Jabuticaba: The Superfruit That's Here Today, Gone Tomorrow

By: Laurie L. Dove  | 

The fruit of the jabuticaba (Plinia cauliflora) tree grows on its trunk and branches. Flavio Coelho/Getty Images

Sweet, tart and really, really good for you? Jabuticaba berries are having a moment. If you're fortunate enough to lay your hands on these mysterious berries during their incredibly limited availability window, then consider yourself lucky. If not, no worries — in everything from jellies and desserts to sparkling wine, delicious potential still abounds.


A Brazilian Superfruit

The jabuticaba berry grows on a host tree that goes by several names — including jabuticaba, jaboticaba and the Brazilian grapetree — and belongs to the myrtle family of trees, known for their edible fruits. Although the jabuticaba is native to only three states in southeastern Brazil — Minas Gerais, Goiás and São Paolo — it has been successfully grown warmer regions of the North America, including the western and southern areas of the United States that typically avoid freezing temperatures.

Jabuticaba berries are a rich source of vital nutrients, including calcium, phosphorus and iron. The berries have a high concentration of vitamin C and other antioxidants such as niacin, riboflavin and thiamin, and are a powerful source of amino acids, including lysine and tryptophan.

Although the skin, or peel, of jabuticaba berries is frequently discarded, studies have demonstrated its potential use as an anti-venom to treat some of the associated effects of snake bites. Jabuticaba skin also has been studied for its antioxidant potential in preventing cancers.

Jabuticaba berries, once picked, are very perishable, which is why you don't see the fresh berries in your local supermarket.
NNehring/Getty Images


An Exercise in Patience

The jabuticaba tree can grow to a height of 40 feet (12 meters). It is outfitted with oval leaves that grow up to 3 inches (8 centimeters) in length, which are a rosy-pink when young and turn green with age. Although jabuticaba trees do well as single specimens, those planted in communal groups are more likely to thrive.

Once mature, jabuticaba trees can produce up to 100 pounds (45 kilograms) of fruit at each harvest, but harvesting the fruit of jabuticaba trees is a long-game. Jabuticaba trees require six to eight years of growth before they begin to bear fruit and seed-grown trees can take up to 20 years before they begin to produce the small, four-petal white blooms that are the precursor to jabuticaba berries.

This growing process may sound like an exercise in patience, but it pays off as the jabuticaba flowers and then produces colorful berries that grow right on the trunk and branches of the trees. As showy as they are delicious, these berries are the size of large marbles and change in color as they grow, transforming from green to deep purple.

The jabuticaba tree is a slow-growing evergreen that can reach a height of about 40 feet (12 meters) if not pruned.
Flavio Coelho/Getty Images


So Worth the Wait

The edible jabuticaba berries have a thick skin, which sometimes is removed before eating because of its tartness. The interior pulp, however, is white and gelatinous, tasting quite sweet with notes of spice.

For those familiar with the flavor profile of muscadine grapes, which have been described by NPR as "the best grapes you've never tasted," the jabuticaba berry is taste-adjacent, a sweet and juicy globe-like fruit but with the added benefit of a pleasant acidity. Like the muscadine grape, jabuticaba berries have seeds, but fewer; only one to four seeds are nestled at the end of one of its hemispheres.

When freshly picked, jabuticaba berries are typically eaten raw. Once harvested, the berries begin to ferment after only a couple of days, which makes preserving them in jams, jellies, juices, liqueurs and wines essential. In fact, jabuticaba berries are a key ingredient in one of Brazil's most popular cocktails, the caipirinha.