This plant belongs to the Solanaceae family, the same family to which tomatoes, peppers, aubergines and Goji berries also belong, and originates in the Andes region (in particular Peru and Chile). Its fruits have been consumed since the times of pre-Columbian civilizations; interestingly, one of the names by which they’re known throughout the world is ‘Inca Berries’ and they were among the plants most prized by the Incan nobility.
This shrub produces bright yellow-orange berries, approximately 1.25-2.50 cm in diameter, with a smooth skin and a soft, juicy pulp containing small edible yellow seeds. The fruits until fully ripe are covered by a fruiting calyx (dry flower) that extends downwards to form a sort of Chinese Lantern, of which its papery texture is redolent. Its purpose is to protect the berry from attacks by parasites, insects and adverse changes in the weather.
The flavour and appearance vaguely resemble those of tomatoes, although the sweet and sour taste is much richer and more reminiscent of a tropical fruit. Of the whole plant, only the berry is edible; the leaves and roots are toxic to humans if not treated properly.
This berry is known worldwide under many names: ‘uchuva’ , ‘vejigòn’ or ‘guchavo’ in Colombia, ‘uvilla’ in Ecuador, ‘aguaymanto’ or ‘capuli’ in Peru, motojobobo embolsado in Bolivia, ‘topotope’ in Venezuela, ‘amor en bolsa’ in Chile, ‘cereza’ del Peru in Mexico, ‘lobolobohan’ in the Philippines, ‘teparee’ in India, ‘phoa’ in the Hawaiian islands, ‘altın çilek’ (golden strawberry) in Turkey and ‘goldenberry’ or ‘cape gooseberry’ in England, where the plant was first introduced in 1774.
In Italy the Peruvian Physalis is best known as the Alchechengio Peruviano, Alchechengio Giallo (yellow) or Uciuva (Italianization of Uchuva).
The plant has some interesting nutritional properties: it’s a good source of provitamin A , vitamin K , vitamin B1 and various minerals including iron , magnesium, phosphorus , copper, manganese and, above all, potassium. Its fruit when fresh is also an excellent source of vitamin C, containing twice as much as lemons for the same weight. 42% of the fruit is made up of carbohydrates; fats (8.5%) are mainly of the unsaturated type and contain a fair amount of fibre (24%) and pectin, both of which can act as regulators of intestinal transit. With the right level of water intake, fibers help to increase faecal volume, while the pectins soften the stool, thus reducing constipation.
The Peruvian Physalis, and in particular the oil extracted from its fresh fruits, contains quite high levels of phytosterols, and especially of campesterol, which are crucial for health because of their ability to compete with cholesterol during the absorption phase, thereby normalizing cholesterol levels by lowering LDL levels (‘bad’ cholesterol). Among the nutrients with antioxidant action, carotenoids, especially β-carotene, and flavonoids particularly stand out.
Given its curious appearance, the fresh Physalis berry, still in its skin, is often used as a garnish or decoration for savoury and sweet dishes. But it is also suitable as an ingredient for mixed salads and fruit salads. The dried Golden Berries (available on Nuturally.com) can also be added to cereal or muesli for breakfast; to cooked fruit or pastries, yoghurt, smoothies and herbal teas; or can be eaten as they are with some chocolate and wine.
Peruvian Cape gooseberries have no particular contraindications, although it is advisable to seek medical advice if you are undergoing continuous drug therapy (as there may still be a possibility of their interacting with some drugs) and is not recommended during pregnancy or while breastfeeding.
Luis A. Puente, Claudia A. Pinto-Munoz, Eduardo S. Castro, Misael Cortès; Physalis peruviana Linneaus, the multiple properties of a highly functional fruit: A review; Food Research International 44 (2011) 1733-1740
Mohamed Fawzy Ramadan Hassanien; Bioactive phytochemicals, nutritional value, and functional properties of Cape gooseberry (Physalis peruviana): An overview; Food Research International 44 (2011) 1830-1836
Mohamed Fawzy Ramadan Hassanien; Physalis peruviana: A rich source of bioactive phytochemicals for functional foods and pharmaceuticals; Food Reviews International 27 (2011) 259-273
Stefano Momentè; Loving Superfood: quando un supercibo può cambiare la tua vita; L’età dell’acquario edizioni; 2015
Morton; Fruits of warm climates: Cape Gooseberry; 1987:430-434