Lulo is a small, citrus-like fruit native to the Andean region of South America. It is often used in juices, jams, and desserts and is becoming increasingly popular outside of its native region due to its unique flavor and nutritional value.
Table of Contents
What is a Lulo?
Lulo, also known as Naranjilla, Naranjilla de Quito, and “little orange” in Spanish, is a tropical fruit native to the Andes Mountains of South America, specifically Colombia, Ecuador, and Peru. The scientific name of this fruit is Solanum quitoense, and it belongs to the nightshade family, Solanaceae.
The naranjilla fruit is small and round, about the size of a large orange, with a fuzzy outer skin ranging from green to yellow. It has a soft, pulpy interior filled with seeds, and it is commonly used to make lulo juice, jams, and desserts.
Lulo is known for its tart and tangy flavor, often described as a mix of pineapple, lemon or citron, and rhubarb. The fruit is high in vitamin C, fiber, and antioxidants, making it a popular ingredient in healthy drinks and smoothies.
In addition to its use as a food source, lulo has also been used for medicinal purposes in traditional Andean medicine to treat conditions such as respiratory infections, inflammation, and stomach problems.
There are four different varieties of lulo, including smooth, thorny, jungle (sela), and purple (chonto morado), each with unique characteristics.
The History of Lulos
Lulo fruit is native to the low mountains of western South America, and it has been mentioned in mid-17th century records from Ecuador and Colombia. Indigenous people enjoyed it for centuries and knew of its delicious and nutritious qualities. However, it wasn’t until the 20th century that lulo was introduced to the broader world.
In 1939, lulo was featured as part of the New York World’s Fair exhibitions, which drew crowds of curious visitors worldwide. The juice made from lulo fruit garnered much interest, and seeds were sent to the United States Department of Agriculture for cultivation. However, despite the initial excitement, cultivation in the United States was unsuccessful.
Lulo cultivation has thrived in its countries of origin, including Colombia, Peru, and Ecuador in South America and the Central American countries of Panama, Costa Rica, and Guatemala.
Most of the produced fruit is cultivated in Ecuador, where the fruit pulp and juice are a popular export. Several companies in Colombia also have pulp and juice, which are sold fresh or frozen and are available year-round online and in Latin markets.
While lulo is still a relatively unknown fruit outside of South America, it is a beloved part of the culture and cuisine of the region. Its tangy flavor and refreshing qualities make it a popular ingredient in drinks, desserts, and even savory dishes.
What Does a Lulo Taste Like?
The taste of lulo has been described as a combination of citrus, rhubarb, kiwi, and pineapple, with some sour and sweet notes.
When eaten raw, lulo has a tangy and acidic taste, so it’s often used in juices and smoothies. The fruit’s flesh is juicy and pulpy, with tiny edible seeds.
Lulo can also be cooked and used in various dishes, such as stews and jams. When cooked, the fruit becomes less tangy and mellow, with a flavor similar to that of cooked rhubarb or green apple. It’s also commonly used as a flavoring agent for desserts, ice cream, and other sweet treats.
How to Tell When Lulo is Ripe
Knowing when the fruit is ripe is essential to enjoy it at its best. Here are some things to look out for when searching for ripe lulo:
|When ripe, the fruit should turn from green to yellow or bright orange. Look for fruits that are a uniform color, without any green patches. A green outer surface means an unripe fruit.
|The skin should feel slightly soft and yield to gentle pressure. However, it may be overripe and mushy if it is too soft.
|The fruit should have a sweet and aromatic fragrance.
|The fruit’s skin should be smooth and free of blemishes, bruises, or any signs of mold or decay.
Are Lulos and Persimmons Related?
Lulos and persimmons are not related and belong to different plant families. Lulo plants are members of the nightshade family, Solanaceae, which includes other well-known fruits and vegetables like tomatoes, tamarillos, and eggplants, while persimmons are part of the Ebenaceae family.
In terms of appearance, lulos and persimmons do share some similarities. Both are round or oval-shaped fruits with a similar size and color when ripe.
