I just love new foods. The thrill of finding something I have never tasted before. Especially one I have never even heard about!
It was a night of firsts, actually, this week – first taste of an achacha (pronounced ah cha-cha, as in the dance), and also in visiting Baroque Bistro & Patisserie. The latter, newly-opened upmarket premises on the pointy-end corner of George Street and Hickson Road in The Rocks, was the venue for the launch of achacha fruit in Sydney.
So, of course, we were greeted on arrival with a sparkling achacha cocktail, and invited to sample the yellow egg-shaped fruit from baskets around the room. They look like large loquats, but Bruce Hill, a member of the four-member group responsible for growing them in far North Queensland, shakes his head when I ask him if this is right.
After he teaches us the trick to opening them – fingernail to pierce the skin at the midline then a twist to release the firm, soft skin – we gingerly taste the tangy, pearly white flesh surrounding one or two large seeds.
A relative of mangosteen, maybe, I venture? But no, wrong again.
It seems these are stand-alone fruits, from the heart of the rainforest in the lowlands of Bolivia where they grow wild and are called achchairú. Never grown in Australia until Helen and Bruce Hill’s group got permission from our vigilant quarantine services to plant them, this is perhaps the most exciting new fruit in this country in decades. In fact it is the world’s first commercial achacha (Garcinia Humilis) plantation. The Achacha Fruit Group plantation overseen by plantation manager and grower Ross Oliveri, has 17,500 trees, which means NQ now has more achacha trees than anywhere else in the world.
While most of us in the room were content enough mastering the pierce-twist-open technique, and devouring the fruit, it seems there is more to this fruit than just its use as a snack food.
The skins can be used to make a refreshing drink which has been called an natural appetite suppressant (yes - now they are talking!) and the low-sugar flesh is high in Vitamin C, potassium, folate and riboflavin. Achacha works well in cocktails, as we’d already discovered, and also in sorbet, ice cream and jellies, even in salads.
This unusual fruit grows on an equally strange-looking tree. The shaggy foliage conceals the flowers, and bees love them. When hives were placed in the plantation this year, the result was a rosy honey said to be full of medicinal virtues! In Bolivia it achacha honey is an expensive delicacy.
Achacha is the traditional New Year fruit of Bolivia. Here the harvest season is expected to run from November until the end of March. Right now you should find it in distinctive and colourful paper carry bags in Harris Farm stores, Thomas Dux the Grocer, Norton Street Grocers and other fine fruit and vegetable purveyors.
So what do I say to these people, the Hills, who have spent the past seven years of their lives and untold $$$$s when I congratulate them on this landmark event?
Sure, I tell them it is an amazing achievement, but – greedy and hard-hearted soul that I am – I can’t help but ask them can they please grow me makesas as well.
Don’t know these, the world’s best passionfruit – Bali’s answer to Panama? Hmm, let’s wait for more on that another day – or maybe until Bruce and Helen begin to grow them as well.
Want to know more about achacha? www.achacha.com.au
STOP PRESS: Australia's devastating 2011 cyclone Yasi fortunately spared this years achacha crop. Read more.
Or why not share what is your favourite fruit – and why?