CAPSULE REPORT: The last time a truly new fruit appeared in a jar, it was 5 years ago when the peppadew, a small cherry-pepper sized fruit that grows on a bush in South Africa, came to these shores. Last year, the Chilean Carica, also known as Chilean Golden Papaya and Chilean Mountain Papaya and available from different packagers, debuted as a boutique fruit with versatile gourmet possibilities. It tastes special, and is a nice special-occasion ingredient (and, if you can afford it, more often than that!).
The Limarí Valley is located 250 miles north of Santiago, Chile, slightly south of the the Atacama Desert (famed as the driest place on Earth). But the valley, between the Andes Mountains and the Pacific Ocean, is cool, a sunny and unspoiled area where the carica tree grows to a height of 30 feet. Unlike the peppadew, which was a recent “discovery” in South Africa, the carica has long grown wild in the mountains of Chile, Columbia, Ecuador and Peru (it has different names in each region). It is only farmed in northern Chile: It is a very sensitive tree that requires specific soil and climate conditions. While carica has been eaten in Chile for hundreds of years, the country has never produced large enough volumes for export until recently; thus, it has been a local delicacy.
Chilean Carica (botanical name: Caricacea pubescens) looks like like an exotic palm tree but is a giant herb; the botanical family of Caricaceas includes papayas and figs. The huge plant lives only six years; its bright yellow fruit has a slightly crunchy texture (think peachy papaya with a bit of the texture of a yellow bell pepper).
Photo: Green caricas on the tree will ripen to bright yellow.
The structure of the fruit can be compared to a tomato or a bell pepper, in that there’s a small amount of flesh surrounding a lot of seeds. If you seed the fruit, you have a nice, firm-fleshed “pouch” that can be filled, stuffed pepper-style, with ice cream or cottage cheese.
Fresh caricas are not available. The fruit needs to be poached for a few minutes, as it is too hard to be eaten fresh (similar to a plantain or a chestnut). And, because it needs to be picked at the right maturity and then only keeps for a couple of days, even Chileans can’t buy the fruit fresh: They also purchase their carica in a jar, seeded, poached and ready to eat, cook, grill on skewers or fill. While a jarred fruit, it has the firm flesh of a fresh fruit. It can be
Half a fruit has 4g sugar and contains 25 calories. The spring water and sugar in the jar turns into a tasty juice. The carica from Tamaya Gourmet is sold in an attractive jar suitable for gift-giving.
There are flavors of papaya, peach, pear and other fruits in the carica; but like any fruit, it is its own unique self. It is nicely sweet, making one wonder what it would taste like if it was packaged with slightly less sugar.
The carica is a versatile fruit: It enhances any dish from an appetizer to a green salad to dessert; it makes a colorful addition to any plate; it pairs with virtually anything from seafood to beef; it even makes cocktails!
From a nutritional standpoint, carica is rich in vitamin C, fiber and the papaina enzyme (the same as in papaya), which is a reported digestive aid, beneficial to the stomach and colon.
Carica can be enjoyed at any time of the day. Since it’s exotic, it’s a bit glamorous—so if you keep a jar on the shelf, you can reach for it anytime you feel the need to add something extra to an everyday dish.
Breakfast. When you don’t have fresh fruit, carica brings interesting new flavors to pancakes, waffles, and cereals.
Salads. Add it to green salads, with or without a protein—the flavor is delicious with chicken, duck and seafood.
With Meat. Lamb, pork and poultry pair well with carica, whether as a plate garnish, on skewers, or as a purée.
With Fish. Use carica to garnish salmon or tuna tartare; grill and serve it with salmon, scallops, shrimp and other seafood.
Cocktails. The juice from the jar is delicious and can be drunk straight or mixed in cocktails.
Adding dice of carica to the plate (or larger slices,
as shown at the rear) turns a special dish into a spectacular one.
Desserts. Carica can be served with ice cream and sorbet, used as a garnish for other desserts, or puréed as a dessert sauce. Dip it in chocolate fondue, add it to a fruit plate, or serve it with plain or sweetened ricotta or mascarpone.
Chefs have been turning carica into sorbet and fruit tarts, using the “new fruit” to accompany duck and foie gras, and having fun playing with it in general. Without needing to put on your chef’s whites, you can add touches of carica to make your own dishes special.
Carica Daiquiri Put the fruit and the juice from the jar into a blender. Add ice and white rum.
Carica Purée Side Dish Purée can be served as an accompaniment to beef, lamb, pork and seafood. Simply purée the fruit in a blender to the desired consistency. You can add black pepper, butter, Dijon mustard and herbs to enhance the flavor.
Carica & Prosciutto Instead of melon and prosciutto, put carica slices atop dressed greens. Add prosciutto or Serrano ham slices.
Lamb and Carica Brochettes Cut carica, lamb and red and green bell peppers into squares. Grill on skewers.
Lamb chops with carica purée.
The juice in the jar can be used in cocktails, mousses, reductions, sauces and sorbets.
The next time someone asks, “What’s new?” you can say, “Chilean carica.” If it happens to be a person you’ve been wanting to invite to dinner, it’s a good opening line.
Certified kosher by Itzhack Shaked, Rabbi of the Jewish Orthodox Community of Chile (Comunidad Judia Ortodoxa de Chile)