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Tropical Taste of Hawaii: The Awesome Acerola Cherry

I go to the Hilo orchid show each year. There's hardly any more room for orchids in my house but I can’t help myself from getting more!

Luscious, mouthwatering acerola cherries!

Luscious, mouthwatering acerola cherries!

Ripe acerola cherries ready to be picked.

Ripe acerola cherries ready to be picked.

Acerola cherry (botanical name Malpighia emarginata) is grown in many gardens and farms on the islands of Hawaii. However, it is not a native Hawaiian fruit tree.

Also known as Barbados cherry or West Indian cherry, acerola is believed to originate from South America and the Caribbean. It is widely cultivated in the tropical and subtropical regions around the world, including Asia and Africa.

Puerto Rico, Brazil, Venezuela, and India have large acerola plantations, growing different varieties for exportation.

In the United States, Florida is the major grower of acerola cherry. It’s also grown in some smaller farms in south Texas.

Acerola cherries are famous for their extremely high Vitamin C content – more than oranges and grapefruits! They are also rich in fiber and antioxidants.

Some proven benefits of Vitamin C:

  • Keeps immune system in good working order
  • Helps the body fight infections and viruses
  • Prevents scurvy disease
  • Reduces the risk of cardiovascular diseases
  • Reduces stress, fatigue, and depression
Acerola cherry in season.

Acerola cherry in season.

Eating acerola cherry

The tangy, juicy fruits are best eaten fresh. Fully ripen fruits (dark red color) have a sweeter taste but with less Vitamin C content.

Eat the juicy pulp only and spit out the small, fibrous seeds! Each acerola cherry has 3 seeds that are inedible.

Acerola cherries can be used to make jam, jelly, wine, and dessert tarts or pies. However, cooking will turn their bright red color into a dull brown color. And the heat will destroy most of their vitamin C potency.

Acerola cherries are also used by the health food industry to make supplements (powder), juice (liquid or frozen), syrup, and baby food.

In Thailand, Vietnam, and the Philippines, acerola cherries are popular snacks, especially with children. Street vendors are often seen selling heaps of these irresistible fruits near public schools and amusement parks.

Dark red cherries are sweeter.

Dark red cherries are sweeter.

Odd-looking seeds of acerola cherry.

Odd-looking seeds of acerola cherry.

Where to find acerola cherry in Hawaii

Acerola cherries are highly perishable, therefore grocery stores in Hawaii do not stock or sell them.

If you can find fresh acerola cherries they would be at farmers markets or health food stores around the islands.

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You may spot an acerola tree laden with fruits at a local park while sightseeing. Enjoy and good luck competing with the birds!

In Hawaii, acerola cherry season is varied and somewhat unpredictable! A tree can yield a major crop between April and May, then multiple smaller crops may happen throughout the rest of the year.

Ripe cherries will soon fall off if they are not picked or eaten by birds.

Ripe cherries will soon fall off if they are not picked or eaten by birds.

Some green unripe cherries.

Some green unripe cherries.

Growing acerola cherry

Acerola can be grown from seeds or cuttings. In Hawaii, young acerola seedlings can be found popping up under the mother tree – from seeds scattered by birds and rats.

Cuttings (from branches) should be dipped in rooting hormone powder before planting in containers filled with suitable soil. Most cuttings will root in about 30 days.

Many nurseries in Hawaii sell potted acerola trees (about 2-3 years old) that are ready to be planted in the garden.

Acerola is drought tolerant, prefers well-drained soil and a sunny location.

Hawaii’s volcanic soils are acidic, therefore adding lime frequently is highly recommended to avoid nutrient deficiency and encourage more fruiting.

A mature acerola cherry tree is 6 feet high or taller. Trimming is necessary to keep the tree in a desirable shrub-like shape which makes fruit harvesting much easier.

Pretty pink acerola cherry flowers.

Pretty pink acerola cherry flowers.

Acerola produces small, delicate pink flowers with fringed petals that resemble crepe myrtles. The flowers attract swarms of honey bees – the main pollinators.

The flowers soon turn into round, cherry-like fruits that are green, then become bright red when ripe.

It is not uncommon for the tree to have a second wave of flowers when there are still ripening fruits on the branches.

Heavy rains and strong winds (quite often in Hawaii!) will knock the flowers off before they have a chance to set fruits.

Wild birds love acerola cherry! Cardinals and Japanese white-eyes will devour the fruits as soon as they turn red, therefore daily picking is a must during fruiting season.

A handful of pure Vitamin C.

A handful of pure Vitamin C.

About this article

Like the birds, the author also loves acerola cherry. Last time he got a cold, he snacked on a handful of fresh acerola cherries from his tree, and THAT completely knocked out his cold in just 1 day!

All photos were taken in the author’s garden with an Olympus Stylus TG-630 iHS digital camera and iPhone6.

© 2017 Viet Doan


hstegema from Caracas Venezuela on March 31, 2018:

Common name in Venezuela: Semeruca

Viet Doan (author) from Big Island, Hawaii on December 06, 2017:

Aloha Mary! Wow, mixing acerola juice with mango juice. My mouth is watering just thinking about this fantastic concoction! I haven't tried to juice acerola cherries yet because, well, I usually ate them all before the thought of juicing came to my mind, LOL! I was wondering about making smoothie with these cherries, but I would have to remove the seeds first, it's too much work!

Mary Wickison from USA on December 06, 2017:

We have two acerola trees in our garden here in Brazil. To get the juice out, I usually just squeeze them over a sieve with a bowl below. Do you know a better way? Mixed with mango juice, they add a wonderful kick.

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