Inca berries or physalis are round, 1 to 2 cm in diameter, golden (the British call them golden berries) and with tiny seeds inside. They are a very nutritious, bittersweet and tasty fruit, both fresh and dried. The berries are wrapped in a thin paper like cocoon at first greenish and golden like the ripe fruit when it dries. The scientific name comes from its looks, because the Greek word physalis means bladder.
They are part of the solanaceae family to which dozens of similar species belong, although not all edible, being physalis peruviana one of the most sold and important.
Planting Inca berries
Physalis is an herbaceous and bushy plant that can grow as high as 2 meters. Each plant produces 2 to 4kg of fruit.
Although natural from moderate tropical climates, the plant is well adapted to the majority of the soils and can also be planted in pots, protected from too much moisture or temperatures below 0ºC.
It propagates easily through seeds (found inside each berry) and fructifies 4 to 5 months later. The fruits can be harvested during 6 to 8 months per year.
The dried berries contain about 6.5g protein (per 100g), 49g carbohydrates, are rich in vitamin C (about 9mg), vitamin A, zinc, potassium, calcium and phosphorus. They are also an excellent source of fibers (approximately 19g), 4% of each soluble, important to control appetite and reduce cholesterol.
Inca berries are considered a superfood due to their high levels of antioxidants (even higher than other berries, such as goji berries). For example, a 2005 scientific article named “Antioxidant Activities of Physalis peruviana” , written by de Sue-Jing WU, Lean-Teik NG and others, shows that ethanol present in Inca berries has an excellent antioxidant activity. Free radicals have been considered the main cause of different kinds of diseases, including heart disease, aging, diabetes, rheumatism, liver disease, kidney failure and cancer. Antioxidants have the ability to counter damage caused by free radicals on body cells.
Inca berries come from South America, from high altitude areas in Peru, Chile, Ecuador and Colombia, where they grow wild and for centuries have been used by their nutritious and medicinal properties. Popularly they have been used to treat malaria, cancer, asthma, hepatitis, dermatitis and rheumatism. The fruits are also known for their diuretic and laxative characteristics.
The fresh fruit is for sale in most supermarkets still wrapped in its cocoon and can be eaten for example plain or in jams. It should be kept at room temperature because refrigeration might cause the berries to deteriorate more easily.
Dried berries have more nutrient concentration (due to less water in the fruit), are readily available and are practical for snacks at work or at school. They can be eaten as snacks, added to smoothies, fruit salads, mixed with yoghurt or muesli. They go very well with chocolate desserts or mixed with cocoa nibs. They are also delicious and exotic in cakes, cookies, breads, rice and pasta.
Insert date: 2013-04-25 Last update: 2013-06-20
Authors > Contributor writers > Cristina Rodrigues
Authors > Translators > Ana Soares