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Naranjilla (Solanum quitonense)

The Naranjilla is one of the most colorful and most delectable fruits in the entire galaxy. For many years, the people high in the mountains of Colombia and Ecuador have been keeping this secret, but now you can enjoy it yourself. The plant does not do well in large-scale cultivation, so growing it yourself is very likely the only way you will ever enjoy it (other than buying an airline ticket to Ecuador).

The Naranjila is quite literally very colorful. The plant is perennial, growing to 150 cm tall. Leaves are huge, up to 50 cm long, green but covered with velvety purple hairs. The fruits resemble tennis balls: yellow with a bit of fuzz on the outside. The inside of the fruit is green and has many small seeds resembling tomato seeds - a little like a tamarillo.

The word “Naranjilla” means “little orange” and is pronounced “nah-rahn-‘kee-yah.” The fruit tastes citrusy, perhaps with a dash of rhubarb mixed in. It is a bit sour, but with a wee bit of sugar it becomes the nectar of the gods. 

Harvest it, wash the fuzz off the outside, and cut it open. You can easily squeeze out the juice and strain out the seeds or just eat the lot. This by itself or with a little ice makes a refreshing beverage for a hot summer’s day. Or you can make ice-poles or sherbet or jelly or parfait or meringue sauce to pour over ice cream or many other items. 

The plant is rather delicate, so it needs to be in a location where it is protected from high winds. It does best in a rich soil but it will tolerate poor soil as long as there is adequate drainage. It grows best in tropical and sub tropical areas and doesn't much like frost.

Image: Orhan Cam/Shutterstock

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