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Mortino berries are generally small, averaging 6 to 8 millimeters in diameter, and are round to oval in shape, growing in clusters on low-lying shrubs. The skin of the berry is taut, smooth, and glossy, transitioning from green to many different shades of red and dark red, before finally turning dark purple, almost black when ripe. The skin may also be covered in a light white-gray waxy bloom depending on the variety. Underneath the surface, the flesh is semi-translucent, aqueous, soft, and pale green, encasing many small and edible, crunchy seeds. Mortino berries have a sweet and savory, herbal flavor that will greatly vary depending on the variety and maturity of each berry. It is common to encounter berries that have a balanced, sweet, and savory taste, while other berries may have an acidic, sour, and astringent flavor.
Mortino berries are harvested in the spring through early summer and again in the fall through winter in South America.
Mortino berries, botanically a part of the Vaccinium genus, are small, colorful fruits that belong to the Ericaceae family. The name Mortino is a general descriptor used throughout South America to describe closely related Vaccinium species. The two most prominent species that are harvested for human consumption include Vaccinium meridionale and Vaccinium floribundum. Mortino berries are found growing wild in Andean highland forests and are not commercially cultivated. The small berries are harvested by hand and are widely found in local markets where they are also known as Andean blueberries, Colombian blueberries, Agraz, Vichacha, and Camueza. Mortino berries are favored for their tangy, sweet flavor, and while the berries are primarily localized to South America, the antioxidant dense fruits are increasing in popularity for their health properties and are being considered as a potentially valuable, global economic export.
Mortino berries are an excellent source of anthocyanins, which are the colored pigments found in the skin that have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects. The berries are also an excellent source of vitamins A and C, which can help boost the immune system by protecting the body against external environmental aggressors, are high in potassium, calcium, phosphorus, and magnesium, and contain smaller amounts of copper, manganese, and iron.
Mortino berries are best suited for both raw and cooked applications such as baking and boiling. The fruits can be washed and consumed straight, out-of-hand as a snack, tossed into green and fruit salads, used as a fresh topping over ice cream, cereals, and yogurt, blended into drinks and smoothies, or mixed into honey. It is important to note that while the berries can be consumed raw and are used in the above applications, the berries will significantly vary in flavor depending on the variety and degree of ripeness as it is impossible to control the taste of wild-growing fruits. Beyond fresh eating, Mortino berries are more popularly sweetened and cooked to develop palatable flavors. The berries can be boiled into sauces, jams, and jellies, fermented into wine, used as a topping on pizza, or baked into pies, cakes, and tarts. Mortino berries can also be dehydrated and mixed into candies, muffins, chocolates, and ice creams. Mortino berries pair well with vanilla, honey, cinnamon, clove, meats such as beef, poultry, and fish, basil, ginger, and citrus. The berries will keep 10-14 days when stored in a cool and dark place, such as the refrigerator.
Mortino berries are used in a traditional drink known as colada morada during Dia de Los Difuntos or Day of the Dead. In November, families throughout South America remember and honor their past loved ones by visiting their gravesites. During this visit, the gravestones will be cleaned, the site decorated with flowers, and families will consume colada morada and guaguas de pan, which is a sweet bread that is shaped into dolls, in commemoration of their ancestors. Colada morada is also frequently consumed throughout the rest of the month and is a thick beverage made from spices such as cinnamon and clove, sugar, Mortino berries, citrus, vanilla, and herbs. Recipes for the purple-hued drink widely vary depending on the region and colada morada is commonly served both warm and cold.
Mortino berries are native to high elevations of the Andes mountain region spanning across Colombia, Venezuela, Ecuador, Bolivia, and Peru. The berries have been growing wild since ancient times, and in the modern-day, Mortino berries have remained mostly uncultivated, harvested by hand from wild shrubs. Mortino berries can be found through select health food stores in South America, especially in Colombia, and are also available through fresh, local markets.