Jatoba is an unpleasant-smelling pod native to South America, Central America, and the Caribbean. Don't allow the pungent odor prevent you from experiencing jatoba's goodness, as its edible pulp is sweet-tasting and packed with loads of nutrients.
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What is a Jatoba?
Jatoba (Hymenaea courbaril) is a legume in the family Fabaceae.
It grows as hard oblong to kidney-shaped fruit pods on large deciduous trees. The pods are 2.8-5.1 inches (7-12.5 cm) long and 0.8-2.0 inches (2-5 cm) wide, enclosed in a tough textured shell.
Jatoba has a wide range of common names, depending on the native growing region, including:
- Jamaican locust fruit, Jamaican stinking toe fruit, and West Indian locust tree in the Caribbean
- Jatobá, Brazilian copal, Brazilian cherry, South American cherry, courbaril, amami-gum, and guapinol in South America
- Stinking toe, “old man’s toe fruit, stinktoe and stinky toe in North America
Jatoba’s most popular name, ‘the stinking toe fruit,’ is due to its stubby, toe-shaped pods and the unpleasant odor from its powdery flesh.
The name and odor can be unsettling, especially if you’ve never tasted this fruit. But despite the not-so-pleasing smell, jatoba’s seed pods contain edible pulp. And the powdery flesh presents a sweet and musky taste.
The History of Jatoba
Historical records show that jatobas originate in Central Brazil (Cerrado Biome), growing wildly since ancient times.
It’s believed that humans and animals spread jatobas from Brazil to other regions in South America. Specifically, the Agouti, an endangered rodent species, contributed to the distribution of jatobas in South America through scatter-hoarding. This unique plant also landed in Central America and regions in the Caribbean, including Jamaica and Puerto Rico.
Later, jatoba found its way into North America and now grows in Florida and southern California. It was introduced in Singapore in 1875 and spread to other regions in Southeast and East Asia, including Malaysia and Indonesia.
For centuries, jatoba has been prized for its medicinal and nutritional value. Indigenous communities in South America used jatoba in traditional medicine to treat various ailments. The pulp was believed to cure respiratory diseases like bronchitis and asthma, skin disorders like eczema and psoriasis, and digestive problems like constipation and indigestion.
The Ikpeng community in Xingu Park, Brazil, relied on jatoba for food, as it’s an excellent source of starch and protein. They also used the fruit and other plant parts for medicinal purposes.
Other communities in Brazil have used the jatoba fruit and plant as a tonic and aphrodisiac. They also used the jatoba tree’s sticky resin (gum) to treat lung diseases. Today, the resin is mainly used in making incense and varnish.
What Does a Jatoba Taste Like?
Jatoba is usually eaten ripe. It has a sweet and musky taste akin to vanilla (or dried) milk with hints of parmesan cheese and herbs, similar to that of durian.
Jatoba’s powdery flesh comprises soluble fiber used to make jatoba syrup, which tastes delightful in desserts and drinks.
Also, the powder (jatoba flour) adds a sweet taste to baked goodies and soups.
How to Tell When Jatoba is Ripe
A few visual and tactile tips can help you know that jatoba is ripe and ready to eat.
Here are a few guidelines to help you:
|The outer shell of the fruit pods dries and hardens when the fruit ripens.
|You’ll quickly tell that jatobas are ripe if you detect an unpleasant odor from opened fruit pods.
|When ripe, Jatoba fruit pods turn green to dark brown or red-brown. And the powdery flesh becomes light brown or yellow.
Are Jatobas and Persimmons Related?
No, Jatobas and persimmons are not related.
Below are the primary similarities and differences between the two fruits:
- Both are edible non-native (exotic) fruits.
- Jatobas are legumes, while persimmons are berries.
- Jatobas belong to the family Fabaceae, while persimmons are in the Ebenaceae family.
- Persimmons are native to Asia, while Jatobas originate in South America.
