22 October 2012

Forbidden Fruits

Latex lurks, waiting to strike . . .
My inability to eat, enjoy, savor, relish and otherwise delight in the myriad exotic fruits of Brazil is quite possibly the only downside of my living here. Years and years ago, way back in adolescence, I found out the hard way that I am allergic to what are known as the stone fruits of the rosaceae family, namely, peaches, nectarines, plums, apricots and pears. Can't eat them. Can't rub them against my lips. Prefer not even to look at them, if I can help it. A little later in life I also developed an allergy to latex. Those brightly-colored, but now dangerous, rubber gloves lying by the kitchen sink? Threw them out. More years were to pass before I would finally learn that what I have is a fairly unusual latex-fruit syndrome.

Here in Brazil I instinctively steered clear of two widely-available and beloved fruits, mango and papaya, no matter how often they were pressed on me. I don't really know why, they come from altogether different fruit families. But something about them made me lump them together with my forbidden fruits. And I'm sure glad I did because recent studies have found that mango and papaya cross-react with latex allergies. Whew, that would have been a close call, given that my allergic reaction skips the mundane itching and swelling, and runs straight to life-threatening anaphylaxis. And there's probably no antidote available in our local hospital, to boot.

So what is it like to live in a country full of fruits I either can't eat or am too scared to try? Probably something akin to how a diabetic feels in a candy store. Frustrated. Deprived. Wistful. Resigned. Here's a sampling of some exotic Brazilian fruits to which I unfortunately have to give a wide berth:


This fruit is ugly to look at, but I'm told it has a pleasant sweet and sour taste. However, it exudes a yellow latex when pressed, so you won't see me even touching it.


This fruit, high in both vitamins C and A, is frequently used to treat burns because of its soothing qualities. And The Body Shop now uses it in their baby moisturizers, so there might be something to the claims.


Also known as the Japanese persimmon, caquis were introduced to Brazil by the Japanese immigrants who came to work the coffee plantations in the early 1900s.


The cupuaçu is an entire pharmacy in a fruit. It will stimulate your immune system, lower your blood pressure and your cholesterol levels, improve your brain function, boost your gastrointestinal system and keep your cardiovascular system flowing. Or so I'm told.


We just planted a fruta-do-conde (sugar apple) tree, and am I ever happy about that. Many people believe that this fruit kills cancerous cells more effectively than chemotherapy. If our tree bears fruit, I plan to try this one.


Graviola, or soursop, is also said to have anti-cancer potency. But it is also used to treat herpes, coughs and arthritis.


The skin of this fruit is often used as an astringent.


There is a tremendous commercial market for the palmito, or heart of palm, plant on which the pupunha grows. But outside of the Amazon region, there is little demand for the fruit. Not surprising, since it's toxic until cooked. But boil it for a while and you'll benefit from high levels of anti-oxidants and vitamin A.


Another nutritious, good-for-what-ails-you fruit, full of vitamins A, B and C.

Since I have no adverse reactions to berries or cherries, I have taken a few chances here, and found that I can indeed enjoy some Brazilian fruits:


Another of the so-called "superfruits," acerola has 32 times the vitamin C as regular citrus fruits. It's used to fight anything from a cold to a cough to  the  flu, and from cancer to diabetes. It is said to strengthen teeth and bones, lower cholesterol and help keep your skin firm.


The carambola, or starfruit, has the reputation of interacting badly with drugs, much like the grapefruit. Stay away if you suffer from kidney failure, kidney stones, or if you're undergoing kidney dialysis treatment. Can't say why I risked eating this one, but I did. Dee-licious!


The amazing jabuticaba, a fruit that grows right on the trunk of the tree. It's really funny to see — and really delicious to eat. I've had this one both right off the trunk and in jelly form. But my favorite way was as a full-bodied, dry wine . . . 


Also called the Surinam cherry, and like cherries the pitanga fruit is delicious and sweet — the seeds, however, are toxic. I've had the fruit, and spit the seeds.

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