Capulin Cherries: An Ancient Mexican Treasure

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The Capulin cherry is a cherry variety indigenous to Mexico and other regions in North and South America. These cherries are small and have a reddish-black color with a delightful blend of sweet and tart tastes. For centuries, these cherries have been savored for their remarkable taste and therapeutic properties, which comprise antioxidant and anti-inflammatory advantages.

What is a Capulin Cherry?

The Capulin cherry, scientifically known as Prunus salicifolia, is a round fruit in the cherry family. It is also known as capuli, Mexican bird cherry, tropic cherry, and Cerezo Criollo in Colombia. Its origin is Central and South America, mainly Costa Rica, and Mexico.

The cherry is identifiable by its deep red to black skin and succulent, firm pale green flesh that typically clumps together. Its flavor profile is bittersweet with a touch of acidity. 

The fruit trees are fast-growing, hardy, somewhat drought-tolerant, and semi-deciduous. The trees have dark green, glossy leaves and white petals. When grown under full sun, they produce better edible fruits but need little pruning.

Due to its striking hue and delectable taste, this subtropical cherry is usually utilized in various culinary applications like jellies, jams, and desserts.

The History of Capulin Cherries

The Capulin cherry, or chokecherry, is prominent in North America’s history. These tiny fruits flourish in moderate climates and are indigenous to the central and western parts of the continent.

Capulin cherry trees are common in Bolivia, Peru, Mexico (Veracruz), Ecuador, and El Salvador. The Navajo, Apache, and Pueblo Native American tribes extolled the healing properties of Capulin cherries and frequently added them to their customary diets.

The prominence of Capulin cherries was due to international trade. These cherries were introduced to Europe by traders and explorers during the 16th century, and they quickly gained popularity, becoming a staple in culinary traditions. The fruit’s tart taste and deep red color made it highly desirable for use in syrups, preserves, alcoholic beverages, and baked goods.

Capulin cherries are culturally significant in various festivals and celebrations, serving as a symbol of spiritual meaning. For instance, in certain Native American traditions, they are used in ceremonies as a tribute to ancestors and to bestow blessings.

In contemporary times, they often feature as crucial ingredients in culinary events, like pie contests and cherry festivals, to highlight this fruit’s cultural and gastronomic importance.

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Capulin cherries are typically a bright red color when harvested.

What Does a Capulin Cherry Taste Like?

The Capulin cherry combines sweet and tangy flavor notes when consumed raw, which could be likened to sour cherry. Once cooked, it assumes a smoother texture and a high sweetness, accompanied by a hint of caramelization in its taste.

How to Tell When Capulin Cherries Are Ripe

ColorWhen Capulins reach their peak maturity, their color ranges from deep purple to black. They gradually transition from a lighter purple shade to a rich and nearly black hue when ripening.
TextureMature Capulin should exhibit a plump and moderately firm texture.
ScentWhile ripe fruits typically exude a delightful and sweet scent, the aroma may differ depending on the cultivar.
TasteMature Capulins are delectable, succulent, and tasteful, balancing sweetness and sour notes.

When choosing Capulin cherries, opting for firm, plump cherries with a vibrant red hue and green stems is advisable. Avoid cherries that display any signs of softness, bruising, or brown spots, as these may indicate a diminished quality.

Are Capulin Cherries and Bing Cherries Related?

The Capulin and Bing cherry are part of the Prunus genus and fall under the Rosaceae family. Yet, they are different in color, size, and taste.

The Capulin cherry tends to be darker, smaller, and mildly tangy, whereas the Bing cherry is noticeably larger, has a vibrant red color, and presents with a notably sweet taste.

Cooking with Capulin Cherries

In preparation for using Capulins in culinary applications, it is imperative to undertake necessary measures such as washing and extracting the stems and pits. Both manual methods and specialized tools, such as cherry pitters, can be utilized for this purpose.

Capulins are versatile in their culinary applications and can be prepared through simmering, baking, or as a topping. These cherries find widespread usage in traditional Mexican and South American cuisines.

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A simple cherry sauce is a great way to highlight Capulins’ natural flavors.

Outlined below are three notable culinary preparations that feature Capulin cherries:

Capulin Cherry Empanadas: These delightful pastries filled with sweet Capulins are popular in Mexican cuisine. The cherries are cooked with sugar, cinnamon, and a touch of lemon juice before being wrapped in a flaky pastry.

Capulin Cherry Sauce: This versatile sauce enhances the taste of sweet and savory dishes. It involves simmering the cherries with sugar, spices, and sometimes a hint of alcohol to create a rich and flavorful sauce. You can use it as a topping for pancakes and ice cream or an accompaniment to roasted meats. 

Capulin Cherry Salsa: Capulins often create vibrant and tangy salsa in South American cuisine. The cherries combine with onions, tomatoes, cilantro, lime juice, and spices to make a refreshing and slightly spicy condiment.

How to Store Capulin Cherries

The recommended method for prolonging the shelf life of Capulin cherries is to store them in the refrigerator. Placing them in a perforated bag or a breathable container is advisable to maintain sufficient air circulation and prevent moisture buildup. This storage method should allow the Capulins to remain fresh for one week. 

For long-term storage, an alternative method is freezing. To freeze Capulins properly, washing and pitting them before spreading them evenly on the baking sheet is essential. After freezing, transfer them into a freezer bag or an airtight container for storage. With this method, the cherries can maintain their quality for six months.

Drying is another option to extend the shelf life of Capulins by several months. Stored in an airtight container at room temperature, dried Capulins can stay fresh for quite some time.

Nutritional Benefits of Capulin Cherries

Capulins are a nutritionally dense fruit, abundant in antioxidants, dietary fiber, and vitamins A and C. Antioxidants alleviate oxidative stress, whereas vitamin A promotes optimal vision health. 

Vitamin C can help fortify the immune system and promote collagen formation. The dietary fiber in Capulins supports digestive health and provides a sensation of fullness, which can assist with weight management.

Where to Purchase Capulin Cherries

Farmers’ markets and specialty stores offer Capulins for purchase, primarily during the summer, from June to August. To optimize your chances of locating them, visit local markets and specialty food retailers esteemed for their quality offerings.


Tabitha is a freelance writer with love for food and drinks. She loves gardening and is always looking for new ways to get more fresh produce. She also loves animals and has dairy goats, chicken, sheep, a dog, and a cat at her home.

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