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Cecropia fruits are long and slender, growing in clusters at the end of short stems on the flowering stalks of tall trees. Each flower can produce 1 to 4 cylindrical fruits, and these fruits, known as achenes, average 10 to 15 centimeters in length and 1 to 2 centimeters in diameter. Cecropia fruits are unique as they are comprised of tiny hexangular to pentangular fleshy pieces surrounding a brown seed, and the entire fruit is made up of these individual seeded sections. The fruits have an upright growth habit when they are young, taut, and green-yellow. As the fruits mature, they transition into a grey-green hue, growing plumper, softening, and wrinkling slightly, bending at the stem to hang towards the ground. Ripe Cecropia fruits will have a very soft, succulent, and viscous consistency that many consumers liken to the texture of a gummy worm. They are also aqueous, easily ripped open by hand, and contain a watery interior with tiny, crunchy, edible seeds. Cecropia fruits are stripped away from an inedible and straight, white stalk connected to the plant when ready for consumption. The fruits have a sweet, honey-like flavor with honey and maple syrup nuances.
Cecropia fruits are available year-round in some climates, with a peak season in the summer through fall.
Cecropia, botanically classified as Cecropia peltata, is the name of a species of trees that produce rare, finger-like fruits belonging to the Urticaceae family. The fleshy fruits develop on fast-growing trees that can reach 15 to 25 meters in height and are native to Central and South America and the Caribbean. Cecropia trees are known as “pioneer” trees, meaning they are one of the first species to grow in rainforest clearings, hurricanes, wildfires, and other tropical to subtropical environments. The trees are sometimes used in reforestation plantings in their native areas after a natural disaster, but the vigorous trees have also earned the reputation as an invasive species in some of its non-native regions. Cecropia fruits are known as Embauba in Brazil, Ambaiba in Bolivia, Guarumo, Yarumo, Gummy Bear Fruit, and Trumpet Tree fruits in Costa Rica. The finger-like fruits are considered rare and are primarily foraged from wild trees as a succulent and sweet delicacy. The trees are also grown on a small scale in home gardens as a specialty tree.
Cecropia fruits have not been extensively studied for their nutritional properties. The leaves and fruits contain flavonoids, phytonutrients that give them color and nutritional benefits. These benefits include anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties, as well as cardiovascular support. The fruits are sometimes made into syrup to soothe symptoms associated with bronchitis and coughs. Cecropia fruits are also nutrient-rich and have a high protein content. Beyond the fruits, the leaves are used extensively as an herbal medicine throughout Brazil, Bolivia, Paraguay, and northern Argentina. They are steeped in a tea or tincture and used to treat respiratory issues, cardiovascular disease and to calm uterine contractions.
Cecropia fruits have a sweet, fruity flavor suited for raw and cooked preparations. The fruits are not a common ingredient seen in households and are primarily harvested from wild and home garden trees as a sweet snack. Cecropia fruits are soft, tender, and juicy when ripe, easily removed straight from the tree and chewed, enjoying the fruit’s slightly crunchy consistency. The fruit can also be stirred into yogurt and blended into smoothies. In addition to fresh preparations, Cecropia fruits can be simmered into syrups, marmalades, jams, and sauces or pureed and combined with other ingredients to create a sweet filling for desserts. The fruits are also dried and freeze-dried for extended use. Cecropia fruits pair well with vanilla, chocolate, maple syrup, fruits such as fig, stone fruits, and berries, and spices including cinnamon, cloves, and allspice. The fruits are highly perishable and will only keep for a few days when stored in the refrigerator.
Cecropia trees are known as Embauba in regions of South America and have been traditionally used by various Amazonian people groups as a medicinal, culinary, and construction plant. The word Embauba comes from Tupi-Guarani, an indigenous language in South America, and means “fruit of the hollowed-out tree.” The hollow stems and branches were used by the Mayans for blowguns, trumpets, hence the name “Trumpet Tree,” and for irrigation. The wood itself is only slightly heavier than balsa, so it can be used as a substitute for ultra-light wood. The lightweight wood is also quickly burrowed, creating a home for insects. Cecropia trees have a symbiotic relationship with the biting Aztec ants. The ants live within the hollow branches and stems of the tree, feeding off substances at the base of the leaves. While residing in the tree, the ants fend off other leaf-eating ant species and would-be predators, protecting the tree. The leaves are popular with sloths in other regions, earning the tree a nickname associated with the slow-moving mammals: “Tree of Laziness.” The finger-like fruits are also well-known as a popular food for fruit bats, birds, and monkeys.
Cecropia fruit trees are native to Central America, South America, and the Caribbean and have been growing wild since ancient times. The trees thrive in tropical to subtropical climates and have been naturally dispersed from the tiny seeds expelled through animal excrement. Once sown, Cecropia seeds quickly develop into large trees and can be found growing in gaps in the forest canopy, agricultural fields, disturbed land areas, along roadsides, and as a landscape plant in home gardens. Cecropia peltata was first classified by Carl Linnaeus in 1759 in his book Systema Naturae, and this was the first plant in the Cecropia genus. Over time, Cecropia trees have been introduced into Africa, some regions of Southeast Asia, the South Pacific, Hawaii, and southern Florida. Today Cecropia fruits are found wherever the trees are grown and are not commonly exported outside their growing regions. The fruits are foraged from trees or are sometimes sold as specialty fresh fruit in local markets.