Lulo Fruit (Naranjilla)- Essential Guide to a Weird Exotic Fruit

Did you ever hear about the lulo fruit? Also known as naranjilla, cocona, obando, or nuqui, it’s an unusual exotic fruit popular in Colombia, Ecuador, and Panama. As you might know from our previous articles, we love weird exotic fruits, and occasionally, we feature some of them on our blog. Today, we’ll cover the lulo fruit and show you everything you need to know about this exotic fruit, from its origins, geography, and nutrition to interesting facts, applications, benefits, and even some recipe ideas.   

What Is Lulo?

lulo fruit
by EEIM CC by SA 3.0

To put it simply, lulo is a fruit that looks like an orange, has an inside that resembles a tomato, and tastes like a citrus tart. Some people also describe the flavor like a mix of lime and rhubarb. Its outside is orange in color but its inside is a light green/dark yellow. The fruit is around 6 centimeters in diameter and gets a bright orange color when it ripens. Its pulp is easily divided into 4 sections and kind of feels like a jelly filled with pale yellow seeds.

The plant has large elongated heart-shaped leaves that grow up to 50 cm in length. The stems and leaves are covered in short purple hairs and. If you want to try to plant it in your home, keep in mind that the plant is sensitive to strong winds and direct sunlight and grows best in partial shade and warm temperatures.

This is probably the reason behind the scientific name of the lulo fruit; Solanum Quitoense which means nightshade from Quito (Ecuador). The fruit is very delicate and easily damaged which makes it very hard to ship far away. That’s why you can only try lulo fruit in a handful of places. This brings us to the next point…

Origins And Geography 

lulo fruit market
by mark benecke CC by SA 3.0

The naranjilla fruit is native to the low mountains of the western part of South America. Its first appearance in history dates back to the 17th century when it was first mentioned in Ecuador and Colombia. We don’t know a lot about its origin except that the Incas grew it and referred to this fruit as “lulum”.

Today, the fruit grows throughout the year in all western South American countries, Panama, Guatemala, and Costa Rica but most of the fruits cultivated for commercial production are grown in Ecuador. Outside of Latin America, the lulo fruit is extremely unusual but can be found on farms in Florida and Southern Australia.

Interestingly, the fruit was first presented to the Western Hemisphere at New York World’s Fair in 1939 and it got a lot of positive reviews but because of its fragile nature and its inability to grow outside of South America, the fruit never got very popular worldwide.

Agriculture, Pests, And Diseases

naranjilla fruit

This fruit grows on a tree that grows up to 8 feet (2.5 meters) and has thick stems that are spiny in the wild but spineless in cultivated plants. The best environment for it are semi-shade locations protected from the strong wind with well-drained and rich organic soil. Its stems, petioles, and leaves are covered in short purple hairs, the leaves are normally alternate, around 60 cm long and 20 cm wide, and the flowers are fragrant and pentamerous.

Because of the fact that it’s easily damaged, Naranjilla fares poorly in large-scale cultivation but its use as a flavoring for the global food industry is increasing. The fruit can be found at most markets and is usually harvested unripe, similarly to tomatoes. In South America, the naranjilla juice is widely consumed just by adding some sugar and water, just like a lemonade.

In addition to its fragile nature, the plant is extremely vulnerable to pests and diseases. The most common infection is caused by the root-knot nematode but fungus is also not uncommon, especially when the fruit gets mechanically damaged.

Because of this, there’s an increasing number of hybrids that aim to solve the problems with the fruit’s fragile nature. The most popular one is the hybrid with Solanum sessiliflorum, more commonly known as cocona. These hybrid fruits look exactly like lulos but are yellow in color.

This leads us to the next point…

Varieties Of The Lulo Fruit

lulo fruit varieties

The main difference between different kinds of the fruit comes from the geographical region. Lulo can be found in most countries in western South America and Central America and because of the slightly different environment, there are four different varieties of the fruit; smooth, thorny, purple (chonto morado), and jungle (sela).

Naranjilla fruits are not seasonal. All lulo varieties grow throughout the year with the peak season happening during the winter months (Nov-Feb).

Interesting Facts & Nutrition

lulo fruit cut
  • The name naranjilla actually translates to “little orange”.
  • This fruit belongs to the nightshade family.
  • The closest related vegetables to the lulo fruit are eggplants, tomatoes, and tamarillos.
  • The fruit’s ripe flesh can be scooped out and added in ice cream.

Overview of the nutrition values 

Water- 90%

Fat- 0.00001%

Protein 1%

Carbs: 3.7%

Fiber: 1.5%

Vitamin C- 2.5%

Calories- 18 kcal/100g

Nutrients and Vitamins per 100g

Phosphorus- 32.5 mg

Calcium- 7.8 mg

Niacin- 1.42 mg

Iron- 0.45 mg

Carotene- 0.02 mg

Riboflavin- 0.04 mg

Carotene- 0.04 mg

How To Use Lulo Fruit?

lulo tree

Lulo can be eaten raw. You can either cut the fruit in half and squeeze the juice in your mouth or use a spoon to eat the flesh. Some locals like eating it with a little bit of salt. However, there are some other ways you can use it, despite the fact that the fruit is highly perishable; a ripe fruit can only stay for one or two days at room temperature while unripe fruit can be kept for up to a month in the fridge.

Lulos can be used in savory stews, for making juice (known as jugo de lulo), smoothies, jam, marmalade, jelly, sauces, ice cream, sherbet (syrup), and in Colombia, people also ferment the fruit and make wine out of it. The pulp is also used in cooking. It’s often paired with bananas or other fruits and used as filling in baked goods.

Health Benefits

The naranjilla fruit is rich in vitamins A, B, C, phosphorus, calcium, magnesium, iron, and beta-carotene. This means that there are a lot of health benefits from consuming this fruit. Here are the most common ones.

It improves digestion. The fruit is rich in pepsin which is a type of fiber that’s very beneficial for the digestive tract.

It reduces cholesterol and improves heart health. Dietary fiber that the lulo fruit has in abundance help reduce cholesterol while the rich variety of vitamins and minerals can improve the overall functioning of the cardiovascular system.

Immunity booster. Since the fruit is rich in vitamins A, B, C, it’s a great natural way to boost your immune system.

It’s good for circulation. The significantly high levels of iron found in this fruit help in strengthening and increasing your red blood cells, therefore, giving a boost to your circulation.

The perfect detox. Lulo is used in traditional medicine as a diuretic substance (to increase urination) because it can cleanse the body from a myriad of different toxins and relieve stress on the liver. 

Strengthen your bones. Because it’s rich in calcium, phosphorus, magnesium, and different minerals, lulo helps improve the density of the bone tissue and prevent conditions like osteoporosis and arthritis. 

It helps maintain vision health. Lulo is rich in carotenoids, including beta carotene and vitamin A, meaning it can help neutralize free radicals that could potentially cause oxidative stress on ocular cells.

Did you ever try the lulo fruit? What are your favorite things about it? If not, would you like to try it? Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments! 

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