Rubiaceae (Coffee family)

Description. Purui is an evergreen shrub or small tree, 4-6 m (13-20 ft) tall, with stiff horizontal branches. Opposite, dark green, glabrous leaves with interpetiolar stipules. Blades lanceolate to oblong-elliptic, 12-22 cm (5-9 in) long by 3-6 cm (1.2-2.4 in) wide, with pointed apex. Cream-white unisexual flowers with 4-5 pointed petals are produced in terminal inflorescences. Fruit a globose, yellow-green to yellow berry measuring 2-4 cm (0.8-1.6 in) in diameter, turning blackish-brown to black when fully ripe. The soft gray pulp has an aromatic, sweet-sour taste and contains numerous small flat seeds.

Origin and Distribution. Native to tropical America, from southern Mexico and Cuba south to Brazil and

Bolivia. The tree, which fruits and flowers most of the year, grows in wet lowland tropical rainforest and premontane forests as well as in seasonal forests with a distinct dry season. It is rarely cultivated and fruits are usually collected from wild trees.

Food uses. The fully ripe fruits are sometimes eaten out of hand. More often the pulp is made into marmalade or jellies. In Brazil, the fruit is used to make ice cream, sweets, desserts, and juices. Ground roasted seeds can be made into a substitute for coffee.

Comments. The common name purui means “sweet and sour fruit” in the Tupi-Guarani language of the Tupi tribe of southern Brazil.

Description. Fast-growing annual herb, 0.8-2.5 m (2.6-8 ft) tall and irregularly branched with a reddish or purple stem. Simple, alternate leaves elliptic with long petioles. Blades 5-15 cm (2-6 in) long. Small flowers in yellowish, reddish, or purple inflorescences, 0.3-0.9 m (12-35 in) long, that can be erect or become pendent. Black or reddish-brown fruits are spherical to slightly flattened achenes measuring 1-1.5 mm (0.04-0.06 in) in diameter. One plant can produce up to 50,000 seeds. Amaranth is considered a pseudograin, having a grainlike character without belonging botanically to the grass family (Poaceae).

Origin and Distribution. Native to inner-Andean valleys of Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia, and northwestern Argentina, amaranth is one of the most ancient cultivated plants of South America. Remnants of the seeds have been found in excavations dating back more than 4,000 years. Its cultivation was prohibited during the Spanish conquest because the plant, being an integral part of ancient Andean cultures, was used in religious rituals and offerings.

Amaranth is cultivated mostly in inner-Andean valleys at elevations between 1,500 and 3,200 m (4,900-10,500 ft). To a lesser extent, it is also cultivated in the Himalaya regions of India and Nepal.

Food uses. The seeds are rich in starch and protein and used very much like other grains. Amaranth is traditionally an ingredient in soups and stews. The seeds can be ground into flour and used in bakery goods. Amaranth seeds are commonly toasted like popcorn and served as a breakfast cereal or made into granola bars. Amaranth leaves and stems are eaten cooked as a green vegetable.

Comments. This ancient crop, a staple food for most pre-Columbian cultures of South America, has recently become a focal point of interest because of its extraordinary nutritive values. Seeds contain about 30% more protein than most other cereals and are high in essential amino acids like lysine.

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