Belonging to the genus Mangifera, the mango tree grows predominantly in South and Southeast Asia and other tropical regions. Originating in India, there are now over 400 varieties of mangos known.The fruit varies in size and color, coming in various shades of yellow, orange, red or green. The fruit itself is a plump oblong shape with a single flat pit that does not separate easily from the pulp.
Generally sweet in flavor, mangos can be used raw in juices, fruit salads, grilled for a smoky sweet flavor or dried, and make a tasty herbal tea infusion. The unripe mango tends to be sour and is great in chut- neys, pickles, salads and can also be eaten raw with salt, chili or soy sauce.
Mangos are a great source of fiber, as well as vitamins C and A.
Hibiscus is a genus of fl owering plants in the mallow family, Malvaceae. When in full bloom the hibiscus flower is large in size, containing several hundred species that are native to warm-temperate and tropical regions. The flower includes both annual and perennial plants, as well as woody shrubs and bushes.
The tea made of hibiscus fl owers is served both hot and cold and is well known for its color, tanginess and flavor. In Hawai‘i, tea can be prepared by first steeping the petals in hot water and then adding lemon or lime juice (which turns the beverage from dark brown/red to a bright red).
Dried hibiscus is edible, and is often a delicacy. You can now fi nd hibiscus fl owers dried, candied and made into a syrup. You can also find the flowers used as a decoration to food, tablescapes and worn as an adornment.
This semi-wild ginger was one of 22 principal plants introduced by early Polynesian culture. It is also known by its Hawaiian name, ‘Olena.
It was grown for its spicy yellow underground stems or roots. The leaf stalks come up in the spring, the yellow and white flowers bloom, then the plant dies down until the fall and winter.
In old Hawai‘i, the pounded root was mixed with seawater in a calabash (bowl) and the solution sprinkled in places where there was a need to remove the restrictions of a kapu restriction. The juice from the crushed root was dropped in to the ear to relieve earache, or into the nostrils for sinusitis. Kapa dyes were obtained from the raw root (yellow) and cooked or steamed root (deep orange).
‘Olena has a peppery, warm and bitter flavor and a mild fragrance slightly reminiscent of orange and ginger. While it is best known as one of the ingredients used to make curry, it also gives ballpark mustard its bright yellow color. New plants grow readily from sprouting roots. Today ‘Olena is enjoying a renaissance of being added raw to smoothies and salad dressings said to relieve inflammation.
Acmella oleracea (syn.Spilanthes oleracea, S. acmella) is a species of flowering herb in the family Asteraceae. Also known as the toothache plant. Its native distribution is unknown, but it is likely derived from Brazil and widely grown in tropical climates, such as Hawaii. It is grown as an ornamental and it is used as a medicinal remedy in various parts of the world. A small, erect plant, it grows quickly and bears gold and red inflorescences.
For culinary purposes, small amounts of shredded fresh leaves are said to add a unique flavor to salads. Cooked leaves lose their strong flavor and may be used as leafy greens. Both fresh and cooked leaves are used in dishes. They are combined with chilis and garlic to add flavor and vitamins to other foods.
The flower bud has a grassy taste followed by a strong tingling or numbing sensation and often excessive salivation, with a cooling sensation in the throat. The buds are known as “buzz buttons”, “Szechuan buttons”, and “electric buttons”.
Jaboticaba (myrciaria cauliflora)—Although native to Brazil, these fruit trees are found in many backyards in Hawai‘i. The tree is a slow-growing evergreen. It has salmon-colored leaves when young, which turn green as they mature. The tree prefers moist, rich, lightly acidic soil. Its flowers are white and grow directly from its trunk. Jaboticaba may flower and fruit only once or twice a year, but when continuously irrigated it flowers frequently, providing fresh fruit year round in tropical regions.
The fruit is a thick-skinned berry and typically measures three to four centimeters in diameter. Resembling a slip-skin grape, it has sweet, white or rosy pink gelatinous flesh encased in a thick, purple, astringent skin. Embedded within the flesh are one to four large seeds.
Jaboticaba fruit is largely eaten fresh; its popularity has been likened to that of grapes in the United States. The fruit begins to ferment three to four days after harvest, so it is often used to make jams, tarts, strong wines and liqueurs. Due to its extremely short shelf life, fresh Jaboticaba fruit is very rare in markets.
Surnim cherry, Brazilian cherry, or Cayenne cherry: E. uniflora L.
The shrub or tree grows to 25‘ high, has slender, spreading branches and aromatic foliage. The 7- to 8-ribbed fruit is 3/4 to 1 1/2 “ wide, turns from green to orange as it develops and, when mature, bright-red to deep-scarlet or dark, purplish maroon when fully ripe. The skin is thin, the flesh orange-red and very juicy; acid to sweet, with a touch of resin and slight bitterness. There may be 1 fairly large, round seed or 2 or 3 smaller seeds.
The Surinam cherry grows in almost any type of soil–sand, stiff clay, soft limestone–and can even stand waterlogging for a time, but it is intolerant of salt.
The ripe fruits is eaten out-of-hand. Cut a slit vertically on one side, spread open to release the seed(s), and kept chilled for 2 or 3 hours to dispel most of their resinously aromatic character. If seeded and sprinkled with sugar before placing in the refrigerator, they will become mild and sweet and will exude much juice. They are often made into juice, jelly, relish or pickles. Brazilians ferment the juice into vinegar or wine.
The seeds are extremely resinous and should not be eaten. The leaves have been spread over the floors of homes and when walked upon, they release their pungent oil which repels flies.
Cacao (Theobroma cacao) is also known as a cacao tree or cocoa tree, grows to about 13-25’ in size and is part of the Malvacaeae family. It is native to the deep tropical regions on Central and South America including Hawai’i. In fact, Hawaii is the only state in the US that grows cacao commercially.
The small flowers bloom in clusers that form into pods that grow directly on the trunk. The seeds inside the pods once mature are picked then fermented and dried and finally roasted. Then ground to make cocoa powder and finally chocolate, although bitter without the addition of sugar or other sweetners.
From the pulp a fermented drink is made that has been called “elixir to the gods” and cacao is packed with healthy chemicals like flavonoids and theobromine.
Chocolate can be used in sweet or savory dishes. From the roasted cocao nibs sprinkled on a salad or ground power added to soups & sauces. The end result can be made into works of confectionary art.
Tamarind is best described as sweet and sour in taste, and is high in acid, sugar, B vitamins and, oddly for a fruit, calcium.
The tree is very large with long, heavy drooping branches and dense foliage. A fully grown tree might reach up to 80 feet in height. During each season, the tree bears an abundance of irregularly curved pods all along its branches. Each pod has a thick outer shell encasing a mass of deep brown sticky pulp. Inside the pulp are two to 10 hard, dark-brown seeds.
If you can find a tamarind pod in its raw natural state, simply crack the outer shell, pull off the inner string and eat it like you would a date. Or take the pulp, remove the seeds and add them to a sauce for a distinctly sweet and tangy flavor.
For lunch recently, we had fresh fish with tamarind sauce prepared by private chef Tikky Young. We loved the flavors so much that we asked Tikky to share the recipe. (NEED LINK)
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