Nance: A Strange Tropical Fruit With Many Uses

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Nance fruit has a distinctive odor and flavor, which is an acquired taste for some. It’s a little soapy or cheesy to some, so it’s not exactly a fruit you eat right off the tree. However, mixed with ice cream, alcoholic beverages, or savory dishes, the flavors are out of this world.

What is a Nance Fruit?

Nance fruit (Byrsonima crassifolia) comes from a drought-tolerant tree that thrives in tropical regions of South America and Central America in countries like Brazil, Costa Rica, Panama, and Mexico. It’s also known as nanche, golden spoon, hogberry, maricao cimun, or craboo.

While it has very similar physical characteristics to a cherry (like a hard central seed and similar shape), the flavors between nance and cherry are like night and day.

The flavors of nance fruit are peculiar. Some feel it has subtle tropical notes from apples, lychee, and bananas, while others feel it tastes strong, like Parmesan cheese. And others feel like it tastes and smells soapy. Needless to say, nance fruit is an acquired taste.

The History of Nance Fruit

The Nance fruit tree is very plentiful in the wild in South America and Central America. While it only grows in tropical and sub-tropical climates, nance trees are plentiful in areas like the Caribbean and Guatemala.

While the fruit has a peculiar flavor, it has a wide variety of uses, from alcoholic beverages (like chicha), vinegar, ice cream, and sweet and savory dishes that are very popular in South America.

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Ripe nance ready to be harvested.

What Does a Nance Taste Like?

The flavors of nance fruit shift, depending on whom you ask. It’s cheesy, soapy, and tropical all at the same time. Most find that it’s slightly bitter or acidic with just a gentle hint of sweetness.

Ripe nance has a muted yellow skin with an oily pulp that has a very similar texture to an olive. While it’s not exactly a fruit you want to eat off the tree, cooking it releases its magic. When cooked, much of the strong acidity falls away and the cheesy, tropical flavors take center stage. It delivers a wonderful cheesy flavor that pairs well with anything from jams, ice cream to cocktails or smoothies.

How to Tell When Nance is Ripe

Check out these tips below to ensure that your nance fruit is at the peak of ripeness.

ColorWhen unripe, nance fruit is a rich shade of green. As it continues to ripen, it shifts to a bright shade of yellow, similar to a yellow bell pepper.
FirmnessA ripe nance fruit has the same tenderness as a yellow cherry. If you press into it, it should have a little bit of a give to it. If it’s still hard, it needs more time to ripen.
SmellThe smell test is one of the best ways to tell when nance fruit is ripe. When it’s ready, it emits an intense floral and cheesy aroma.
BruisingIf the fruit is overly bruised with brown spots, it’s overly ripe. Toss it.

One of the best ways to determine if a wild nance fruit is ripe is when it falls from the tree. If you collect your fruit directly from the source, check the ground for perfectly yellow fruits.

Can I Eat Raw Nance Fruit?

Yes, you can eat nance fruit raw as long as you avoid those pits! Nance fruit may look like a cherry, but the insides are less cherry-like and more olive-like. The meat inside the thin skin is quite oily with an unusual texture and an even stranger cheese-like flavor.

The best way to enjoy these tropical fruits raw is by blending them into ice cream or juice. But be sure to discard the seeds. Eating a few seeds won’t harm you, but too many can cause stomach distress.

Cooking with Nance Fruit

Before we can dive into some unique recipes, you first must know how to prepare nance fruit.

  1. Wash them. Add nance fruit berries to a colander, and wash away any dirt and debris with cool running water.
  2. Remove the pit. Each nance fruit has a fairly large pit that needs to be removed. Use a cherry pitter to remove the pit or a wooden skewer to poke the pit through the thin skin. Discard the pits properly.
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Pesada de Nance is a traditional Panamanian dish that’s both savory and sweet.

Here are some of our favorite nance fruit recipes!

Pesada de Nance: Pesada de nance is a tropical yellow cherry pudding that’s savory and a little sweet. It’s a simple recipe that pairs nance fruit with sugar and thickened with a little cornstarch. You can top it with fruit for a sweeter kick or with queso fresco.

Nance Ice Cream: This ice cream recipe really celebrates the natural flavors of nance, and doesn’t mask them. It combines nance fruit with simple ingredients like sugar, whole milk, and water. It’s so creamy and delicious with a slightly cheesy and apple-like kick from nance fruit.

Pickled Nance: Pickled nance is the perfect salty snacking treat that gives olives a run for their money. This recipe pairs pitted nance with white vinegar and dried chawa chiles for a spicy kick. It’s savory, a little cheesy, and earns a kick of spice from chilis.

How to Store Nances

Fresh nance has a very short shelf life, so it should be consumed almost immediately once ripe. You have a few options if you want to keep your nance fruit a little longer.

Storing your nance fruits submerged in water will keep them fresh for a few days and also boosts their flavor and consistency. For longer storage options, you can also freeze them (after they’re pitted), where they will stay fresh for a few months.

Nutritional Benefits of Nance Fruit

Nance fruits pack a punch of health benefits on more than one front. One serving boasts high levels of Vitamin K, Vitamin E, Vitamin A, thiamine, dietary fiber, riboflavin, potassium, Vitamin C, calcium, and antioxidants.

What makes nance fruit a great addition to morning smoothies is its high levels of dietary fiber that promote good gut health and can help keep you fuller, making it a great option for weight loss. The high levels of antioxidants in nance fruit can help lower cholesterol and help fight off heart diseases and strokes.

With a good dose of Vitamin C, it helps keep your immune system strong so you can feel your best. And with only 82 calories per serving, it’s a low-calorie and low-carbohydrate food that’s filling and satisfying.

Where to Purchase Nance Fruit

You won’t find fresh nance fruit at your local grocery store. It’s harvested on a small scale in South and Central America, and rarely shows up at specialty fruit stands or farmer’s markets north of California in the United States.

However, some small-scale harvesters in South America ship canned nance fruit that you can purchase at specialty stores or many online retailers. Brands like Goya sell canned nance fruits at an affordable price that works great in recipes like smoothies or ice cream.

Tara Summerville

Tara Summerville is a freelance writer with a deep love for food. She loves baking sweet treats and experimenting with different fruits and veggies for her morning smoothies. When she’s not writing, she loves powerlifting, baking, gardening, playing video games, and caring for her cats!

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