Culinary rumba for native Chilean rumpa fruit

Culinary rumba for native Chilean rumpa fruit

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A Chilean state-backed project hopes to make rumpa, a native cactus fruit similar to dragon fruit, a household name.

In the neophile culture of today with foodies constantly looking for the next hot item to display in their kitchens or Instagram accounts, could a little cactus fruit from the Atacama Desert of northern Chile make its mark?

With kiwifruit-like acidity and the texture of pitahaya, the rumpa – also known as ‘copao’ – is best eaten with a spoon. The fruit is picked wild over 35,000 hectares, but Chile’s Agricultural Research Institute (INIA) has been working on a project for 10 years to test its agronomic management and commercial potential.

Which name do you think has more commercial appeal? Rumpa or Copao. Be sure to leave comments below.

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Last week Produce Business UK’s sister publication, Fresh Fruit Portal, took part in a presentation of the fruit in the capital Santiago, organised by INIA and the Foundation for Agricultural Innovation (FIA).

Eliecer Maluenda, president of cooperative Rumpacoop, said the group currently has 25 members who produce 30 metric tonnes (MT) per year.

He said the biggest challenge with the crop was not its production however, but its relative obscurity amongst the population and lack of sufficient trade channels.

To get the ball rolling and abstract maximum value from the crop while reducing waste, the project with support from the FIA and INIA has developed value added products such as nectars, isotonic drinks and jams, which in addition to the fresh fruit have been distributed to influential chefs and business people for tastings.

Hotel Hyatt Santiago executive chef Matías Uhlig was very impressed with the rumpa and its sub-products during the presentation.

“For some time I’ve been looking to get local fruits and growers who can provide them. I would compare copao to pitahaya (dragon fruit), which has a myriad of properties, is drought-resistant  but isn’t in Chile,” Uhlig said.

“I needed an endemic, seasonal product which would enrich the buffet of our hotel and I think I’ve found it.”

Maluenda said he was happy with the enthusiastic feedback received for the fruit, with many participants in the presentation showing their intention to trial purchases.

“We have a lot of experience and support from the professionals at the INIA to cover demand, and our product is also unique in the world and it’s organic. I think it has a good future.”

Angélica Salvatierra, a researcher at the INIA who is in charge of the project, said the most important characteristics of the rumpa/copao were its nutritional components.

“The minerals it has – potassium, magnesium, calcium and sodium, are fundamental for people’s nutrition, and it also has a high vitamin C content.

“Additionally, a study undertaken by the University of Talca discovered the copao also has antioxidants that give it anti-inflammatory properties.”

She highlighted a lot of research still needed to be done with the crop.

“This fruit is wild, you can find it in different colours, shapes, and even with red flesh, but there is something we have found that stays very uniform – its flavour and nutritional composition,” she said.

The harvesting season runs between December and February, in an area where the drought-hardy fruit relies on scarce rainfall rather than irrigation.

Salvatierra said post-harvest technologies would be needed to boost the fruit’s commercial opportunities, but in the meantime she expects it will start to have more visibility for consumers in Santiago.

“In the long term we would like to see copao orchards. We already have a garden of 40 ecotypes of plants that we have been selecting over these 10 years, and that could pave way to future productive management of the species.

“Also, if we want to think about exports, we have to resolve some phytosanitary issues as there is a pest associated with some wild crops such as copao, which is the cactus pear moth that affects the fruit.

“This moth is endemic too. It’s found all over Chile, so perhaps there will need to be some regulations to address that.”

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