Carissa (Carissa macrocarpa) produces masses of beautifully shiny fruits that look something like plums. Their thin red skin covers a pinkish-red, almost mealy, flesh flecked with a milky juice. Flavor varies from tart to almost sweet, depending upon variety and maturity. In South Africa these are already significant commercial resources. Every January and February in southern Natal, for instance, large quantities are sold, notably along the roadsides.1 Prized by one and all, they are bought in considerable quantity in cities such as Durban.
Even though production is now haphazard and essentially unsupported by modern horticulture, carissa has good potential as a greater crop. This fruit has an ample edible portion and no stone in the center. It can be eaten whole. Some have a sweet flavor suggestive of raspberry, but most are more like cranberry.
These are versatile foodstuffs. Fresh, they can be eaten out of hand. Halved, they make attractive and tasty additions to salads and desserts. The red pulp looks and tastes so good it is often added to sick-people’s foods to entice them into eating bland pasty-colored porridges. The fruits are also dropped into water bottles and gourds to liven up the liquid contents (not necessarily plain water).
Despite widespread use as fresh fruits, carissas are more satisfactory when cooked. They are commonly tossed into soups and stews and squeezed over fish and meat, to which they impart both sweetness and flavor. Many are boiled into brightly colored preserves or fruity-flavored syrups. Some are canned or stewed or baked into pies and tarts.
The boiled juice and pulp have a milky-red appearance but both turn bright red on the addition of a little sugar. Carissa jelly, made by straining or sieving the stewed slightly under-ripe fruits and cooking them with sugar, is considered among the finest in South Africa. It is now gaining aficionados in
In reality, two closely related species occur in South Africa. This chapter focuses on the larger-fruited one, Carissa macrocarpa, which is locally called big num-num (grootnoem-noem in Afrikaans). It is indigenous not only to Kwa-Zulu/Natal but also to the Eastern Cape. Outside South Africa, the fruits are commonly called Natal plum, carissa, or carissa plum.