What is a Cape Gooseberry?

A bright, nutritionally packed, little fruit with an identity crisis. Let’s start with its botanical name — Physalis peruviana L. A sand colored papery husk surrounds this small golden fruit, similar to its much more common garden cousin the tomatillo and the lesser know Midwestern ground cherry. This fruit is a member of the magnificent edible family of nightshades.

I first discovered the Cape Gooseberry in my local co-op as a wrinkly, dried orange berry under the name of Goldenberry—its dried pseudonym. These little bursts of tangy flavor go both ways—savory and sweet. I also found them addictive and expensive so I decided that I would try to grown them. I could dry my own and save the $26.00 lb price tag. It was when I couldn’t find seeds for “goldenberries” that I discovered the inconsistencies.

There is some debate as to the origin of these husked South American fruits. I have read they are “a lost Incan” crop (could be a clever marketing story), and many sources do site the Andes of Peru and Chile being their home place. However a few sources say they are actually native to Brazil and naturalized in Peru and Chile a long time ago. In South America they have many colloquial names including the most common capuli. So why Cape? And why Gooseberry? Or even a berry—of which, they have no botanical relation too.

English settlers brought this fruit to the Cape of Good Hope in Africa in the early part of the 19th century. It was commercially cultivated and is still a common crop. It is canned whole or made into jam. Later in the century the seeds went with settlers to Australia. These little berries have many tiny seeds and reminded the English of their gooseberries at home. Hence Cape Gooseberries, since they were seedy little berries from the Cape of Good Hope. But it seems nobody is quite happy with that name and you will also see these same fruits labeled Peruvian Ground Cherry, Husk Cherry, or Poha—Hawaiian they are naturalized there as well.

In recent years they have been “rediscovered” and are being heavily marketed as “the next goji berry” or just “super”—a superfood like blueberries and acai. In this effort to pack these nutritionally packed antioxidant berries into our grocery bags there is another name, perhaps an attempt to rebrand, introducing…the Pichuberry. This is a trademarked name and from what I can tell it hasn’t overtaken the slightly confusing moniker of Cape Gooseberry, alias the Goldenberry.

What Do Cape Gooseberries Taste Like?

They have their own flavor. To me they do taste orange—not like the citrus fruit but like I imagine the color tasting. They are tart but also sweet like a pineapple. I taste tomato and I don’t—its like that. As soon as I think I found a flavor it becomes elusive.

6/25/2020 8:17:53 PM

I first tasted the cape gooseberry or psyllium in southern Spain. It was a nice companion to our goat cheese salad. Although I am confused with the information I read about it. Some articles say it is toxic but some say they are edible. So what is what?

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