Everyone knows the English proverb, “An apple a day keeps the doctor away.” People have been aware of the health benefits of eating fruits since the 17th century, and perhaps even before. Here in Ecuador, fruits are extremely important. Traditional medicine is much more prevalent here than in the United States, meaning that Ecuadorians tend to place more importance on what they eat and drink. The mother in every Ecuadorian household knows the traditional remedy for any common health problem. Stomach ache? Drink agua de manzanilla (chamomile water) or lemon juice. Headache? Drink té de jengibre (ginger tea). Obviously, every family has their own remedies based on the traditions and customs of their families, but they all have one thing in the common: the use of herbs and fruits on a regular basis.
In addition to apples, bananas, oranges, and other common fruits, we also have a wide variety of tropical fruits here in Ecuador. Since this small country has four regions with drastically different climates (the Amazon region, the mountainous region, the coastal region, and the Galápagos Islands), many exotic fruits can find a place to grow somewhere in the country. Therefore, nobody has any problem meeting the recommended 2-3 servings of fruit each day. Almost every meal contains some type of juice or herbal drink, and oftentimes dessert is some type of fruit or fruit dish. In my past four and a half months in Ecuador, I have had many opportunities to try new fruits. Here are a few of the most popular:
Tomate de árbol (tree tomato): These fruits taste similar to normal tomatoes, but with a bit more of a “fruity” taste. One of the most common juices here (both in houses and restaurants) is jugo de tomate de árbol. These fruits are most commonly used for juices and cooking; people do not frequently eat them raw. They also look similar to normal tomatoes because of their shape and reddish color.
Granadilla (sweet granadilla): This small, round-shaped fruit is filled with dozens of tiny, black seeds in a grayish, pulp-like substance. It is similar to passion fruit, except its shell is an orange color. In order to eat it, the outer shell must be cracked open (and it is not eaten). Since their flavor is not very strong, Ecuadorians typically eat them raw and do not use them for juices.
Mora (blackberry): Even though we have blackberries in the United States, they are definitely not the same here. Ecuadorian blackberries are typically larger and more tart. Another very popular juice here is jugo de mora, and batidos de mora (blackberry milkshakes) are also common in restaurants. Additionally, the fruit can be eaten raw.
Uvilla (gooseberry): Before coming to Ecuador, I had never even heard of this fruit. Now, I eat them all the time. We have several gooseberry bushes in the garden of my house, which we will often eat for snacks. Theses small, yellowish fruits are similar to the size and shape of cherries. The flavor is somewhat tart. They grow on bushes close to the ground inside of husks. People pick them from the plant, peel off the husk, and eat them. In addition to eating them raw, they are also common in some desserts. For example, I have had delicious slices of cakes with gooseberries and strawberries.
Achotillo (rambutan): Although this fruit originates from Southeast Asia, they are very common here in Ecuador (especially in the coastal region). You can buy 10-15 of them for only a dollar! They are somewhat difficult to eat, but they are very sweet and exotic. The spiky shell needs to be split open to get to the fruit inside. You then put the ball of fruit in your mouth and have to chew it to separate it from the big seed in the middle, which you then spit out. The flavor is definitely worth the mess they create!
When life here in Ecuador starts to feel ordinary, I am reminded of the country’s uniqueness and unfamiliar charm every time I eat an exotic fruit. At times when I get sick from eating fruit that’s not sufficiently washed, I’m also reminded of the sacrifices I gave up to come to Ecuador.
Just as great as fruit is for our physical health, it can also be helpful for our mental health. We can learn a lot from fruit:
- What’s inside matters more than the outside. (A banana still tastes the same no matter how many brown spots are on its peel.)
- Comparing ourselves to others is useless because we are all different. (Apples and oranges are nothing alike, but they’re both delicious.)
- Listen to your parents. (Washing your hands and your fruit is actually very important.)
- Take your time. (A fruit tastes the same no matter how long it takes to ripen.)
- Living a fruitful life is a more important than living a successful life. Be happy with where you are, what you are doing, and who you are.