Purple jaboticaba is a rising star in the fruit world in Florida. This Brazilian tree which sprouts delicious grape-like fruits directly out of the trunk used to be grown here only in the yards of a few rare fruit collectors and Brazilian expats, and it is now slowly working its way towards the widespread cultivation in Florida.
There are a number of good-tasting cousins of jaboticaba which are still at that early stage of introduction, apparently well-known in parts of Brazil, but at this time in the US grown they are grown mainly in the yards of a few immigrants and tropical fruit enthusiasts. I got to taste some of these species this week.
I visited my friend Larry Shatzer in Winter Garden, Florida (Orlando area, in the middle of the Florida peninsula). Larry has been collecting species in this group for many years, and planting them out on his property. Fortunately I visited just in time for the fruiting season for some of these jaboticaba cousins.
First I need to say something up front about this group: the botanical names are a mess. Seems like each plant taxonomist who’s tried to figure out how to categorize these species has sliced and diced things in different ways, so various species have at times been moved into and out of genus Myrciaria, Plinia, Marlieria, Eugenia, and probably some others. To keep things simple, I’m going to use the botanical names that jaboticaba expert Adam Safran of Flying Fox Fruits uses on his website.
First there’s the (relatively) common purple jaboticaba (Myciaria jaboticaba). Called variety ‘Sabara’ in Brazil, this one seems to be the most popular jaboticaba in its home country, and with good reason: they are outstanding. Tasting something like a good muscadine grape, except without the muskiness, and with a whole symphony of tropical flavor notes in the flesh, and a slightly spicy, piney flavor to the skin, they are a fantastic eating experience. (I just heard that they also make excellent jelly – fellow Florida blogger Suwannee Rose just wrote a post about it, looks wonderful). I’ve had a plant of this species fruiting in my greenhouse for a couple of years now. Larry said his purple jaboticaba plants had only a very light fruiting this year – he’s not sure why, but suspects the erratic swings between warm and cold earlier this year might have played a role. Last year, those same purple jaboticaba plants produced an extremely heavy crop.
‘Grimal’ jaboticaba (Myrciaria spirito-santensis). Larry has had this species fruiting in central Florida for some time. Named after the late legendary fruit collector Adolph Grimal, who collected this variety in South America and brought it back to Florida, this one has purple-black fruits that are slightly larger than those of the ‘Sabara’. I thought they tasted similar to ‘Sabara’, except with a few additional flavor notes, reminding me a little of the flavor of Concord grape.
Grimal jaboticaba has a more upright growth habit than Sabara, and some people consider it to be a particularly atractive plant.
Red jaboticaba (Myrciaria cauliflora hybrid). This one has fruits slightly smaller than purple jaboticaba, and tastes roughly similar to it, with an excellent balance of sweet and tart flavors and grape-like fruitiness, except to my taste has a slightly reduced symphony of what I call tropical flavors. This might actually make it more appealing to people more accustomed to temperate-zone fruits, so it might actually be more marketable in places like North America and Europe.
Red jaboticaba comes into bearing at an earlier age than the purple, and can produce multiple crops a year. I recently wrote a blog post about how the red jaboticaba plant in my greenhouse was having its first-ever fruiting, and now just a month after it produced that (small) crop, the tree has flower buds again, getting ready for another fruiting this spring.
Yellow jaboticaba (Myrciaria glazioviana). Called cabelluda or cabeludinha in Brazil, this one has yellow fruits, with a bit of fuzz on the skin. I’ve heard that some people consider this one the best-flavored of the group. This was my first time trying them, and I was impressed: they do indeed have a wonderful fruity taste, sort of like concentrated apricot-peach flavor, mixed with a bit of tangerine.
Unfortunately, there’s not a huge amount of flesh on each yellow jaboticaba fruit, and the skin is slightly too tough, with a bit of a weird resinous flavor in the skin. I think this one has a lot of breeding potential, if someone could develop forms with more flesh, and perhaps a thinner, less resinous flesh.
But even as it is now, based on the extremely fine flavor, I consider this species worth growing as a fruiting plant in my own collection.
Trunciflora jaboticaba (Myrciaria trunciflora) I don’t know what the common name is for this one is in Brazil, and American tropical fruit collectors have taken to calling just by its species name. This is the tallest growing of the jaboticaba relatives that Larry has growing. His tallest trunciflora tree is about twenty five feet (8m) tall, compared to about fifteen feet (5m) for the biggest of the other species.
The trunciflora fruits I tried had been sitting in Larry’s refrigerator for a number of days, so they weren’t at the perfect peak of ripeness. But they tasted pleasant and mild to me.
If you’re looking for a source for fruits, plants, or seeds of any of these, here are a couple of sources. If you’re in the Central Florida area, look up Larry Shatzer in Winter Garden (Larry sells only locally). If you’re outside of the Orlando area, Adam Safran of Flying Fox Fruits sells seeds, cuttings and plants by mail. I don’t have any of these available for distribution, but I did plant all the seeds from these fruits I tasted.