The moment that I was waiting for had finally come. Dr. Alwang pointed to a pitcher filled with a greenish-yellow liquid that was too thick to fit my American definition of juice. I was too excited to reflect on the mucus-like color of the liquid. The juice that I enthusiastically poured into my glass was made from naranjilla, a tropical fruit that grows in the Andean mountains of Ecuador. After months of reading about the juice, learning about the pests and diseases that plague the plant, and attempting to understand the market for the fruit, I was finally holding the infamous (at least to me) naranjilla juice in my hands. A moment later, I finally knew firsthand how delicious it was. The juice is refreshingly acidic without being citrusy. It is less sweet than pineapple, but equally tropical in taste. If I didn’t know better, I might think that a genius juice blender worked in the kitchen, making fresh batches from the ideal mix of tropical fruits. In other words, the flavor is too unique and complex to describe.
The complexity of naranjilla flavor reflects the complexity of naranjilla production and markets. I have traveled to Ecuador to learn more about naranjilla grafting technologies that have been developed by INIAP (Instituto Nacional Autonomía de Investigaciones Agropecuarios) with the help of the IPM Innovation Lab. Until coming to Ecuador, my mental construction of naranjilla production and markets had been informed by excel spreadsheets and the limited naranjilla literature available. These sources, despite their technical detail, only begin to capture the dynamics of a complex market and production process. Although I have gained a deeper comprehension of naranjilla, this has not brought the clarity I hoped for. To the contrary, the more I learn about naranjilla, the more complicated my mental construction becomes. Every farmer has a different story, every researcher has a different opinion, and every cup of juice is unique. I came to Ecuador hoping to discover the story of naranjilla grafting and clarify some details about production and markets. Instead, I have found that there is no single story of naranjilla. My job now is to carefully and thoughtfully record and reflect the many intricacies of the fruit. Meanwhile, I plan to discover the intricacies of the fruit’s flavor by pursuing my personal goal of consuming naranjilla in every form possible. The naranjilla ice cream sold at the heladería down the street is next on the list.
For more information on IPM Innovation Lab’s work with Ecuadorian farmers and naranjilla, read our success story, Naranjilla grafting in Ecuador: Reducing deforestation and promoting the growth of an industry.