Also known as Barbados Cherry, West Indian Cherry, Cereza, Cerisier and Semeruco.
The acerola is believed to originate from the Yucatan and can be found growing in the sandy soils of Mexico, Central America, northern South America (Venezuela, Surinam, Columbia) and throughout the Caribbean (the Bahamas to Trinidad). Acerola has now been successfully introduced in sub-tropical areas throughout the world (Southeast Asia, India, South America), and some of the largest plantings are in Brazil.
The acerola is a deciduous tree typically found in dry woodlands. It has poor cold tolerance, with young plants typically killed at temperatures below 30°F - trees can survive brief exposure to 28°F, but will lose leaves. They are also sensitive to the wind as they have shallow root systems, but are drought tolerant, and will adopt a deciduous habit.
The acerola tree is a large, relatively fast growing bushy shrub or small tree it can grow up to 15 feet). The branches are brittle and easily broken. Acerola leaves are dark to light green and glossy when mature. They are obviate to lanceolate, with minute hairs which can be irritating to some people. The flowers are small, pink to white in colour and have five petals. Acerola fruit are round to oblate and cherry-like, but with 3 lobes. They are bright red (rarely yellow-orange) with thin skin and are easily bruised. The pulp is juicy and quite acidic with a delicate flavour, and apple notes.
The fruit of the Acerola Cherry tree, Malpighia punicifolia L. is rich in Vitamin C and carotenoids, with the cherry-like fruits being one of the richest known natural sources of vitamin C. The fresh fruit can contain up to 4000mg Vitamin C per gram of fresh weight (although typically, it is around 1500mg). Oranges provide 500 to 4,000 parts per million Vitamin C or ascorbic acid, while Acerola assays in the range of 16,000 to 172,000 parts per million. Green fruits have twice the Vitamin C level of mature fruits. Fruits develop to maturity in less than 25 days
Acerola also contains the synergistic bioflavonoids - rutin and hesperidin, carotenoids, and other vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients, making it an ideal food-based source of nutrients necessary for immune support. Compared to oranges, acerola provides twice as much magnesium, pantothenic acid, and potassium. Other vitamins present include vitamin A (4,300 to 12,500 IU/100g), thiamine, riboflavin, and niacin in concentrations comparable to those in other fruits. One hundred and fifty other constituents have been identified in acerola; the major ones being furfural, hexadecanoic acid, and limonene. Aside from being an excellent source of powerful antioxidants, Acerola cherries are also rich in protein and mineral salts - principally iron, calcium and phosphorus.
Recent research in cosmetology indicates that vitamin C is a powerful antioxidant and free radical scavenger for the skin, and acerola extracts are now appearing in skin care products that fight cellular ageing. The mineral salts contained in acerola have also been shown to aid in the re-mineralisation of tired and stressed skin, while the mucilage and proteins have skin hydrating properties, and promote capillary conditioning.
Acerola may also help to aid in:
Preventing colds and flu
Vitamin C deficiency
Tooth decay prevention
Acerola is also used traditionally as an astringent, diuretic, arterial stimulant for the liver and renal systems, and as a heart tonic. It is employed as a natural aid for anaemia, diabetes, high cholesterol, liver problems, fungal infections, rheumatism and tuberculosis. The purity and presentation of acerola powder is ideal for children, providing an organic source of highly bio-available vitamin C and its co-factors.