Foodstuff: Physalis (Cape Gooseberry)

When I first saw these in our local grocery store I thought I was looking at Tomatillos because of the unusual paper skin. It wasn’t until I got closer and saw that they were smaller and of different shape that I realized I was looking at something I had never seen before. These intriguing little objects were packaged in little baskets of a dozen or so and there was no identifying label on the shelf. The baskets, however, were sitting in a larger cardboard container that had the word ‘Physalis’ written on the side. This meant absolutely nothing to me and it wasn’t until I got home and did an Internet search that I discovered that this is, in fact, the proper name for what turns out to be a fruit of South American origin. Naturally, I picked up a basket to see what they might be like…

As you can see, the pretty paper-like covering (officially known as the ‘calyx’) encloses a cute little orange colored fruit that looks very much like an unripe cherry tomato. When I pulled one out, I discovered that the upper part is covered with a slightly sticky substance rather like tree sap.

The fruit, as I have noted, originally was native to South America but it appears to have been cultivated for some time in the Cape of Good Hope region of South Africa. The most common name for it in English is ‘Cape Gooseberry’ and, while some suggest that the cape is a reference to the calyx, it seems more likely that the name hearkens to the African area of cultivation. Other names are ‘Inca Berry’, ‘Peruvian Cherry’ (the full botanical name is ‘Physalis Peruviana’) and ‘Ground Cherry’.

The fruit doesn’t have much of an aroma when you open the calyx. There is a faint smell and it is a little like a hothouse tomato with some fruity notes. Once you cut it open, the smell is a little stronger and, as you can see, the interior is fairly dense with some tiny seeds scattered throughout.

The texture, as you bite into it, is vaguely reminiscent of a tomato, although not as succulent or watery, and the seeds are less noticeable. Some have suggested that taste is a little like a tomato crossed with a gooseberry but I didn’t find that myself. It has been years since I actually tasted a gooseberry and I recall them as being much more tart. There is a fresh tasting acidity at the outset but this quickly resolves into a mellow sweetness. The taste, in fact, reminded me very much of a plum, although it was also a bit like a kiwi fruit for the first few seconds. All in all, I liked the taste, but I can’t say that it was particularly exciting, or novel, by any means.

I gather that these fruit have become quite popular as garnishes in many restaurants (although I have yet to see this) and they apparently make quite good jams. Possibly because of their appearance to tomatoes, they seem to have been adapted to quite a few uses, such as salsa, where a tomato, or tomatillo, might be used. I have even seen a suggestion that they might be good in a pasta sauce, but I am not sure how much that appeals to me, to be honest.

Since my wife and I have already sampled a few of the fruit already, I do not have many left. I came across a couple of webpages that suggest eating the fruit after dipping them in chocolate, and we may try that, but I may have enough to try making a small amount of salsa for an appetizer of some sort. If I do, I will certainly post the results of that experiment…

16 thoughts on “Foodstuff: Physalis (Cape Gooseberry)”

  1. Great, informative post! The only way I tasted physalis several times was as a dessert decoration. I thought they had a very subtle aroma. I also wouldn’t compare it to gooseberry.
    Thank you for visiting my blog.

  2. I usually use them in salads – as the sweet addition – fresh spinich or rocket, broccoli, Inca berries and some nuts. Or in fruit salads…with other fruits that aren’t that strong in taste.

    But I never really looked up that much about them – so thank you for doing all the work.

  3. From “The Wife”: They were really really good dipped chocolate but I’m not allowed to go into detail as that will be in another post by “The Husband” – lolololol

  4. Thank u for your sweet comment & great to meet another foodie.
    Cape gooseberry is an alien fruit to me.. but I’m learning a lot these days. Thanks for sharing!

  5. Love your description of these delights. I have only ever eaten cape gooseberries in restaurants as a special treat, given to customers to try. Both places were Italian. They are amazing food, in presentation, and taste. The fact that you found a basket full of these, I am jealous! 🙂

  6. I love these little beauties! They are tasty and look lovely on a chocolate dessert or on a pavlova.

    Thank you for your visit to my blog. Glad you liked the Batch Baking post 🙂

    1. It is definitely not grown within 2000km of me at the very closest. We just were lucky that our grocer ordered it from wherever they came from (the U.S., I think)

  7. In my experience the variety Goldie is best ( big, well flavoured fruit and heavy cropping, on a tall, handsome plant – Suttons have seed) – but it’s late fruiting so sow early. Mine have just come into full cropping from a February 5th sowing – a wait of almost 7 months – but should continue to fruit until the frost (and will then overwinter if protected). I think they’re lovely plants – but do wait until the husks are absolutely bone dry before picking. If the fruit have a greenish/yellowish tinge (like some I have seen in internet pictures) they’re not ready and will not taste nice. Nick, South London. 8th September 2012.

  8. what causes the gooseberry to have a sticky feel on it’s epicarp? And why does it have a bitter taste at the end?

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