November 11, 2014
Often called the forgotten fruit of the Incas, the name actually originates from the Greek word ‘phusan’ – meaning ‘to puff out’. They are often called ‘golden berries’ or ‘Cape gooseberries’ – Cape from the Cape of Good Hope, but no relation to gooseberries whatsoever. Actually they are closely related to tomatillos, tomatoes and eggplants. [tomatillos actually are a kind of physalis]
Physalis is similar to a firm tomato in texture and a mixture of strawberries and pineapple in flavor – with a mild acidity and slightly tard.
Physalis are native to subtropical areas – Ecuador, Peru, Chile, Colombia, … as well as America and South Africa. They are in season from February to March. They store well – so you will probably be able to buy them year round.
SHOPPING + STORAGE
Physalis are smooth berries, with an oily skin, resembling a miniature, spherical yellow tomato in a papery husk [looks like a tiny Chinese lampshade]. When ripe the husk should have a beige or cream color – the berry should be bright yellow-orange in color. If still slightly green you can keep them at room temperature until they turn color. The berries are about the size of a marble [1 to 2 cm in diameter] and contain numerous small seeds. Berries should be firm and without cuts or blemishes. Physalis are very pressure sensitive and therefore sold with their husks. So make sure to get a good look at the berries inside – the husk might look good – but more often then not they are already little fluffy, gray mold balls.
Dried physalis are often sold under the name ‘golden berry’.
There are about 80 kinds of physalis – not all of them are eatable. Buying ‘cape gooseberries’ [as you see in the pictures], ‘tomatillos’ or ‘Chinese lanterns’ you should be good.
If stored in a cool, dry place – protected from light and humidity – they can be kept for up to 12 months. Shelf life at room temperature is between 30 and 45 days. They also freeze quite well.
HOW TO EAT
All you need to do is removing the husk and wash the fruit well.
Raw – Often used as dessert decorations they can also be incorporated into desserts and are used as flavoring. With a little sugar they make a great juice or smoothie. Due to the similar taste, physalis can be used like cherry tomatoes in salads and other dishes [great with avocado].
Cooked – They contain pectin and can therefore be made into pie fillings, jams, compotes, puddings, chutneys, ice cream or other fruit preserves. Try cooking them with apples or ginger and stew them with honey.
Dried – They can be used like raisins or cranberries. In savory sauces to couple with turkey, pork, fish or other meat. As a sweet component in energy bars, cookies and muffins.
Unripe – the green berries are sometimes used for pie fillings. Although too sour to eat raw, cooking the berries with sugar will soften them and gives them more of a tart taste.
Incas used to consume Physalis before battle or strenuous activities as they have a high nutritious content. In folk medicine they have been used against cancer, malaria, asthma, hepatitis, dermatitis and rheumatism. Chinese traditional medicine uses Physalis as remedies for abscesses, coughs, fevers and sore throat. In Colombia a leaf decoction is used as a diuretic and anti-asthmatic and in Spain a wine is made with the fruit to treat excess fluid retention and problems of the urinary tract.The Zulus administer the leaf infusion as an enema to relieve abdominal ailments in children. It is believed that they act as diuretics and have anti-inflammatory, anti rheumatic properties.
Physalis are a great source of antioxidants, Vitamin A, B as well as Vitamin P [helps our bodies absorb Vitamin C]. It has about twice the amount of Vitamin C than lemons. Minerals found in physalis include iron, calcium and phosphorus.
Nutritional value per 100g raw fruit [% of Daily Value]