Tropical Taste of Hawaii: The Awesome Acerola Cherry
Acerola cherry (botanical name Malpighia emarginata) is grown in many gardens and farms on the islands of Hawaii. However, it is not a native Hawaiian fruit tree.
Also known as Barbados cherry or West Indian cherry, acerola is believed to originate from South America and the Caribbean. It is widely cultivated in the tropical and subtropical regions around the world, including Asia and Africa.
Puerto Rico, Brazil, Venezuela, and India have large acerola plantations, growing different varieties for exportation.
In the United States, Florida is the major grower of acerola cherry. It’s also grown in some smaller farms in south Texas.
Acerola cherries are famous for their extremely high Vitamin C content – more than oranges and grapefruits! They are also rich in fiber and antioxidants.
Some proven benefits of Vitamin C:
- Keeps immune system in good working order
- Helps the body fight infections and viruses
- Prevents scurvy disease
- Reduces the risk of cardiovascular diseases
- Reduces stress, fatigue, and depression
Eating acerola cherry
The tangy, juicy fruits are best eaten fresh. Fully ripen fruits (dark red color) have a sweeter taste but with less Vitamin C content.
Eat the juicy pulp only and spit out the small, fibrous seeds! Each acerola cherry has 3 seeds that are inedible.
Acerola cherries can be used to make jam, jelly, wine, and dessert tarts or pies. However, cooking will turn their bright red color into a dull brown color. And the heat will destroy most of their vitamin C potency.
Acerola cherries are also used by the health food industry to make supplements (powder), juice (liquid or frozen), syrup, and baby food.
In Thailand, Vietnam, and the Philippines, acerola cherries are popular snacks, especially with children. Street vendors are often seen selling heaps of these irresistible fruits near public schools and amusement parks.
Where to find acerola cherry in Hawaii
Acerola cherries are highly perishable, therefore grocery stores in Hawaii do not stock or sell them.
If you can find fresh acerola cherries they would be at farmers markets or health food stores around the islands.
You may spot an acerola tree laden with fruits at a local park while sightseeing. Enjoy and good luck competing with the birds!
In Hawaii, acerola cherry season is varied and somewhat unpredictable! A tree can yield a major crop between April and May, then multiple smaller crops may happen throughout the rest of the year.
Growing acerola cherry
Acerola can be grown from seeds or cuttings. In Hawaii, young acerola seedlings can be found popping up under the mother tree – from seeds scattered by birds and rats.
Cuttings (from branches) should be dipped in rooting hormone powder before planting in containers filled with suitable soil. Most cuttings will root in about 30 days.
Many nurseries in Hawaii sell potted acerola trees (about 2-3 years old) that are ready to be planted in the garden.
Acerola is drought tolerant, prefers well-drained soil and a sunny location.
Hawaii’s volcanic soils are acidic, therefore adding lime frequently is highly recommended to avoid nutrient deficiency and encourage more fruiting.
A mature acerola cherry tree is 6 feet high or taller. Trimming is necessary to keep the tree in a desirable shrub-like shape which makes fruit harvesting much easier.
Acerola produces small, delicate pink flowers with fringed petals that resemble crepe myrtles. The flowers attract swarms of honey bees – the main pollinators.
The flowers soon turn into round, cherry-like fruits that are green, then become bright red when ripe.
It is not uncommon for the tree to have a second wave of flowers when there are still ripening fruits on the branches.
Heavy rains and strong winds (quite often in Hawaii!) will knock the flowers off before they have a chance to set fruits.
About this article
Like the birds, the author also loves acerola cherry. Last time he got a cold, he snacked on a handful of fresh acerola cherries from his tree, and THAT completely knocked out his cold in just 1 day!
All photos were taken in the author’s garden with an Olympus Stylus TG-630 iHS digital camera and iPhone6.
© 2017 Viet Doan