the golden berry: nine things you probably didn’t know about this delicious little fruit
Is it a physalis? Is it a cape gooseberry? Is it a Peruvian groundcherry? Well yes it’s all three actually. Here’s everything you need to know about the golden berry, including why it has so many names…
Our foodie adventures recently took us all the way from Dorset to South America, and the result of our exploration was the Inca-trail inspired Machu Picchu muesli, which is the first of its kind to include golden berries.
This tangy, tasty little fruit is native to high-altitude Peru – here’s everything you need to know about it…
1. it has a ridiculous number of names
The golden berry is so unusually good that they named it not twice, not even thrice but at least seven times.
It is known variously as the Peruvian groundcherry, the Inca berry, the pichuberry, the poha berry and quite commonly the cape gooseberry, probably because it first came to Britain via settlers on the Cape of Good Hope. The scientific name of the plant from which the fruit grows is Physalis peruviana – and so it’s also often called a ‘physalis’, especially when used to decorate desserts in restaurants.
In India they sometimes call it a ‘ras bhari’ – which is very confusing for the English-speaker expecting a raspberry. But in its sundried form we nearly all call it a golden berry.
2. …but the French probably have the best name for it…
Well they would, wouldn’t they? The highly poetic amour en cage (‘love in a cage’) – named for the distinctive papery husk or calyx that encases the golden berry itself.
(That’s certainly a much nicer name than the Latin physalis, which also refers to the calyx. Physalis literally translates as ‘bladder’.)
3. it’s related to the tomato…
Although originating in South America and the Peruvian Andes, the golden berry is cultivated in many other countries including South Africa, China, Australia and Hawaii – and it is said that you can grow golden berries wherever you can grow tomatoes. There is a family resemblance with toms: when you slice a golden berry open you can see it’s full of tiny, edible seeds.
Golden berries and tomatoes are both members of the plant family Solanacae – but then so are potatoes and aubergines.
4. …and not to be confused with the chinese lantern
Much more closely related to the Physalis peruviana are the Physalis philadelphica (Mexican tomatillo) and the Physalis alkekengi. The latter in particular looks a lot like goldenberry, with a splendid red papery calyx. It’s not nice to eat, however, so it’s mostly used as an ornamental plant under the apt and rather evocative name ‘Chinese lantern’.
So that’s the science bit…. However, we think the really important thing is that it tastes delicious…
5. Jane Grigson raved about it
Legendary food writer Jane Grigson devoted a chapter to the golden berry in her classic Fruit Book. She called it ‘the prettiest of fruits’, praised the ‘fresh piquancy’ of its ‘sweet and sharp’ taste and included a recipe for a rich ‘Golden Berry Cake’ with an apricot glaze.
She also recommended coating golden berries in a rather tricky-looking vanilla fondant and serving them up at dinner parties as petit-fours – which you can read about here.
6. it makes for a splendid jam
Jane Grigson’s Fruit Book includes a recipe for ‘Cape Gooseberry Jam’ using golden berries, and indeed they make for wonderful preserves. The Tiny Mamalade Co. in Exeter makes an ‘exotic and zingy’ Stardust Marmalade containing golden berries, red grape and cardamom.
And if you fancy making your own golden berry jam, this recipe including honey and cinnamon from Easy Food Smith looks rather lovely, while this one incorporates pumpkin.
7. Nigel Slater uses it in a christmas pudding
Well not literally a ‘Christmas pudding’, but rather a festive dessert. Nigel’s Festive fruit salad with brandy snap recipe combines golden berries with mango, clementines, pomegranates and homemade brandy snaps. Mmm… Yes please.
8. you can make fudge with it
The Raw Chocolate Company has a recipe for a Gogo Raw Fudge using golden berries, goji berries and chocolate – which looks utterly scrumptious.
9. it’s fabulous in muesli
Well we would say that, being somewhat obsessed with cereal – but it’s absolutely true.
We found the golden berry’s distinctive, aromatic, sweet-yet-tangy flavour perfectly complements the brazil nuts and hints of coffee in the Machu Picchu muesli. Sometimes it pays to be adventurous…
Dorset Cereal’s new Machu Picchu muesli is an adventurous Inca trail-inspired blend of oats and barley with brazil nuts, golden berries and a taste of coffee. Discover more and buy it here.