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Surinam cherry is the product of a fruiting bush native to Surinam and Brazil. The fruit is most frequently eaten by children, although recipes for surinam cherry jams and jellies are in use in some parts of the world. The bush is most commonly grown for ornamental purposes, with scant attention being paid to the fruit it produces. Surinam cherry is frequently found in the tropics or subtropical regions and is considered an acid fruit.
The bush upon which surinam cherries grow can reach up to 25 feet (7.5 meters) in height, although it is frequently trained and trimmed well below that height. The surinam cherry bush is often used in landscaping to provide privacy hedges and an area of focused dark color. The leaves begin as a dark bronze color, which changes to a dark green before the winter, when the leaves turn red and fall off. The flowers of the surinam cherry bush are delicate white to yellow blooms with a resinous odor.
The surinam cherry itself is a lobed fruit with five to eight ridges. The fruit is dark red or almost black in color and sometimes splits as it ripens. The flesh of the surinam cherry is an orange to red color, very juicy, with two to three small seeds. Surinam cherry tastes acidic with resinous overtones, because the plant produces a great deal of bitter resin. For this reason, the fruit should only be harvested when it is so ripe that it almost falls from the bush, because it will have lost much of its resin at that point.
Although the surinam cherry bush is not subject to pests, it does attract fruit flies, and this should be considered by gardeners intending to plant it. Furthermore, the fruits will make a mess if not harvested, and therefore, provisions should be made for collecting the fruit when it comes into season. The surinam cherry bush is also very slow to mature, taking up to ten years to grow in size and to produce surinam cherries. The plant prefers moist soil, enjoys full sun, and is cold tolerant to approximately 22° Fahrenheit (-5° Celsius).
Like many plants producing small fruits without much flavor, the surinam cherry bush is not widely cultivated in the West for food purposes. Although attempts have been made in several locales to popularize the fruit, it tends to lose the interest of the market after a year or so and remains the food of bored children snacking on the landscaping and enterprising tropical cooks. The surinam cherry is quite excellent chilled and dressed with whipped cream, as well as in cold drinks, ice cream, and other fruit drinks and desserts. When seeking it out in the store for culinary experimentation, look for very dark, evenly colored fruits with minimal resinous odor. To further eliminate resin from the taste of the fruit, slice it in half, remove the seeds, and chill for two to three hours before serving.