- Persimmons have juicy flesh, unlike jatobas, which have a dry powdery pulp.
- Jatobas are oblong to kidney-shaped, while persimmons are spherical.
Can I Eat Raw Jatoba?
Yes, you can eat this fruit in its raw form. But the flesh stinks in the mouth, and you may want to add sugar to enhance the flavor.
You can also blend the powdery flesh into smoothies, milkshakes, ice cream, or cocktails.
Cooking with Jatoba
Here’s how to prepare jatobas before cooking:
- Crack open the fruit pods using a hammer.
- Separate the pulp from the shell using a small knife.
- Push the powdery pulp through a sieve or crush it to make powder.
Your jatoba flour is now ready to use!
Jatobas are tropical delicacies in many traditional dishes, mainly in South American and Caribbean cuisines.
Their soluble fiber makes them ideal for making syrup, which is added to smoothies, ice cream, custards, and drinks.
Jatobas are commonly dried and crushed to make jatoba flour. This powder can be used as a thickener in soups and porridge. It’s also perfect for preparing baked goodies like crackers, bread, biscuits, and cookies.
Jatoba perfectly combines spices like vanilla, nutmeg, and cinnamon. It also pairs well with pumpkin, brown sugar, peanuts, bananas, and condensed milk.
Here are specific dishes (and beverages) that jatobas feature in:
Jatoba and Coconut Biscuits: These are delightful treats to have with your afternoon tea. And they’re so easy to make that you’ll take less than half an hour to enjoy these yummy biscuits.
Jamaican Stinking Toe Juice: This Jamaican beverage is prepared using jatoba flesh, water, nutmeg, and brown sugar. You can serve it chilled or over ice.
Broinha de Jatobá: These Brazillian baked goodies are tough on the outside but soft on the inside. And they’re best served with jam or meats like sausage and bacon.
How to Store Jatoba
If you want to eat or cook only some of your jatobas at a time, keep them whole (in their pods) in your pantry or any other cool and dark place. They will remain in perfect condition for several weeks.
Alternatively, make jatoba syrup, jam, or jelly and store it in your fridge for up to one month.
You can also dry and crush your jatobas, making jatoba flour, if you want to extend their shelf life for up to one year.
Nutritional Benefits of Jatoba
Despite their unattractive odor, jatobas are nutrient-dense legumes.
They are an excellent source of vitamins, minerals, phytochemicals, and dietary fiber, with numerous health benefits.
Here are their nutritional and health benefits:
- Vitamin C: An excellent antioxidant with anti-inflammatory properties. It enhances skin and general body health by preventing oxidative stress caused by free radicals.
- Vitamin A: Boosts the immune system, cell functions, and vision.
- Carbohydrates (starch): Provide energy to fuel body organs, including the brain, heart, and kidneys. Dietary fiber improves digestion.
- Protein: Build muscles and strengthen the immune system by producing antibodies.
- Iron Facilitates the production of hemoglobin, which helps in circulating oxygen to all body parts. It also aids in hormone production.
- Calcium: Helps in making bones and teeth healthy. It also facilitates blood clotting and controlling heart rhythms.
- Potassium: Helps to control the fluid levels in cells and regulate blood pressure.
- Magnesium: Enhances the functions of muscles and nerves. It’s also vital in the production of proteins and DNA.
- Phosphorous: This is essential in the formation of teeth and bones.
- Zinc: Boosts the immune system and helps in growth and development.
In a nutshell, jatobas help reduces disease symptoms due to their antimicrobial, antifungal, anti-inflammatory, and antibacterial properties.
Where to Purchase Jatoba
You’re likelier to find jatobas in specialty markets dealing with exotic fruits. But you can buy them in local markets or farmers’ markets during their peak season in summer.
Alternatively, buy jatoba flour (powder) from online retailers like Etsy. Some specialty stores sell jatoba herbal teas, nutritional supplements, and tinctures.