February 2014

Bolivia’s Tropical Fruits: a New Gastronomical Experience for Foreigners

Before my stay in Cochabamba, I lived for three 3 months in Argentina; of course I was used to loads of meat every week combined with a good glass of wine. Very nice but not too good if you want to stay a little healthy… Eating fruit every day was not seen as common, so with coming here to Bolivia and its paradise full of fresh fruits, I was relieved.

By: Simone Batelaan
Projects Abroad Volunteer
Den Haag ‚Äď The Netherlands

Photo: Simone Batelaan

The variety of (tropical) fruits in Bolivia is overwhelming. My host mom made so many delicious fresh fruit juices and homemade marmalades that I started to pay attention and became enthusiastic about all these weird unknown fruits. Of course, Bolivian fruit includes many of the common fruits found elsewhere but for foreigners there are lots of unusual, exotic fruits that they have never seen before.

I went to La Cancha, (an in- and outdoor market where you can buy absolutely everything) tasted at least ten different, unknown fruit species and decided to make a top three: Definitely number one is the ACHACHAIR√ö. The achachair√ļ is a fruit native to eastern Bolivia and related to the mangosteen. (The achachair√ļ‚Äôs scientific name is ¬īGarcinia humilis¬ī, Bolivian mangosteen). It is egg - shaped and in my opinion both bitter and sweet. Each tree produces at least about a 1000 achachair√ļs and normally there is one big coffee-coloured seed inside the fruit, but larger forms may contain more than one.

The city of Ayacucho Santa Cruz (Porongo) is its biggest producer and over the last ten years the achachair√ļ became of major economic importance to the farmers, so important that they are holding an annual Achachair√ļ Festival in Porongo. The achachair√ļ is fast becoming very popular and is also attracting attention from companies who are interested in growing and producing it overseas. The representatives of various foreign countries can participate in a new aspect of the festival: business roundtables between Bolivian exporters and possible overseas importers. No one knows its exact benefits, but it is of great nutritional value for humans. The achachair√ļ grows natively, making it an eco-friendly forest fruit. It is in season from December to March and is almost always consumed raw. There are also achachair√ļ juices, achachair√ļ jams and it is added to other fruit juices and jams. The fruit keeps well for four to six weeks as long as it stays out of the fridge.

Slit open maracuy√°s
Photo: Simone Batelaan

In Bolivia there are some traditional uses for the generally unused parts of the achachair√ļ: eating the skin as a hunger suppressant, using the honey made from it for medicinal purposes (this honey gets sold for ten times the normal price of honey) and using the inside of the skin to reduce body marks such as warts.

The fruit won the third place at the 2012 Fruit Logistica Innovation Awards held in Berlin.

Number two is the CARAMBOLA, also known as star fruit due to its shape. It is a fruit of ‚ÄėAverrhoa Carambola‚Äė, a species of trees native to Malaysia, the Philippines, India, Indonesia and Bangladesh. However, the tree is also planted throughout tropical areas in Latin America. There are two main types of carambolas: the small sour type and the larger sweet type. The sweet types are sweet but without loads of sugar; they normally have no more than a 4% sugar content. The taste of the carambola is hard to describe but it is like a mix of apple, pear, grape and citrus (the unripe ones taste like green apples).

The achachair√ļ grows natively which makes it an eco-friendly forest fruit.

It is a tropical and subtropical fruit and can be grown up to 1,200 meters. The carambola does not only need a lot of sun exposure but also requires plenty humidity and rainfall. The trees are planted with a minimum of 6 meters in between each other; it grows fast and produces fruit around five years of age. In good conditions the carambola tree can produce in between 90 and 180 carambolas a year.

Sliced carambolas

All over the world the carambola is used in different ways for cooking. In China they are cooked with fish, in Australia they are cooked as a vegetable or made into jams and they use the unripe and sour types for sauces, in Jamaica they are dried and in Thailand they are cooked together with shrimp. Moreover, the juice of the carambolas is used worldwide in iced drinks, sorbets (a delicacy in Hawaii), seasoning, or is bottled for drinking. Buy a star fruit that is yellow in colour and does not have too many discolorations. The outside of the star fruit should be shiny. It does not matter if it is a bit shriveled, those are the sweetest. The entire fruit is edible and is usually eaten by hand.

