Naranjilla Fruit (Solanum quitoense) How it grows and how we use the fruit for juice
Naranjilla (na-rang-E-ya) is a medium-sized, furry plant that grows best in the cooler temperatures of higher elevations or in the shade at a lower elevation in the humid tropics. It is believed to come from the Andes in South America. The plant looks a lot like an eggplant and the fruit like a tomato which makes sense because it is in the same family as both, Solanum.
Two types of Naranjilla in Costa Rica
There are two distinct varieties of Naranjilla in Costa Rica. The naranjilla found at higher elevations has a purple tint to the new growth and the fruit is yellow with a green ring. The naranjilla found on our farm in the lowlands of the Caribbean has no purple tinge and the flesh of the fruit is completely yellow. There is a close relative of this plant growing in pastures and roadsides but it’s not for eating. It has many noticeable thick, fuzzy thorns on its stem.
We were at a friends house one day and she served us juice made from her naranjilla plant. We had never heard of it before and Barry really, really enjoyed the flavor. So, we pulled a few fruits to take home to make our own juice and plant the seeds. After drying the seeds for a week, Barry planted them very carefully in areas with good drainage and a lot of shade. A week passed and it seemed that the grasshoppers were eating the new growth before the plants had a chance to make it. He meticulously put little screen houses around each and every start to keep the bugs away.
The plants never took off. Possibly, the mesh made it to shady an environment or it kept the soil to damp around the roots, either way the starts never grew. So why then do we have these lovely images of full grown plants and fruits? Well, one day we were cleaning up the farm and getting ready to burn a pile of yard waste and lo and behold there was an almost mature naranjilla plant nestled in between two trees in an area we don’t frequently visit. The birds prove to be better gardeners than us almost every time. Since that day we have found 4 other plants. Maybe, it’s a type of bird that is migrating here for a short time and just happened to poop in our general direction? We don’t know and don’t care we are just happy to have some growing.
If you too are lucky enough to get your hands on some fruit, cut it in half and de-seed it. The flesh is firmer than it looks, you will probably need a sturdy spoon. You will need quite a few to get a flavorful drink so don’t skimp on the amount of fruit that you put in the blender. You could do a Naranjilla/Passion Fruit blend if you wanted or simply add natural sugar and water. Blend, Cool and Enjoy!
Add Naranjilla to the blender with some water and sugar.
See our other Fruits and Foods of Costa Rica