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Page 267

Naranjilla (Lulo)

For centuries the naranjilla (Solanum quitoense) has been an immensely popular fruit of Colombia and Ecuador. Writers have described it as “the golden fruit of the Andes” and “the nectar of the gods.”

Orange-yellow on the outside,1 the fruits look somewhat like tomatoes on the inside, but their pulp is green. Their juice, considered the best in the region, is used to flavor drinks.2 In fact, many even prefer it to orange juice.

Although little known to the outside world, naranjilla (usually pronounced na-ran-hee-ya in English) appears likely to produce a new taste for the world's tables. It promises to become a new tropical flavor with a potential at least as great as the increasingly popular passionfruit (see page 287).

However, producing naranjilla is a scientific challenge; before it can achieve its potential, it needs intensive research. Despite its overwhelming popularity in the northern Andes, it has been given little serious commercial development. In fact, owing to several factors, naranjilla fruits have become scarce and expensive in Ecuadorian and other Andean markets.3 Through misfortune and lack of funds, efforts to check the devastation of nematode pests have failed so that production in some areas is declining. On the other hand, demand is higher than ever, owing to naranjilla's local popularity and the increasing export of both fresh fruits and canned products.

Given attention, problems such as these should be entirely avoidable, but even when such operational difficulties are overcome, naranjilla will still be a challenge to produce. It has little genetic diversity and, consequently, is probably restricted to a narrow range of habitats. It almost certainly requires a cool, moist environment—a type that is of limited occurrence. It may also require a specialized pollinator.

1 Although “naranjilla” is Spanish for “little orange,” the fruit is not a citrus, but is a relative of the tomato and potato. In many areas it is called “lulo,” a pre-Columbian word, possibly of Quechua origin.
2 In the 1760s, the Majorcan missionary Juan de Santa Gertrudis Serra wrote of the naranjilla: “The fruit is very fresh [and diluted] in water with sugar, makes a refreshing drink of which I may say that it is the most delicious that I have tasted in the world.”
3 In the last decade, prices have increased more than tenfold (even accounting for inflation).

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