However, there are several differences between the two fruits:
|Flavor and Texture
|Lulos have a tangy, citrus-like flavor and a slightly crunchy texture when ripe, while persimmons are sweet and have a soft, pulpy texture.
|Lulos are primarily grown in South America, particularly in the Andean regions of Colombia, Ecuador, and Peru, while persimmons are native to Asia and are widely cultivated in China, Japan, Korea, and other countries.
|Lulos are commonly used in South American cuisine, where they are used to make juices, jams, and sauces. Persimmons are used in various dishes in Asian cuisine, including desserts, purees, soups, and stews.
Cooking with Lulo
If you want to cook with lulo, the first step is to prepare the fruit.
- Start by cutting off the ends of the fruit and then cutting it in half.
- You can then scoop out the flesh with a spoon or your fingers. Lulo is quite juicy, so be prepared for a mess.
- Once you have removed the flesh, discard the seeds and any tough or fibrous parts of the fruit.
Here are some great recipes that have lulo as the main ingredient:
Lulada (Colombian Lulo Drink): This is a refreshing Colombian drink made from lulo, which has a tangy and citrusy flavor. It’s a great alternative to traditional lemonade and is often enjoyed during the hot summer.
Naranjilla Ecuadorian Oatmeal Drink: This beverage is a creamy and delicious blend of oats, naranjilla (a tangy fruit native to South America), and a touch of sweetness. It’s like a breakfast smoothie but with a South American twist. The oats make it extra filling, so it’s perfect for a mid-morning pick-me-up or a light meal on the go.
Colombian Hot Sauce with Lulo: This hot sauce packs a serious punch, thanks to the fiery peppers and tangy lulo fruit that give it its distinctive flavor. Slather it on everything from eggs to tacos to grilled meats, and prepare for a flavor explosion in your mouth.
Champus (Lulo, Pineapple, and Corn Drink): This is a tantalizing blend of lulo, pineapple, and corn. Yes, you read that right. The sweetness of the pineapple and lulo is perfectly balanced by the subtle corn flavor, creating a unique and delicious taste you won’t find anywhere else.
How to Store Lulos
Here are the best storage techniques for lulos and their expected shelf life:
|On the counter
|If your lulos are unripe, store them at room temperature, away from direct sunlight. This will allow them to ripen gradually. They should last for about 3-5 days.
|In the fridge
|Once the lulos are ripe, you can store them in the refrigerator to extend their shelf life. Place them in a perforated plastic bag or container to allow for air circulation. Ripe lulos can last 7-10 days when stored in the fridge.
|To freeze lulos, first wash and dry them. Cut the fruit into halves or quarters, and remove the seeds. Place the fruit pieces on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper, and freeze them until solid. Once frozen, transfer them to an airtight container or plastic freezer bag. Frozen lulos can last for up to 12 months.
Nutritional Benefits of Lulos
The lulo fruit boasts a myriad of vitamins and minerals such as A, C, B, iron, phosphorus, beta-carotene, magnesium, and calcium, and is abundant in antioxidants. Being low in fat and a diuretic, it can also aid in weight loss.
Lulo’s unique blend of vitamins and antioxidants helps neutralize harmful free radicals, preventing cancer. It is also rich in pepsin, a type of fiber that supports gastrointestinal health, alleviating cramps, bloating, and constipation.
This fiber in lulo helps manage blood sugar levels and aids in lowering cholesterol, reducing the risk of heart disease.
Carotenoids such as vitamin A and beta-carotene in lulo protect ocular cells from oxidative stress, lowering the likelihood of vision problems. Vitamin C is a natural antioxidant, stimulates white blood cell production, and aids in collagen production.
Lulo’s high iron content increases red blood cell count, promoting better oxygen delivery and blood circulation.
Lastly, lulo’s diverse mineral content, including calcium, phosphorous, and iron, contributes to increased bone tissue density, helping to prevent osteoporosis and arthritis.
Where to Purchase Lulos
Lulos can typically be found in specialty stores and farmers’ markets in regions where they are grown. Lulos are not commonly found in mainstream grocery stores but may be available in some specialty stores with exotic fruits.
The best time of year to find lulos depends on the region where they are grown. In Colombia, for example, lulos are typically in season from June to November, while in Ecuador, they are in season from December to April. In some regions, lulos may be available year-round, but their availability may be limited during certain times of the year.