Beautyberries A Forgotten Floridian Fruit
Beautyberries are an underutilized fruit that grows wild here in Florida. They have a unique taste and texture, but most people don't know what they are or how to pick them. The berries grow in a series of clusters along the branches of the sprawling shrub which they grow upon, and they are extremely easy to harvest. I often wonder why farms are not cultivating them, but I think it has something to do with their short shelf life. If you're looking for something mild and different than the usual blueberry or raspberry, then give these beautiful berries a try!
As a chef, I am constantly on the lookout for exciting things to add to my palate. When introduced to beautyberries, I quickly passed over them because they were not a bold, in-your-face ingredient like an ume plum. Instead, they have a subtle sweetness accented with lemongrass. They make for a great garnish adding their purple color and subtleness to the local fish and light salads. For a bolder application, I will make a chutney with them along with galangal ginger and lemongrass. This preparation works well over pork and even a coconut panna cotta.
Some people try to sing the praises of the nutritional benefits of beautyberries, but I am not going to cover that in this blog. However, I will talk about the plant's best use here in Florida - mosquito repellant!. The indigenous peoples of Florida recognized this plant as a great ally to repel mosquitoes, crushing and directly rubbing the leaves onto the skin. This comes in handy when picking them as they are ripe during the months where we typically see the most mosquitoes. If you are interested check out this link.