Ugni fruit is a small red, purple, or white berry, also known as the Chilean guava. As the name suggests, this edible fruit calls Chile home. Its sweet taste and flavor make ugni fruit a delightful snack.
Table of Contents
What is an Ugni Fruit?
Ugni fruit (Ugni molinae or Myrtus ugni) is a small, round berry growing on an evergreen shrub in the Myrtaceae (guava) family.
It also goes by other common names, including:
- Chilean guava and strawberry myrtle in English
- Murta or murtilla in Spanish
- Uñi” or Uñiberry in Mapuche (Native American tribe)
- Ugniberry or New Zealand cranberry in New Zealand
- Tazziberry in Australia
An ugni is 1/2 an inch (1.25 cm) in diameter, about the size of a blueberry. A hardy shrub with evergreen foliage produces this uniquely-flavored fruit. The ugni plant thrives in cool, spring-like climates, growing in full sun or shade. It’s a hardy plant, resistant to frost and pests.
The ugni fruit has a distinct flavor, similar to a combination of wild strawberry, pineapple, and apple.
The History of Ugni Fruit
Ugni fruit originates in the Valdivian Forest in southern Chile and the surrounding regions of southern Argentina.
The earliest historical record of the fruit dates back to 1782 when Juan Ignacio Molina, a Chilean botanist, historian, and priest, described it. It’s also from Juan’s contribution that this berry obtained the scientific name Ugni molinae.
Ugni fruit is believed to have grown wildly in South America until William Lobb, a plant collector, and botanist, introduced it in England in 1844. It became Queen Victoria’s favorite fruit, promoting its cultivation in the 19th century.
The plant also spread to Robinson Crusoe Island in the South Pacific in 1896, but due to its tendency to form thick, dense bushes, ugni fruit became an invasive species in this region. Later, the fruit was introduced in New Zealand, Australia, and Tasmania, where it was sold locally or exported to Taiwan and Hong King.
In southern Chile, the fruit has culinary applications, featuring in jams and desserts. It is also widely used to make a traditional liqueur called murtado.
Today, the ugni plant grows in a few countries outside South America, including the United States, the United Kingdom, Australia, and New Zealand. Thanks to its glossy dark green leaves, it’s also planted on a small scale as an ornamental plant.
What Does Ugni Fruit Taste Like?
Ugni fruit has a uniquely delicious flavor between tart and sweet. It’s like a combination of strawberry, pineapple, and apple. And some people think that it tastes like cotton candy or bubblegum.
Ugni fruit maintains its sweet taste when cooked, making it an excellent addition to desserts like sweets, cakes, and muffins. Its tart attributes make the fruit suitable for preparing liqueur.
How to Tell When Ugni Fruit is Ripe
Here are a few tips to help you tell when an ugni fruit is ripe:
|When mature, a ugni fruit turns from green to deep red or purple. But some fruit varieties become lighter red or pink upon ripening.
|Ugni fruits swell and are more rounded when fully ripe.
|You’ll know that a ugni fruit is ripe and ready to eat if it’s slightly soft when pressed.
|Ripe ugni fruits have a wonderful, aromatic, or tropical fragrance.
Are Ugni Fruit and Guavas Related?
Yes, guavas and ugni are both in the same family (Myrtaceae).Here are some similarities and differences between the two fruits:
- Both fruits are native to South America.
- Both fruits are usually eaten fresh but can be cooked into jams, jellies, preserves, and desserts.
- They’re both used to prepare alcoholic beverages.
- They’re both a great source of Vitamin C and pectin.
- Ugni fruits are red, white, or purple, while guavas are yellow, red-orange, maroon, or green when ripe.
- Ugni fruits are smaller than guavas.
- Ugni fruits are mostly grown to a small extent, while guavas are cultivated widely for commercial uses.
Can I Eat Raw Ugni Fruit?
Yes, you can eat this fruit in its raw form. Pick the fresh ripe fruit and pop it into your mouth to enjoy its delicious flavor. You can also add it to your breakfast muesli, fruit salads, yogurt, or ice cream.
Raw ugni fruits are also stored in a distilled alcoholic drink (aguardiente) with added sugar to make liqueur mortado.
Cooking with Ugni Fruit
Ugni fruit has many culinary applications thanks to its uniquely delicious taste.
Here’s how to prepare ugni fruit before cooking:
- Wash the fruits carefully under running water.
- Remove the fruit stalks gently.
- Discard any spoiled or unripe fruit.
Your ugni fruit is now ready for use in your preferred recipe. Simmer them to make ugni fruit jam, jelly, or sauce. You can also make desserts, including sweets and baked goodies like muffins and cakes with ugni fruit.
Ugni fruit seeds are also edible. You can roast and brew them, making an excellent coffee alternative.
Here are a few recipes that feature ugni fruit:
Murta con Membrillo: This Chilean dessert is prepared by boiling murta and quinces in syrup. Then, the mixture is cooled and stored in sealed canning jars for over 24 hours, giving it a rich, fruity flavor.
Chilean Guava Chocolate Cookies: Ugni fruits replace apricots in this cookie recipe, adding a wonderful, aromatic flavor. The cookies are a nice treat for dessert or packed in your kids’ lunchboxes.
Ugni Muffins: These yummy muffins are prepared using the basic recipe but tweaked slightly to include ugni fruits. You can adjust it by adding other fruits that pair well with Chilean guavas, like strawberries and cranberries.
Chilean Guava and Custard Cake: This three-milk cake comprises condensed milk, cream, and evaporated milk, combined with custard and Chilean guavas. The combo is not only a delightful sight but uniquely delicious.
How to Store Ugni Fruit
Once harvested, immediately consume or use ripe ugni fruit for the best flavor and quality. If you need to store fresh ugni fruit, place it in a plastic bag and keep it in the fridge for a few weeks.
You can also freeze the fruit to extend its shelf life for up to one year. Alternatively, dry the fruit, make jam, or fruit preserve.
Nutritional Benefits of Ugni Fruit
Chilean guava is a nutrient-dense fruit packed with vitamins, minerals, carbohydrates, protein, and dietary fiber.
Ugni fruit is an excellent source of Vitamin C. This oxidant protects body cells from oxidative stress (and damage) caused by free radicals. In addition, the minerals in Chilean guava, including potassium, calcium, and phosphorous, support different body functions and boost the immune system.
It’s also rich in bioactive (polyphenolic) compounds, such as flavonoids, presenting several health benefits.
For instance, anthocyanins are a group of flavonoids with antioxidant, antibacterial, anti-inflammatory, and anticarcinogenic properties. Hence, they protect the body from disease-causing organisms, aid in healing, and reduce the risk of chronic diseases like cancer.
The leaves of Chilean guava trees also have medicinal applications due to their anti-inflammatory agents and wound-healing properties.
Where to Purchase Ugni Fruit
Ugni fruit is rare in local markets, especially if you’re looking for fresh fruit. You can only find it when in season in specialty stores dealing with exotic fruits.
Ugni fruit matures in autumn and is available from mid-autumn to winter.