insides, and discarding the flesh. Colombians, who call the fruit lulo, may be responsible for its most delicious preparation: the lulada, a drink made primarily of narajanilla with lime juice, sugar, and water. A lulada can be made as a smoothie or an agua fresca, with plenty of raw fruit mixed in. Often it’s served with a shot of vodka, to make it just a little more special.
The naranjilla plant is fragile and can be difficult to cultivate, perhaps contributing to its lack of popularity outside of South America. Much like tomatoes, the fruit is harvested unripe because it is easily damaged and more prone to fungus otherwise.
The fruit was first introduced to the rest of the world at New York’s World’s Fair in 1939. After that first spark of popularity, American researchers had some initial luck growing the plant in the 1940s at the University of Florida. However, nearly all of them were destroyed during hurricanes. Scientists were able to graft the fruits onto more wind-resistant plants to minimal success.
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