SAN GIL, Colombia- It is not possible to travel in Colombia without coming face to face witht the lulo. This little orange fruit with green innards — called naranjilla in Ecuador — is among the most popular in this stretch of South America. You go to the market, you see piles of lulo, you get a set menu in a restaurant and you have a 1/3 shot of getting lulo juice, you listen to other travelers talking and they say “lulo, this, lulo, that, delicious.” So I set out to review the lulo for my fruit of South America series.
I had lulo juice on a variety of occasions all through my stay in Colombia — it is tart, sweet, refreshing, exactly what you want juice to be — but I had not yet held the fruit in the raw and taken a big bite out of it as it comes off the tree. So I picked up a lulo from a market in Bogota, stuck it safely in my pocket, and made way for my hotel’s kitchen. After a brief photo shoot, I looked at the bugger and tried to devise a strategy to break into in.
Now, it is not overtly complicated to eat fruit pretty much anywhere in the world, as there are only a few techniques that you need to know, namely: peel, slice, spit out the seeds, scoop out the middle, or eat the whole damn thing. The trick to eating unfamiliar fruit is discovering which of these five actions you should take, as if you try the wrong one you are going to look like a ripe idiot — and, more than likely, receive a very unwelcome taste sensation.
The lulo had me puzzled. Its skin seemed thin, like a tomato’s, and I debated just biting into the thing. But then thought better of it — there were other people around the hotel. Could you imagine watching some foreigner biting into an orange without peeling it first? I did not want to be the idiot who gives some Colombia a funny story to tell for all eternity. So I stuffed my little orange lulo back into my pocket and walked downstairs to the hotel’s reception area. I then produced the fruit.
“How do I eat this?” I asked.
They looked at me sort of funny and told me that I could cut it in half and scoop out the innards, but that it is usually made into juice.
Ok, so the lulo is a “scooper” fruit, you bisect it and scoop away, I thought. But I was wrong: the lulo is not a scooper fruit, it is solely a juicing fruit. I would find this out the hard way.
I cut that lulo in half, and it looked, for all intensive purposes, like an unripe tomato. Its innards were yellow green, very seedy, and divided up into four cells. Heaven is above and Beijing is far away — I scooped out a big spoonful and put it in my mouth. It was absolutely, without a doubt, without contention, disgusting. The texture was oily, it tasted poisonous, sour — but was not completely inedible. There was still a faint flavor reminiscent of its namesake juice. Though I ate out both bisections without much relish. Some people say with a straight face that the taste of the raw lulo is like a combination of rhubarb and lime. They may as well just say “disgusting,” as rhubarb + lime = nothing else.
I must conclude here that A LOT of sugar must be added to the lulo juice. As I continued traveling through Colombia researching and talking about fruit, it became apparent that the lulo is a juicing fruit, nobody eats it raw. This was something I found common about many other fruits in this country — such as the maracuyo and papayulo: they make excellent juices, but absolutely disgusting eaten in the raw.
What is the lulo and where do these things come from?
The lulo, known to eggheads as Solanum quitoense, is a species of nightshade (tomato family) that is native to the northwestern regions of South America. The scientific name — quitoense — means literally, “from Quito.” When broken down, the lulo is 90% water, 1% protein, 3.8% carb, 1.5% fiber, 3% sugar, 2.6% vitamin C, and transfers 18 calories.
Lulo, or naranjilla, conclusion
When made into a juice or basked in syrup (like in aromaticas) the lulo is an excellent fruit to enjoy in Colombia. Just don’t eat it raw. Well, unless you think you would enjoy a rhubarb/ lime flavored tomato.