Number three, the MARACUY√Ā (or passion fruit √≥r purple granadilla). The largest producer of this orange (or purple, depending on the ripeness and variety) beauty is Brazil; however, it is also cultivated in warmer, frost-free areas such as Argentina, Australia and Bolivia. Its thick, outer skin hides many black seeds inside which are covered in a thick slimy fleece. You cannot really eat it raw, it is disgustingly sour. Yet if you blend it, strain it and then add some sugar, it will become a delicious and refreshing juice. When the fruit is fully ripe, the skin is dry and you can suck up the inside of the fruit. It is sweet!

The maracuy√° has many nutritional properties: it is a very good source of dietary fiber, which helps remove cholesterol from the body; it is full of vitamin C, which helps your body develop resistance against different kinds of the flu; and it has a good level of vitamin A, which is essential for good eyesight. In many countries in Central and Latin America, the maracuy√° is used for desserts. A very tasty, Bolivian treat is the maracuy√° cheesecake. You can find the recipe on the next page, ¬°que rico! Also I experimented with a maracuy√° and carambola juice, which was one of the best juices I had ever tasted.

Maracuy√° Cheesecake



  • 9 large biscuits
  • 2 table spoons granulated sugar
  • 4 1/2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted and slightly cooled


  • 115 grams cream cheese, room temperature
  • 1/3 cup sugar
  • A bit of salt
  • 1 big egg


  • 1 can sweetened condensed milk
  • 4 large egg yolks
  • 1/2 cup passion fruit puree (5 large maracuy√°s should be enough)
  • A bit of salt


STEP 1: Make the crust: preheat oven to 350 degrees.

STEP 2: Place biscuits in the bowl of a food processor (if you do not have one, use a plastic bag); mix until coarsely ground; add sugar and continue mixing until finely ground. Add melted butter and continue mixing until everything comes together.

STEP 3: Press this mixture to the bottom and sides of a 9-inch round tart pan with a removable bottom. Transfer to oven and bake about 12 minutes until the crust is lightly golden and good smelling. Remove from oven and let cool.

STEP 4: Make the cheesecake: in the bowl of an electric mixer, whisk together cream cheese, sugar, and salt on medium-high until light and fluffy. Add egg and whisk to combine. Pour into cooled tart shell and transfer to oven; bake until just set, about 15 minutes. Let cool.

STEP 5: Make the passion fruit layer: reduce oven temperature to 325 degrees. In a medium bowl, whisk together condensed milk, egg yolks, passion fruit puree, and salt; pour over cooled cheesecake layer. Transfer to oven and bake until set, 18 to 20 minutes. Remove from oven and let cool.

STEP 6: Transfer tart to refrigerator for at least 2 hours or more before serving; slice tart and serve with a dollop of whipped cream. Buen provecho!

Maracuy√° / Carambola Juice


  • 4 maracuy√°s
  • 6 carambolasM
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 150 ml water


STEP 1: Clean the fruits. Cut the marcuy√°s in half and the carambolas in little pieces (after removing the dark think lines).

STEP 2: Empty the maracuy√°s by carefully separating the pulp from the shell.

STEP 3: Place all the maracuy√° pulp and the little sliced pieces of the carambola in a blender together with sugar and water and mix until smooth.

STEP 4: Remove the black seeds from the maracuy√°s from your juice by passing the juice through a sieve. What will be left is a delicious juice!

Dancing to Divulge: La Saya Afro-Boliviana
Music and dance are often considered universal languages, and watching the Afro-Bolivian performers of La Saya, it is easy to understand why. The pulsing beat of the drums accompanying the dynamic chanting and rhythmic movements of the dancers more than compensated for the incomprehensibility of the lyrics. While the literal meaning of their soulful singing was beyond me, the Afro-Bolivian performers nevertheless effectively conveyed a strong message about their cultural roots.
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