An explosion of taste, sweet and sour at the same time, along with lots of tiny, edible seeds, comes from this golden fruit. If not for its papery husk it would look like a cross between a cherry and a tomato. Called aguaymanto, it is an ancient, Inca fruit with relatives all over the world that grows in Cuzco’s neighborhoods to the delight of children and is more and more appearing in preserves and other concoctions.
Though quite common in Cuzco’s neighborhoods and gardens it is not a fruit that classically plays much role in the city and region’s cuisine. It is common and most adults just don’t give it much value, though they might pop a fruit now and then into their mouths. Instead, when they see a plant growing with its husky fruit, kids will climb fences to get in and taste the grape-tomato sized fruits and thus satisfy their desires.
In the XVIII century this fruit became known outside of Peru, where it had been something privileged in the elite’s gardens. It was considered a delicacy and was carried in stores with other exclusive products.
The fruit grows abundantly on a bush that reaches perhaps a meter in height. Called physalis peruviana, by botanists, it is native to the Peruvian Andes and was widely cultivated in ancient times. It was particularly preferred by the nobles who had estates in the Sacred Valley of the Incas.
The fruit is described as a wonderful fruit for chefs whose “tangy sweetness which is perfect paired with savory dishes featuring fish, red meat, and particularly wild game.”
This fruit does indeed remind you of tomatoes. It is not surprising that, as a result, in some places it is called a little tomato, tomatillo. It has the juiciness and earthy sweetness of any good tomato but also is a bit sour in a way that is reminiscent of a lime though far less intense. Aguaymanto has a balance between sweet and sour that makes it a treat whether you pop it fresh into your mouth or wait and cook with it.
Nevertheless, as a vendor in the market explained to me, it is not bought much by the people of Cuzco. She had piles of the fruit by her and said that it is mostly foreigners who purchase her fruit.
Still, businesses such as Misky do use it. The corporation, whose name means sweet in Quechua, describes itself as “an agro-industrial enterprise located in the Incan imperial capital which has more than twenty-five years of bringing value to Andean crops. In this way it shows the world the diversity of products that were often forgotten during the time of the Spanish colony and the Republic.”
Misky’s preserves made from aguaymanto are available in various stores within Cusco and elsewhere, such as in Cusco Tinky Andean Food on Santa Teresa Street.
Besides preserves, one can make deserts with aguaymanto and, in fact, many restaurants do present us with pastries, ice creams, cheesecakes, and others elaborated with aguaymanto. The variety is only limited by the creativity of Cusco’s chefs and cooks.
One can buy the aguaymanto fruit these days in the fruit section of the San Pedro market, although very few of the sellers carry it.
Those who do sell it, offer it at a price of S/ 7.50 per kilo (about $3 US). However they also sell smaller portions which come packaged in plastic bags or nets for the price of S/1.
This fruit is found in Cuzco’s markets only during the months of May to July. This is when the producers in the Sacred Valley of the Incas or in Limatambo bring this delicious fruit to market. Some times the fruit in the markets also comes from gardens within the city of Cuzco.
Besides being delicious this fruit is said to be very good for the skin. People say it prevents the aging of skin cells. It also is full of vitamins A, B, and C. It is also said to help with the healing of wounds and to combat some allergies and asthma.
In any case, aguaymanto is one of the delights left for us from Inca times and it is good to see it being used more and more within the cuisine of Cuzco.