The Ogg Blogg: Golden berries prove more than cape-able in high cuisine
By Fresh Fruit Portal editor Matt Ogg
It’s a functional food with a sweet but tangy flavor, eye-catching color, rich aroma and versatility in the kitchen, but what should we call it?
Traditionally the fruit is known as a cape gooseberry (and still is by authorities like the United States Department of Agriculture), while European supermarkets tend to call it by its scientific name “physalis”.
Let’s be honest here. I won’t be the first person to say “physalis” sounds a bit like a disease.
And don’t even get me started on the plethora of names for it in Spanish – uchuva, aguaymanto, uvilla, this cousin of the tomato is like Diddy or Snoop Lion except one name sounds nothing like the next.
Carlos Lozano wants the matter settled as well, and before we can kick off our interview properly he is emphatic.
“Golden berry is the name in English. If they [importers] want to call it physalis then call it physalis, but we want exporters in Colombia to call it if possible by a more commercial name that attracts attention in international markets,” he says.
Lozano heads up the Colombian National Association of Foreign Trade (ANALDEX) Uchuva Export Committee, but now encourages members to use the term "uchuva golden berry" and promote the fruit to importers as just "golden berry".
I'm inclined to agree with his approach, but whatever you want to call the crop it has made its mark in global markets, with Lozano claiming export volumes were up 50% year-on-year in the first half of 2017.
By the year's end he hopes for total shipments of 6,000-7,000 metric tons (MT). This would compare to 5,198MT for the niche product in 2016, bringing in export revenues of US$23.6 million.
Europe remains the leading market but the United States has also kept up a rapid growth rate, he says, while other growth destination markets include Canada, Brazil and Hong Kong, China (the industry doesn't have access to mainland China yet).
"We have been doing programs with chefs in gastronomic events so that they can experiment," he says, adding the fruit is useful in its fresh form as well as in sauces to accompany salmon or pork dishes, or as a syrup in desserts.
"For now we’re participating in events organized by ProColombia called "Macrorruedas" – commercial missions where we are participating in the menu offered.
"There will be a macrorrueda in Paris in October, and goldenberry will be on the menu," he says, highlighting there was also an event in the French capital in late July that went very well.
He mentions the fruit's gastronomic qualities will also be on show at the upcoming Produce Marketing Association (PMA) Fresh Summit in New Orleans, USA on Oct. 20-21.
Personally I love the fruit as a snack, and since I moved to Chile almost seven years ago it's probably the most exciting endemic and accessible South American produce item I've come across. That's just ahead of "aji amarillo" chile peppers which have become a staple in our kitchen here of late as a must-have for Peruvian cooking.
Golden berries are often a bit pricey though so despite the appeal they're more like a monthly or bi-monthly purchase. The high price is understandable though given they need to be picked and sorted one-by-one, with any potential quality defects hidden behind the paper-thin cape.
When they're in peak season and a bit cheaper, I would definitely be keen to use them in savory dishes like salads or in salsas (it seems they can be utilized like a slightly punchier cherry tomato substitute - see the picture above courtesy of Andes Fruits Colombia).
At restaurants I would probably be swayed by a meal with the fruit in it too - actually this was fairly common in the Colombian capital Bogotá where I recently visited with my partner; a few golden berries on top of some veggies or a salad, some fish, or with a few berries in a peanut bowl while you wait.
Do you have any interesting golden berry recipes? Or do you disagree with calling the fruit golden berry? Let us know at email@example.com or give us a shout out on the socials - @freshfruitportal on Facebook and @fruitportal on Twitter.
Lozano says part of the export rise this year has been due to improved growing practices, affecting both productivity but also the percentage of fruit that meets export standards.
"Coincidentally, Colombia's CorpoIca has also released its first two varieties, called Andina and Dorada," he says.
"They say the varieties are promising, and that's highlighted in results in terms of productivity, fruit quality and the organoleptic characteristics of the fruit.
"They were launched last year and now growers and exporters have started to plant the seeds, and they’ll start to do a verification - even though they’re registered, in their lots they’ll want to check the benefits of the material."
He adds several preliminary studies are underway in Colombia, Peru and Ecuador to determine the health benefits of golden berries, including a clinical study involving CorpoIca and CIRAD from France.
Reflections on Pichuberry scandals
Goldenberries may represent a completely insignificant percentage of the world's fruit trade, but in Colombia's industry (aside from bananas, whose volumes dwarf the rest of the fruits) the dual scandals surrounding U.S. importer Pichuberry made an indelible impact this year.
Colombian fruit exporters accused the company of alleged non-payment, while the USDA called them out for fraudulent organic certificates.
"The lesson we’ve had, or the reading we’ve made is that this is a very sensitive issue with regards to doing things well," says Lozano, addressing the topic delicately.
"It’s an issue of strategic alliances where you have a producer, an exporter and a client, and many times it’s not the final customer but an intermediary.
"We have to be shrewd in complying with the regulations of destination markets and the country of origin – any mistake that’s made, whether it’s known or unknown, could have damages and I think the case of Pichuberry is an example."
On the organic issue he says Pichuberry did not "measure the consequences of what doing the wrong thing could bring".
"We don’t really know what their attitude was in the moment but what we do know is what happened, and what happened brought consequences that did not favor Pichuberry and did not favor goldenberries. It’s something that shouldn’t happen."
He says while he can't be 100% sure, as far as he understands Colombian companies are no longer exporting goldenberries to Pichuberry.